By on December 10, 2015

1996_nissan_pathfinder_4dr-suv_se_rq_oem_1_500

Bob writes:

Dear Sajeev,

I have a 1996 Nissan Pathfinder that I bought new and has since accumulated 90,000 miles . I plan on driving it until it dies because I still enjoy it and it gets me to all the great fishing spots, plus I have a “fun” car in the garage (’74 TR6) for when the weather is nice. My issue is about the starter (I think) on the Pathfinder.

The starter went out on it a couple years ago, so I bought a remanufactured one and replaced it myself. It was a much harder job than I thought due to the very tight space. The starter worked in the beginning then became sporadic after about six months. I would turn the key and only get a “click”, turn the key again and again and eventually it would turn over and start.

This time I took it to a mechanic, told them the issue and they thought the starter I put in was bad so I had them replace it with a new OEM. It too worked great for the first year or so before same issue arose. Seventy percent of the time when I turn the key it starts right up. The other 30 percent of the time when I turn the key I get a “click” or a very slow turnover of the starter, almost as if the battery was low on charge. One or two more tries and it starts right up.

I replaced the battery last year and it is strong, cleaned all of the terminals and checked the Pathfinder sites for others with this issue but seem to have hit a dead end. I would appreciate your thoughts on the matter.

Sajeev answers:

Hmm, this is tough to kick over and run to a solution! This link has great info, in theory. And this one is specific to your application (probably).

I bet there’s a voltage drop from the battery to the starter (starter solenoid, actually) from a corroded power cable. 1996 was a long time ago and that wire has seen plenty of work, even if the odometer suggests otherwise!

I was shocked at how my (then-12-year-old) 1988 Cougar started faster and gained almost 0.5 more volts at idle when switching from factory battery cables to stupid-massive 1/0 gauge cable from my local CarQuest. The cables looked okay, but removing the negative one from the engine block showed the big reason behind my charging problems: plenty of corrosion inside the wire bursting out the insulation like a teenager’s pimple.

Methinks you must follow my lead. Inspect the cable from the battery to the starter. You probably won’t like what you see.

Send your queries to [email protected] Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

31 Comments on “Piston Slap: Stumped by Starter Woes?...”


  • avatar
    -Nate

    Agreed that first thing I’d do is replace both battery cables with 1 or 0 gauge ones , most OEM’s are 4 gauge at best .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      I also agree that this is the place to start. It might not fix the issue, but the system will definitely be more effective, and function better as Sajeev said happened on his car.

    • 0 avatar
      greaseyknight

      Take a sharp instrument and peel back a little of the battery cable insulation right next to the terminals, corrosion can grow inside and cause problems.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    My enthusiasm for Lincolns allows me insight into the Cougar disease you suffer from. I have found even older Mercedes to be the antidote, if for no other reason than diagnostics are a crapshoot. That and $1000 heater fans will impoverish your restoration attempts, and alter your usual perspective. My wife is hoping the vaccination will take.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t enjoy pain enough to transition from gussied up Fords to anything 3-pointed Star. Hats off to you! :)

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Sometimes I think, “Oh how hard could it be to run an old Mercedes? They’re solid, and I like how they -used to- look.” But then I read such accounts x 324, and I realize it’s not a good idea.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        LOL ! .

        You’re -so- right .

        I own three old W0123 Mercedes’ and yes they’re wonderful , cheap to maintain but yes , I’m always fiddling with something or another .

        The comments about ‘ clicking noise ‘ reminded me of an old Field test : next time it fails to start , try bridging the solenoid’s actuating wire , ofttimes it’s easy to do with a penny or nickle ~ if this works a simple fix is to add an additional relay to the cicrciut kids it and the new solenoid kicks the starter .

        This is especially true with anything BOSCH equipped , in the Trade they’re called ” Hard Start Relays ” .

        I still always replace the battery cables with 0/1 gauge because it makes it crank faster and relieves stress off both the battery and starter motor .

        -Nate

        • 0 avatar
          fincar1

          Ha – you remind me that my service station guy referred to my old 1960 220S sedan as a Bosch.

          This was supposed to be a reply to -Nate’s comment, the next one down.

        • 0 avatar
          pragmatist

          My wife is on her second 107. The first was rear ended at we’ll over 300,000 miles (exact figure unknown since the odometer is one of the things that as well known, did fail), she got twice what she paid for it and bought another with half the mileage and better body

          Getting back to starters, I’ve had bad luck with Autozone starters in my old jeep. Fortunately, changing that is a ten minute, two bolt job.

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          At least with a W123 there’s nothing – as far as I know – as bad as the heater fan issue on the W114/W115/W107 cars.

          They’re just old and kinda expensive in weird parts, sometimes.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        LOL ! .

        You’re -so- right .

        I own three old W0123 Mercedes’ and yes they’re wonderful , cheap to maintain but yes , I’m always fiddling with something or another .

