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Unread 01-07-2012, 05:06 PM   #1
GunmetalX
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1998 TJ intermittent starting problems

I've got about 140,000 mi. on my 98 TJ. I'm on the original starter, but new positive and negative (ground) cables, all except alt<->PDC and frame<->body were replaced in August when I was having some other issues (reference 1998 TJ Electrical/starting problem).

I also have a new battery from August.

I've had an issue which, if memory serves, started maybe last winter. On cold mornings, I'd try to start up the Jeep and the starter would begin cranking, then it would "wrrrr" weakly for a half second, then the whole Jeep would lurch to the side (I think to the left) and it would finally start up. This only happened every few weeks or so, and then it went away when the weather got warmer. It did happen ONCE during the summer, however.

Well, after the different -- but perhaps related -- issues I referenced from back in August, I have been fine so I chalked it up to the bad battery... although I was never able to really explain the strong lurch.

Now the cold-start problem is resurfacing and I'm not sure what's causing it. It doesn't happen every time I start, but it's getting more frequent. It's probably about 50% of my cold starts now. It is not actually failing to start, but I feel like that's coming if I don't nip it in the bud.

So the symptoms now are: I turn the key, it will crank for a second (sounds healthy)... then the low/weak "rrrr, rrrr" for a moment and then it will start and I'm all set. Altogether it probably takes about 3-4 seconds before I get ignition. Also, if I have the headlights on, they will dim severely during the "weak crank" phase.

Yesterday morning it also happened, where it cranked normally for a second, then did the slow crank, then normal cranking again, then slow cranking again... then startup. Normally the "slow crank" only happens once, so I feel like it might be getting worse, rapidly. It was something like this: "RRR-rrr-RRR-rrr" if that makes any sense. I know that's corny but I can't think of a better way to describe it in writing.

I thought maybe my starter was starting to go, especially since it seems to be drawing a lot of power (headlights dim) but I just pulled it today and had it bench-tested at Advance Auto AND AutoZone and it tested good at both stores.

The guy at AutoZone was suggesting I pull apart the starter and lubricate it, even though it tested, looked, and sounded OK... is there any merit to this?

I was also thinking of getting my battery tested... even though it's practically brand new, it's possible that I just have a "bad" one. But is that the only thing left for me to check? Or is it still possible that my starter is on its way out?

Anything else I should be looking at?

And as a side-note, any thoughts on what that lurching is all about? Is it just the normal twisting of the body when the motor starts up, and maybe I just don't notice it when it starts quickly? (I'm probably paying more attention to everything when I get these slow-start issues, but the twisting feels quite strong.)

Thanks.

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Unread 01-07-2012, 07:47 PM   #2
97lon
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Your starter is going bad. It is engaging and disengaging quickly at times. Better replace that thing before damage occurs to flywheel!
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Unread 01-07-2012, 07:53 PM   #3
silver97tj
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If your jeep is lurching foward on a starter try , the seliniod is not disengaging with a weak return spring, dont waste time lubracating it, just replace the whole starter. you can also have a bad engine mount, you shoulndt get so much body movement. Try cleaning the wire connectors on the starter and check batt leads make sure they are tight and clean.............good luck.
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Unread 01-07-2012, 08:22 PM   #4
GunmetalX
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Hi, thanks for the replies -- a couple of questions, not sure I understand these things:

- 97lon, do you mean the small gear (that engages the flywheel) could be going in and out of the flywheel? I'm not seeing how that could be happening, if it were disengaging I'd think it would speed up (not slow down) since it would at that time not be turning the flywheel and motor.

- silver97tj, it sounds like you are suggesting something similar, that the starter isn't disengaging from the flywheel when it should. But that seems like it would be a problem after the engine started, not a problem when trying to start it.
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Unread 01-08-2012, 07:16 AM   #5
GunmetalX
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Btw - would it be safe for me to "test" it myself by running it straight from the battery, when it's off the vehicle? Seems like that would be basically the same as what they did in the store, but I could do it a bunch of times without annoying someone at the store. Maybe the issue would occur for me if I repeat the test a bunch of times... unless it's somehow dependent on the starter being under load (from the flywheel/engine engagement).

I guess if I were to do that, it might also be a good idea for me to hook up a multimeter inline to measure current draw? What would be the expected draw? (Although I think you can only subject a multimeter to a few seconds' worth of this before letting the meter "rest" if I understand correctly.)
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Unread 01-13-2012, 10:21 PM   #6
GunmetalX
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Still trying to figure this issue out.

Had my battery, alternator, and starter all tested in-vehicle at AutoZone tonight.

Starter tested good (again), battery tested good, and alternator tested OK although a little weak (59 amps output).

I don't think my alternator is related to this issue, and the battery is now also seemingly ruled out.

I was looking in my Haynes book and it indicates that slow cranking could result from a "partially seized" engine. How likely is this to be the case, considering it runs fine once started? What other signs would there be of partial engine seizure?

I plan to pull the plugs and try turning the crank by hand to see if there's a lot of resistance. Is there anything else I should check? I'm really hoping this doesn't turn into an engine problem, I wouldn't be able to afford that (in either time or money) right now.

