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Old 01-30-2020, 07:29 PM   #1
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General (engine) Starter question - cold weather

Is it possible I have two bad starters?

I'm back from a 3 month trip, both vehicles sat basically, untouched while I was gone and are doing the same thing. Never had this happen before.

The day before I was do to fly in, I called the mechanic who had my van and asked him if he had started it recently. He hadn't in over a month. So he plowed the road, cleared the snow off my van and said it started right up and drove fine. It was 10 degrees that day.

The next day it was -27 degrees. The van would not start. Battery was good, but just a loud single click. I was certainly enough condensation had frozen in it to keep it from turning at all. As I was in flip flops with a light jacket and the mechanic was not there ... I could do little, but take an $85 taxi ride home.

Once home, tahoe's brand new battery was dead and would not take a charge while it the car. Pulled it out, warmed it up and charged it. Same thing, loud click. And still in the -20 degree range. Buddy came over. With ignition in start mode and tapping on starter, it started right up.

Same with the E-250.

I'm sure this is a starter issue and definitely a cold weather issue. But, my question is FINALLY:

Do starters act that way in extreme cold? I would think it was all or nothing, not a wear issue.
Do the starters not make good contact after multiple miles and years?
Is this just a freak incident?
Am I looking at replacing them both?
Do I think too much?

I've had the '03 Tahoe in Alaska for 17 years, and this has never happened. 190,000 miles, original equipment.

Van is an '02 EB250 with 5.4 and 60,000 miles.

Next 2 days could not get them to start as I was alone. Both started fine the 3rd day after using a weed burner to warm up the motors, engine block heaters on both, batteries fully charged.

This morning it was a balmy -8, so they both started right up.

It rarely gets that cold, but it surely can. This may just be a freak thing as they both sat so long, but I kinda need at least one vehicle working. Other can sit til spring if need be.

Thoughts?

Thanks in advance.
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Old 01-31-2020, 01:04 AM   #2
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The van is likely the fender-mounted starter relay rather than the starter itself.

Low temps increase the load on the starter, and decreases the battery voltage, so it is hard on the starting system. You generally have starters fail (and batteries) when it's very cold and very hot.

With the van being started in low temps, and not being run long enough to recharge the battery, it may also just be a case of low battery voltage. I'd probably throw both rigs on a charger overnight and see if anything improves.
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Old 01-31-2020, 08:06 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by carringb View Post
The van is likely the fender-mounted starter relay rather than the starter itself.

Low temps increase the load on the starter, and decreases the battery voltage, so it is hard on the starting system. You generally have starters fail (and batteries) when it's very cold and very hot.

With the van being started in low temps, and not being run long enough to recharge the battery, it may also just be a case of low battery voltage. I'd probably throw both rigs on a charger overnight and see if anything improves.
I guess my post was too long or clear as mud. Both batteries were charged and block heaters on. I even added a jump start device. I can here the starter solenoid engaging with that loud click, but will not turn on either.

I don't have any experience with the fender mounted relays, but tapping on the starter with ignition in start mod, caused both vehicles to fire right up.

Could it still be the fender mounted relay? I think I'm missing something.

Thanks for the reply
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Old 01-31-2020, 09:18 AM   #4
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Ok. That extra info definitely helps. I'm only suspect of the fender-relay on the van because

1) They often fail around 100k
2) The starters rarely fail on the gas engines

Were you able to conclusively tell that the click was coming from below the van, rather than in front of the van? If it happens again, I'd try jumping the posts on the fender-relay using a pair of needle-nose pliers, before knocking on the starter. If it starts easily this was, that relay is bad. If instead it doesn't start easily, and instead you see some sparks and/or it feels like the pliers are being welded to those posts, the starter-mounted-solenoid is bad.

The Tahoe on the other hand... miles alone makes it far more likely to be the starter, IMO.

Anyways, both use essentially the same starter, and they do both have a starter-mounted solenoid with a plunger to engage the bendix. But unless it does it again, it would be hard to diagnose.

If it does happen again, hold the key for a couple seconds. Then climb down underneath, and feel if only the solenoid is warm, or it and the starter body is warm. If it's only the solenoid that heats up, you can replace that component on it's own. And on the van, you don't even need to pull the starter to do it.

If it doesn't happen again, I wouldn't even worry about it. The severe temp changes while you were gone could have caused some surface rust on the flywheel, enough to make the bendix gear have trouble engaging with the flywheel teeth. If the plunger can't push the bendix gear out into the flywheel, the relay contacts won't close either, and it won't start.
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Old 01-31-2020, 10:16 AM   #5
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-27 degrees? Nothing wants to work at those temps. Anyway,I had the exact same issue with my 5.4 a short while ago. I suspected some moisture from condensation froze the starter up. Actually, I’ve had the same issue with every van I ever owned, and always at below freezing temps. The weed burner is a great solution though. For those that don’t know about this, basically you take a piece of stove pipe with a 90deg bend at the end, shove it under the engine, light the burner, put it in the pipe and give it a few minutes to warm things up. Ocassionally, folks leave it so long that it burns a hole in the pipe, so if you ever see a vehicle with the front all melted, there’s a good chance that’s why. Anyway, tapping the starter with a hammer is a good alternative.
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Old 02-09-2020, 10:46 AM   #6
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Old 02-09-2020, 02:15 PM   #7
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Turn on your headlights and have some watch to see if they dim a lot while starting can signal a weak battery that has enough juice to run everything but the super high demand starter.
Starters do have moving parts and they do wear out.
Tapping on the starter making it work is usually a positive sign of a bad starter or starter armature etc requiring a new starter.
However since it’s so moist cold, it could be the starter design just isn’t quite up to the task.
Also rebuilt starters from auto stores often are questionable quality. Perhaps these starters are from there but you seem to say not.
I’ve started wrapping my batteries in silver bubble wrap blanket and clear box taped I get from friends who get Blue Apron mail meals packed in these insulated bubble bags are perfect.
Your battery’s electricity flows much more better at normal temps.
Extreme temps are our battery’s enemy and many factory cars come with a battery blanket for the cold and also heat of the engine compartment.
For your climate, a step up to a battery plug in warmer wrap pad may be needed.

I have been very impressed with an Amazon $20 battery desulfator brought back my battery to work again just fine.
After only 3 days of placing it on the battery with at least one terminal disconnected from the vehicle cables,.
It pulses the internal sulfation dissolving it but drains the battery power in the process.
Then you put a charger on the battery to bring it back up then place the sulfator on the battery again, I did 3 times.
For extreme temps, you’d need to remove the battery and bring it into the house I’d think to do that because as the electrolyte becomes discharged, it becomes water like and so might freeze and damage the battery internals.
I’m making this an annual preventative maintenance for all my batteries. I’m hoping to find that they will then last many years linger than normal.

That’s all I know on the subject.
Take care
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