AskMechanics, please help me diagnose this car problem.
February 19, 2008 4:11 PM   Subscribe

My vehicle has recently started shorting out while it's starting up... help?

I have a '98 Chevy S-10 that has been behaving strangely. A few days ago, I went out to start it. When I got in, the dome lights came on, everything looked normal. When I turned the key in the ignition it started to turn over for a very small fraction of a second and then everything just stopped. It seemed that the starter had shorted out the whole electrical system of the car.

I let it sit a few days, come back to it today... same thing happens, but this time it goes about half a second through turning over to start before it went dead.

I vaguely remember reading somewhere that there are self-healing breakers in some cars that can cause something similar to this, where they reset after a certain amount of time.

This is kinda perplexing and I don't want to take it to a mechanic before I have some idea what's wrong with it (if that's possible).

What does this sound like and is it something I can take care of myself?
posted by toomuchpete to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd say bad ground cable or battery. Since it 'got better', relatively speaking, over time, I'd lean towards the battery. Try getting a boost from someone.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 4:41 PM on February 19, 2008

Wow, that's weird - I have a '99 Corolla with the exact same problem. On mine, when I jiggle the negative battery terminal, the dome light comes on and the starter attempts to turn over. Repeating the turn-jiggle-turn cycle a few times lets it come on. I took it to a mechanic today, and his response was "Does it have an alarm system?" It doesn't, but it does have a remote starter. I'll be dropping it off tomorrow night, but I'm curious to hear other thoughts.
posted by djb at 5:20 PM on February 19, 2008

Seconding the connect to the battery or the battery. Easiest way to see if to have someone jump it if possible. That will rule out most everything but the battery and the battery cables.

In the meantime, see if the connections to the battery are loose or corroded. Sometimes cleaning them off or even just giving them a firm wiggle (though they should be tight enough to not wiggle) will be enough to start the car.
posted by jeribus at 5:25 PM on February 19, 2008

If you can wiggle it and it then starts that sounds like a dirty post on the battery. Try cleaning it off with some baking soda and water and reattaching it. Make sure it is snug. If it is loose enough to be wiggled, it is loose enough for crud to build up between the post and the connector on the cable.

The little scrubber seen here works great. Its hollow on the inside with bristles to clean the post off. They are like three bucks at most stores.
posted by jeribus at 5:45 PM on February 19, 2008

I'm thinking it's a bad battery ground -- either a bad connection or a bad cable. I had a problem with a '68 Mustang (intermittant weak or no crank) that I chased for over 2 years -- replaced the starter, battery, alternator... Turned out it was the ground cable... a $5 ground cable.

Cheap fixes first...
posted by LordSludge at 1:46 PM on February 20, 2008

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