        The comments about ‘ clicking noise ‘ reminded me of an old Field test : next time it fails to start , try bridging the solenoid’s actuating wire , ofttimes it’s easy to do with a penny or nickle ~ if this works a simple fix is to add an additional relay to the circuit ~ the key switch kicks it and the new solenoid kicks the starter .

        This is especially true with anything BOSCH equipped , in the Trade they’re called ” Hard Start Relays ” .

        I still always replace the battery cables with 0/1 gauge because it makes it crank faster and relieves stress off both the battery and starter motor .

        -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Old Mercedes are what I would own if I had IPO money.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Hey, the heater fan’s only about $400 or so (shop around!).

      It’s “removing the entire inside of the car to get to it” that’s the problem.

      (Ask me how I know this.)

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    I recently rebuilt the original Nippon Denso starter on my ’96 4Runner, which started out with similar symptoms: I’d turn the key and get a “click,” turning it a few more times and it would fire up like normal without hesitation. In my case a bit of forum digging turned up the culprit: worn copper starter contacts, as well as a multitude of write-ups on how to replace them. I ended up following a guide that allowed me to replace the contacts without actually removing the starter from the truck, but by unbolting it from the bellhousing and maneuvering it inside of the workspace between the frame rail and exhaust manifold. A bit fiddly and knuckle-busting, but ultimately I was back on the road with a total cost of $20, with the original Nippon Denso starter working great. I can’t stand buying questionable-quality rebuilds and chucking a perfectly good OEM part that likely has much higher quality bearings and such, over an easily replaced internal component.

    Are you sure the mechanic really did use an OEM replacement, or did he just tell you that? If you still have the original starter laying around somewhere, I’d try opening it up and checking the condition of the contacts, and consider rebuilding the original unit and swapping that in.

    Perhaps some diagnostics with a multimeter could help you diagnose the state of the power cable and/or ground strap?
    Don’t give up, those pathfinders are nice trucks!

  • avatar
    st1100boy

    You might also consider swapping out the starter relay. I had a 10-year old Mercury Topaz (ugh, don’t ask) with similar symptoms. A new relay fixed the problem and was dirt cheap.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Congratulations on having a very low mileage 19 year-old Pathfinder! I hope it’s an LE with the lace wheels and gold tone tint, because 90’s.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Make mine a mid-level trim like the one in the title photo, with alloy wheels and fat tires, and the black plastic fender flares. Oh and a 5spd to squeeze as much life as possible out of the somewhat asthmatic VG33.

  • avatar
    IC Turbo

    I had a starter problem with my 240SX a while back that actually sounds a little familiar. It wouldn’t always start with the key, so sometimes rocking the car in gear would get it to start. Eventually I tired of this, so I decided to investigate the problem.

    A new or used starter was not available, so I had mine rebuilt. This didn’t fix the problem. With an essentially fresh starter, I looked elsewhere. The main starter wire was only about 3 feet long from the battery and tested ok resistance wise.

    Then I kept a volt meter handy because it you can never trust an intermittent problem to come up when you have the tools handy. When the problem came up, I then investigated again. It turns out that when the starter didn’t want to engage, I was only getting about 9 volts on the solenoid wire. When it started, I would get full voltage. My car had a motor swap with some non-factory wiring changes, so I didn’t exactly feel like tracing the entire harness to find the problem. I knew the solenoid wire always got some voltage, but not enough to turn over the starter. Solution? Run a new relay with the solenoid wire as the trip wire for the solenoid. I haven’t had a problem since.

    I’d also like to point that just because you hear a click, it doesn’t mean that it is the starter solenoid. In my car, the main electrics shut down when cranking and there is a click from this as well, but it doesn’t come from the starter solenoid. I know this because of the starting trouble mentioned above.

    TLDR: install a new relay with the stock solenoid wire as the relay trip wire. This circuit draws a lot of juice, so use appropriately sized wire.

    • 0 avatar
      ekaftan

      Came here to suggest this… so +1.

      I’ve had to install a relay between the stock solenoid wire and the solenoid itself in a couple of older cars. Most likely the starter switch was going bad.

  • avatar
    ajla

    In my experience, for a situation like yours, it is almost never the starter itself.

    Sajeev and other have given good advice on where to look.

  • avatar

    Better check all the grounds… Negative battery cable and body to engine cables. I’ve personally experienced an engine compartment fire from faulty ground cable. The only symptom before all the ground wires burst into flame was the intermittent starting problem.

  • avatar
    Feds

    I’ll bet on battery cables. I’ll also take the oportunity for anyone who owns an R50 Pathfinderr/QX4 to make sure the rust recall is taken care of. I had the front shock tower split right off the frame rail. That said, Nissan bought the car back at 2x what I paid for it.

    http://forums.nicoclub.com/97-04-pathfinder-qx4-strut-housing-corrosion-recall-update-t534872.html

  • avatar
    cdotson

    I feel the need to interject with a potential wild-hair failure that no one has yet hit on.

