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Advice on starter and ignition 1979 210 wagon


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Hey guys and gals, I bought my 1979 wagon a few months ago. It always had a problem with starting. The cylinder where the key goes in was worn over the years to the point you could insert any key and turn it over or even use a screwdriver or whatever. So there's that. Then, what would happen is every now and then I would turn the key and it would just make a couple sounds...first a "click" like a relay switch sound I'm guessing, then a "clunk" sound which I'm assuming is the starter getting juice, but it wouldn't start. If I jiggled the key around or turned it back off, then on again, it would make the click, clunk sounds and then fire up just fine. The frequency and amount of times I had to keep trying to start it increased over the past week, and now it won't start at all. It does make the "click" and "clunk" sounds but that's all. And that is now intermittent, sometimes no sounds when key is engaged.


Based on some research here, I tried some easy things. I cleaned the battery terminals and wires even though there was no visual grime or gunk. I pulled the wire off the terminal on the starter and cleaned that and reattached. No change. I also pulled the square plug/harness that snaps into the back of the ignition switch and sprayed it out with contact cleaner. One thing I did notice is it seemed that unit was getting warm, maybe from trying to start it 30 times. 


Replacing the lock cylinder obviously needs to happen. When I search for parts I'm seeing an ignition switch, the ignition lock cylinder, and a control module. I have several starters the original owner gave me.  


So, my questions are : If the lock cylinder is worn out could that cause these symptoms? Or should I be looking further down the chain into maybe the switch or control module?  



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Four things it can be...


1/ The starter is going bad

2/ The solenoid is going bad

3/ The start signal is weak from the ignition switch.

4/ Battery is dead or not up to starting


ONE. Before replacing the starter, be sure that the mounting bolts are tight so it is well grounded. Remove clean and tighten the battery ground cable where it is bolted to the head just behind the fuel pump. See THREE below


TWO. Not much you can do if bad but replace. Make sure the start wire connector is snug on the terminal. See THREE below.


THREE. The ignition switch only tells the starter when to start. It sends a 12 volt signal to the starter solenoid. The solenoid's job is to be a large ON/OFF switch that can handle hundreds of amps current that the starter will draw directly from the battery. Unplug the ignition key and inspect it. Plug in several times to clean and make good contact. You probably noticed a small (probably) Black/Yellow stripe wire going to the starter when you were cleaning the terminals. The problem is old small gauge wiring with multiple connections that can corrode. Long wire runs also drop the voltage and the signal can drop by half. I had this on my 710 and it's easy enough to get a volt meter and check. Mine was about 7 volts which would only click the solenoid 3-4 times before it would start to crank.. Get a remote starter switch. (make sure you are in neutral and brake on) It connects between the battery and the solenoid. If jumping 12 volts directly to the solenoid fixes the problem then the ignition signal is weak. The fix is to use this weak signal to power another relay to send a stronger signal. It's known as a 'hot' start relay and there are many many variations. Here's one.... http://community.ratsun.net/topic/102-hot-start-relay/





I'm going to do this on my truck, and leave the 30A fuse out. It's not ready to start, but I want to test the rest of the electrics. biggrin.gif


FOUR. Re-charge and try. Replacement is expensive so make sure the battery is at fault first. Jumper a good one onto your terminals. If the problem goes away then your battery is weak

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All I've had a chance to do so far is charge the battery. The battery showed 13.5 volts and 95% charged according to my charger. Put it on and let it get to 100%. Dropped it in, it fired up on first try....quickly stalled....then it took 2 tries and it fired up again. Drove it this morning into work, same thing, started after a couple tries. I'm hoping this points to a wiring/connection/grounding issue. I also noticed the alternator belt has some worn spots and needs replaced. I'm wondering if it's slipping some and causing the battery to not charge fully, but just a wild guess.  Hoping to have time this afternoon to clean/tighten ground cable and check the wiring/connectors and key switch.

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When you say it took two tries to re-start, do you mean that you turned the key twice and nothing happened? or the starter cranked the engine but no start?


I turned the key twice. Each time it makes the "clunk" sound...try 3 made same sound but instantly followed by strong start. Unfortunately I still did not have time to do more yesterday, and this morning it started in the same manner. Insert key, turn far right to start, "Click-CLUNK" nothing (well aside from quick dimming of oil/amp lights when key is held fully right) , turn key back to OFF, try again "Click-CLUNK", nothing, try 3d time "Click-CLUNK-VRROOOOOM".... 

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Get a remote starter switch. (make sure you are in neutral and brake on) It connects between the battery and the solenoid. If jumping 12 volts directly to the solenoid fixes the problem then the ignition signal is weak. The fix is to use this weak signal to power another relay to send a stronger signal. It's known as a 'hot' start relay and there are many many variations. Here's one.... http://community.ratsun.net/topic/102-hot-start-relay/


Try this test. If 12 volts directly onto the start terminal on the solenoid makes it start every time then you have a weak start signal. Nothing else you can replace will fix this except a hot start relay..

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Thanks again for the advice, I will be able to buy a remote starter on Friday when I get paid. I wanted to post a couple pics, the PO has what appears to be the windshield washer fluid pump wired right off the battery. (This doesn't function, I have a new one but haven't installed it yet). The second photo is just showing the starter...the spade connector is making contact but it's not super snug...I'm going to strip that wire and attach a new one. In the third photo there is a wire with an open bullet connector hanging loose and not attached to anything. Does anybody know if that was perhaps the original feed to the pump?









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Sorry I haven't had a chance to post in a few days. I had a slight setback....as I was making sure the connections on the coil were snug, I tightened the pos terminal too much and sheared off the bolt. There is just enough protruding to hang the round connector from the wire, but not enough to wind a nut around. I'm assuming I cannot open up the coil and insert a new bolt....looks like replacement coil is about $30.00, so I guess I'll just replace it...at least that will eliminate the coil as a suspect. Elkie, thanks for the wiring answer...my guess is that maybe this is why my wagon idles so fast and has a hard time "kicking down" when it's cold. I should have a chance to borrow a remote starter and try the test this Sunday. 

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You don't need to replace the female connector just squeeze it slightly with pliers so it's tighter to push on the starter lug.





If this is the choke heater relay wire it should go to the alternator? Look for the mate to it.... it can't be far away.

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  • 1 month later...

I finally got around to having some time to work on this issue. After cleaning all connections and making sure all wires were getting good contact, it was still starting sporadically, would take 3 to 4 tries before it would kick over. Today was warm enough (35 degrees F) to work on it...I don't have a garage, so I have to work on it outside. I went to the pile of spare parts the original owner gave me, and grabbed one of the starters (he gave me 2 additional complete engines, and a transmission with my wagon when I bought it). Switched them out, and it fired right up. Yay! I know it's not a very complicated job, but for me it was the first time I did any mildly successful work on an older car. The part that took the longest was getting the starter mounting bolts loose, holy hell. I don't have any jack stands, so I just reached in from the top and getting any leverage on the lower bolt was really difficult. I sprayed liquid wrench and kept at it and it finally broke free. Thanks again for all the help guys.

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The original starters are worth more than to-days junk rebuilt ones. You never throw something out that may prove useful later. Lets say that spare craps out. You swap the solenoid from it, onto your old one, and you can now drive again... even if only to get another.

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