Meanwhile I think my next step (other than hand-cranking) is going to be to take the starter back off, and take it apart. I'd like to clean it up and lube it and see if that helps.

I'd also like to see if maybe my timing is off, where ignition is occurring before a piston reaches TDC -- does that make sense? I'm wondering if a cylinder could fire when the piston is still on the upstroke that could try to turn the engine backwards for a split second and cause the lurch. Is this possible or am I thinking completely wrong?
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Unread 01-14-2012, 08:17 PM   #7
Curly5759
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Gunmetal, you need to bite the bullet and buy a starter. You have worn brushes and/or a short in the armature. Bench testing at a store isn't putting enough of a load on the starter to cause the problem.

To answer your question, yes, you can bench test the starter at home with a pair of jumper cables and a screwdriver or a jumper wire. Just be sure to anchor the starter so it cannot jump around when it begins to spin. I usually put one of the starter ears in a bench vise or just put my foot on it if it is on the ground.

Your ignition timing is set by the pcm, using the Crank Sensor for cylinder location. It is not adjustable. Don't try moving the distributor, it has no effect on ignition timing on a TJ. Moving the distributor will affect fuel injection as the sensor inside (Cam sensor) is used to sync the injectors.

A partially seized engine? Never heard of that. If it is running fine once it starts, the engine is not your problem.

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Unread 01-14-2012, 08:22 PM   #8
GunmetalX
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Thanks Curly, good info.

Btw regarding the timing, I was more thinking of maybe too much slack in the timing chain causing ignition timing -- not distributor advance.

I appreciate the response, I feel better about the engine now. I also cranked it a couple of full rotations by hand (via the crank bolt) and it spun around quite freely (with the plugs out and transmission in neutral).

Thanks again!
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Unread 01-14-2012, 08:35 PM   #9
Curly5759
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Slack in the timing chain will affect valve timing and cam shaft sensor operation, but not ignition. Ignition is read directly off the Crank sensor on the flywheel, so the timing chain cannot affect it.

Too much timing chain slack will affect valve timing via the camshaft, and also change the 'synch' I mentioned in the last post. Sync is the relationship between the cam and crank sensor, and it has to do with injection timing. It can be read with a quality scan tool, not one of those code readers. Sycn is adjusted by moving the distributor.

Curly
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Unread 01-14-2012, 08:44 PM   #10
JPNinPA
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Get the battery and alternator tested again. Reading you last post on your previous issue link the voltage with the engine on should be 14.4V not 13.6V. It ia possible your battery isn't being charged enough.

Go back through your ground wires and inspect the wires and clean the connections by lightly sanding both sides.

Also, if it seems to be cranking too long it could be a drain back issue. Try turning the key on for three seconds, off, then on for three seconds then try starting.
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Unread 01-21-2012, 01:08 PM   #11
GunmetalX
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Update: last weekend I overhauled the starter by disassembling, cleaning, polishing, and re-greasing it using this as a general guide:

Starter Maintenance

It's only been a week so I'm still reserving final judgment, especially since there's only been 2 or 3 very-cold days where I've had to start up my Jeep. However, considering how bad and how consistent the issue was becoming previously, I feel pretty confident that there has at least been major improvement. I'll hold off a couple more weeks before I can say whether or not the issue is "gone." I suspect I do need a new starter as has been suggested here, I think I'm on borrowed time and that I'm just delaying the inevitable, but I'm holding out as long as I can since money is so tight.

I'll update the thread again in a few weeks or if any major changes occur.

Btw, overhauling this thing was easy! The hardest part was figuring out where to apply (and where not to apply) the grease, but after getting a feel for how this thing works it wasn't a big deal. I highly recommend doing so for anyone else who needs to try saving money and who can put a couple hours into this thing.

I just used brake cleaner to hose down the mechanical parts, and a paper towel damp with brake cleaner to wipe down the contact areas. Otherwise I followed the directions in the link above.

I also had trouble getting the solenoid screws out; however my manual impact driver and a 2.5lb sledge made short work of that. It was the first time I'd used it since buying it about 10 years ago... what a handy tool to have!
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Unread 01-21-2012, 01:11 PM   #12
GunmetalX
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One other thing, in response to JPNinPA: my alternator output voltage the last few times I've measured it (at the battery terminals) has been around 14.3 volts. I agree with you 100% that 13.6V is alarmingly low but for some reason I'm not getting that value anymore. I'm re-checking it fairly regulary (once or twice a week) now though so I'll be keeping an eye on it.

Thanks again everyone for all the help.
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Unread 01-19-2013, 06:55 PM   #13
GunmetalX
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For the sake of the archives, I should close out this thread by noting that several months later, I did end up having issues again and finally resigned to buying a remanufactured "Worldwide" starter from Advance Auto. Lifetime warranty, and has been working fine since. Fit was perfect.
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Unread 01-20-2013, 06:51 AM   #14
Jonny Jeep
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I rebuilt my starter last year after having similar starting problems. I believe it's down to the failure of the over-run clutch within the bendix (starter gear). I cleaned up the starter first and is was OK for several weeks before it started playing up again. At which point I got a new solenoid, brushes and bendix through suppliers at work for about $50 and rebuilt the thing.
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