    Check your spark plugs for signs of water contamination.

    When the head gasket went in my truck it would leak coolant from the #1 cylinder into the chamber. Yes, I was losing coolant but at the time I had a known hairline fracture from the pressurized recovery tank that would spit water and leak steam so the water loss didn’t concern me…until I replaced the tank and water loss continued (into the cylinder with increasing frequency).

    A little bit of water can hydro-lock the engine against starter torque, but bumping it with the starter enough can cause it to wash down past the rings and allow it to turn over.

    Not saying it’s your issue, it probably isn’t, but it’s a possibility.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Sajeev nails it.

  • avatar
    ihbase

    I have a Nissan from the same era with the same drivetrain and I had the same issue. Before you start changing out cables and spending money on OE components that are probably just fine, check two things first. 1. The starter relay is on the passenger side front fender well. Swap or jump that relay and see if that fixes your problem. After you discover that it is not the relay, order a new ignition switch- just the switch, not the complete assembly. If you know how to use a phillips screwdriver, it will take you about 20 minutes to swap out the switch. In my experience, this is generally the problem. -Michael

    • 0 avatar
      Erikstrawn

      I was a Nissan technician during that era, and my first thoughts went to the starter relay. However, the times I ran into failed starter relays they wouldn’t click at all. I’m leaning towards battery cables. Is the ground strap between the engine and frame still attached and in good condition?

      • 0 avatar
        ihbase

        I agree with your instinct pointing to ground issues. Factory terminals (and negligently installed replacements) are also a typical culprit on this generation. But I discounted corrosion here because I’m guessing the owner is not in a road salt state- otherwise that old Pathy would be a ghost by now. If you diminish corrosion concerns, you are back to electronics. I had an ignition switch elude detection for a while because it was temperature sensitive: worked fine all summer, then intermittently when cool overnight temps arrived. I had to wire a jumper to the relay so it could be tested right in the cab the moment it failed to crank.

        In any case- without regard for which component is responsible (safety interconnect relay?) jumping that starter relay will instantly inform the owner on where to look because it will either eliminate the ignition switch and relay and point to cables and ground contact, or isolate the relay or switch as the cause.

        A Pathy forum would be a great place to trouble shoot the issue and identify which wire to jump. I suspect that a lot of d21-era starters have been replaced unnecessarily.

        -Michael

  • avatar
    -Nate

    ” At least with a W123 there’s nothing – as far as I know – as bad as the heater fan issue on the W114/W115/W107 cars.

    They’re just old and kinda expensive in weird parts, sometimes.”
    The heater core proper in any W-123 is as bad as an old Volvo to change out ~ pretty much you take the car off the heater core , not the other way ’round .

    I can’t possibly justify old Mercedes’ other than I like them and can fix them so they’re dirt cheap for me to run and I really like running them hard and fast 90 % of the time , they eat it up .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Lopaka

    Thanks Sajeev and the Best & Brightest, the first dry weekend we have I will start checking the battery cables and test the relay. Also you almost nailed the Pathfinder with your picture, exact same model (with the external spare) but in the blue/purple color…

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    Lots of good areas to check have been mentioned: Starter, contacts in solenoid; battery and ground cables, corrosion, loose, etc. Starter relay. Ignition switch.
    One not heard from yet: Charging system. Check that the battery is getting fully charged. Check with good voltmeter at the battery itself. ND alternators are usually good at giving the required 14.5 VDC to the battery, but sometimes the terminals/cables to battery connections are not good due to corrosion. There can also be trouble with the wiring from the alternator to the battery. Sometimes the cables/connections look okay, but have the dreaded “black wire disease” when the insulation is peeled back. If you have enough slack in the harness new terminals and cutting back to clean copper will fix it.
    A battery that is slightly low on charge voltage can lead to problems like this.
    Having the workshop manual is good because you can find out how things were supposed to be originally. I’ve run into cars/trucks where the OE battery ground cable was a “Y”. One leg went to the engine/trans and the other to the body. It had been replaced with a generic autoparts store single cable. This caused all sorts of electrical gremlins.
    Check for missing, broken, or corroded cables from engine to trans, frame to trans, and battery to frame/trans/engine.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Hummer: Jeez, I can’t imagine paying that much for 1 vehicle, $1,900 is what one could expect to pay for about 3-4...
  • geozinger: Fnck. I’ve lost lots of cars to the tinworm. I had a 97 Cavalier that I ran up to 265000 miles. The...
  • jh26036: Who is paying $55k for a CTR? Plenty are going before the $35k sticker.
  • JimZ: Since that’s not going to happen, why should I waste any time on your nonsensical what-if?
  • JimZ: Funny, Jim Hackett said basically the same thing yesterday and people were flinging crap left and right.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributors

  • Timothy Cain, Canada
  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States