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Chasing down an intermittent
nonstarter
Dear Car Talk:
I have a well-maintained, 2008 Ford Fusion
with 256,000 miles.
Sometimes, the car does
not start on first, second,
third or more turn of the
ignition key. I’ll pump the
brake and keep at it, and
finally it starts. There’s no
signs of life during these
failed attempts (no sound
at all).
I had the battery replaced a couple of months
ago, but it’s still happening. Is it the starter? Loose
connections?
I’m getting ready for a
long road trip and don’t
want to be stranded. I’d
like to give the dealership
some hints about what
to look for in case the car
starts fine when I take it in.
What should they check?.Christie
Dear Christie:
Well,
with
256,000
miles on the car, it could be
a lot things. It’s like when
a 96-year-old comes into
the doctor’s office, and the
doctor asks “Is anything
OK?”
I’m going to guess it’s
not the battery, since that
was just replaced. And I’m
also going to guess that
when they changed out
the battery a few months
ago, they cleaned and
tightened all the cables.
So it’s probably not that,
either.
It could be the starter
motor. This is classic behavior of a failing starter.
It could also be the ignition switch. The ignition
switch is what you stick
your key into. And after
a few million uses, it can
wear out, and fail intermittently.
In addition, there are a
couple of safety features
that prevent you from
starting the car and immediately plowing through
your garage door. One is
called the neutral safety
switch. That’s a switch
that prevents the car from
starting if the shifter is in
anything other than Park
or Neutral.
As an experiment, next
time the car won’t start,
with the transmission in
Park, try forcefully jiggling the shifter with one
hand while holding the
key in the crank position
with the other. If nothing

Ray Magliozzi

can be reached by e-mail at the Car
Talk website at www.cartalk.com.

else, it’s good aerobic exercise.
If you can get the car to
start that way in Park or
Neutral, that points to a
bad Neutral Safety Switch.
Your Fusion also
has a brake-starter interlock, which prevents the
car from starting unless
your foot is on the brake.
If that switch is out of position, or worn out, that
could also cause intermittent starting issues.
So this is good news for
your mechanic, Christie. He’ll have plenty to
choose from, in terms of
where to get the money for
next month’s boat payment.
And you’re right to get
it addressed before your
upcoming road trip. These
“intermittent” problems
tend to become more
“mittent” over time, and
then permanent. So it certainly could strand you.
If you’re not able to confirm it’s the neutral safety
switch by using the experiment I describe, ask
your mechanic to take his
best guess and try replacing something.
You’ll have to hope that
he guesses right, or that
if he guesses wrong, it
fails again before your bon
voyage party.
If it were me, I’d probably start with the brake
interlock
switch
first,
since that’s the cheapest
thing to try. If that doesn’t
fix it, I’d try a new starter
motor. I’d try the ignition
switch last.
And each time you’re in
there for one of these repairs, don’t stop yourself
from perusing the new
car showroom. Good luck,
Christie.

***

Got a question about cars?
Write to Ray in care of King
Features, 628 Virginia Drive,
Orlando, FL 32803, or email
by visiting the Car Talk

website at www.cartalk.
com.

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