Car won't start - could it be a loose timing belt?
April 16, 2011 12:47 PM   Subscribe

Rainy day + Replaced timing belt (2005) that's loose + Car won't start. Could it be the loose timing belt or just a wet distributor cap?

I drive a 2000 Daewoo Lanos. The odometer is at about 120,000 km (75,000 miles), and I changed the timing belt at about 96,000 km (60,000 miles) in 2005.

A few days ago, I had an inspection done on the car, and they told me that the timing belt seemed to be loose, but because of the car's make and the fact that it hasn't been made in a long time, they don't know if this is the correct tension.

Fast forward to today - it's pretty rainy. I drove the car about 0.5 mile and parked it on the street, no incident.

Got out of the car, picked up my lunch, and got back in, all in less than 5 minutes.

But this time, when I turned the key, I hear nothing. No cranking whatsoever.

Now a similar thing happened to me a few years ago after a particular rainy day - in this case, the car started fine a few hours later after the rain stopped (maybe it was moisture in the distributor cap).

But now, I have the words of the mechanic echoing in my brain, and I read a few horror stories about killing the engine when the timing belt breaks, so I am a bit wary about trying to start the engine.

Could it be possible that in the time that I parked the car and turned off the engine, the timing belt somehow got completely loose? Or could this be the same thing that happened to me a few years ago, where perhaps some moisture got into the distributor cap?
posted by bitteroldman to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total)
that sounds electrical in nature, not anything to do with the timing or the belt thereof.

If you lost your timing belt, depending on the engine design and how fast the engine was turning at the time you'd be driving along and a) hear loud metallic sounds as the engine tore itself to bits or b) get a sudden loss of power followed by a tow to someplace where they replaced the belt and got the engine timing re-synced. Either way, it would be an incident that happened while you were running (or immediately AFTER it cranked normally).

But while it probably will still require a tow to a mechanic and a repair job, it's not likely to be a catastrophic engine failure or a HUGE bill.
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:07 PM on April 16, 2011

Are you saying you don't hear any of the normal noises that accompany cranking the engine? I.E. it's not cranking? No "WrrRRRCacacaca"that usually is a prelude to "vroom"? If so, that's nothing to do with a timing belt - the starter relay, or the key switch, are not working.

Moisture in the dist cap would also have symptoms of the car cranking, but either not starting, or running like shit.
posted by notsnot at 1:40 PM on April 16, 2011

This does not sound to me like a timing belt issue. If nothing happens when you turn the key, or if it just makes a click sound, that seems like a battery or starter problem. My wife's car had the click-but-no-crank problem, and I replaced the battery. Didn't help, the problem was intermittent afterwards. I held a 3 foot long 2" x 2" board against the starter and then tapped the board with a hammer to get it to start. It was worn out contacts in the starter solenoid. My mechanic bought just the contacts and replaced them, not the whole starter, saving me over $100. Good luck!
posted by Daddy-O at 1:54 PM on April 16, 2011

Are you saying you don't hear any of the normal noises that accompany cranking the engine?... No "WrrRRRCacacaca"that usually is a prelude to "vroom"?

It doesn't even do that.
When I turn the engine to the On position, all the lights go on as normal (as well as the radio, fan, etc., if I turn them on). There is also a humming motor sound (which I have always heard in the past - maybe it's the starter or some fan or something).

But then when I turn the key to the Start position, there is nothing. No cough. No sputter. No splat. It's as if I didn't do anything.
posted by bitteroldman at 2:02 PM on April 16, 2011

Yeah, that's either a bad starter motor a fault in the circuit that makes the starter motor go. Nothing to do with either distributor or timing belt.
posted by jon1270 at 2:23 PM on April 16, 2011

I had the same problem on a completely different make and type of vehicle - it was the crank position sensor. The hum you're hearing is probably the fuel pump priming.

But the issue could be at many places in the electrical system. Get someone to read the OBD codes.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 2:25 PM on April 16, 2011

The first thing I would check would be whether there is corrosion between the battery cables and the battery posts. When the lights are on, are they dim? It may be that enough power gets through to run the little stuff, but not enough to crank the starter motor. If not this, I'm voting for the starter motor or just a bad ground at the starter motor.

Seconding that you need a mechanic, but it is definitely not the timing belt or wet distributor cap or plug wires.
posted by Old Geezer at 2:53 PM on April 16, 2011

When this happened to my fiance's car, I just wiggled the battery cables and the car started. All the built-up corrosion that I had never cleaned off basically cut off the current between the cables and the battery terminals.
posted by InsanePenguin at 2:54 PM on April 16, 2011

This is a starter circuit issue, certainly. A no-start condition is very different from the no-crank condition that you're experiencing. You won't have any OBD codes stored in relation to this, either. So don't even bother checking.

Proceed immediately to doing a couple rudimentary checks of the starter circuit. Have you tried jumpstarting the car? A failing starter very often will make a CLACK or loud buzz if the motor is stuck as the solenoid (a large relay) energizes and attempts to engage the starter gear with the flywheel of the car. If there's not even a noise, you might have a battery that's too dead to even power up the solenoid. It could be deceiving to see the dash lights come on and you may assume you have plenty of power, but give the jump start a try. If the added power doesn't get the starter spinning, try tapping the starter with a hammer. There could be an internal malfunction in the starter causing the electric motor to bind. A good tap (or whack) can jar it loose and get the car started.

Also, is this car manual or automatic? If it's manual, make sure that the carpet hasn't crept up under the clutch pedal and is preventing you from depressing the clutch far enough to engage the clutch pedal switch. That switch is what prevents you from accidentally starting the car in gear. Likewise, an automatic transmission has a Park/Neutral switch which allows the car to start when in park or neutral but not in drive. If it's an automatic, try starting the car in neutral instead of park or try wiggling the gear selector while turning the key.
posted by Jon-o at 5:50 PM on April 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thanks to all of you for your help!
It was indeed the starter solenoid! A neighbour did exactly what a few of you suggested and rapped on the starter solenoid casing a few times and the car was as good as new!
posted by bitteroldman at 6:42 PM on April 17, 2011

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