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Series Land Rovers

Starter Troubleshooting Primer, or Button, Button...Why Doesn't It Work?

Original Author: Alan J. Richer

We've all had it happen - or if it hasn't happened to you yet, it will.

Get in, flip the key on, hit the big button or turn the key to start...and nothing happens. The panel lights continue to glow brightly but no motion is generated under the bonnet. Either that, or the panel lights dim and again no motion of the motor is produced.

This type of problem is usually accompanied by loud noises from the driver's position made up of words of four letters or less, but this upset is really unnecessary. Starter problems aren't all that difficult to fix if a systematic process of elimination is taken to isolate the source of the difficulty.

The first thing to eliminate is whether or not it actually is the starter circuit causing difficulties. All the starter does is to spin the motor over at approximately 100 RPM - no more, no less. If the motor is busy going round and round and it's not starting, you need to look elsewhere for your problem. If it sits there and obstinately refuses to turn or turns very slowly then the starter circuit is where you need to be.

Taken at face value, the starter on any Series Rover is a simple system made up of the battery, starter motor, a start pushbutton or relay and the cabling connecting the various items. What we need to do here is to check and isolate each of these components and verify its integrity.

The first item to check is the battery. Turn on the headlights, and attempt to engage the starter. If the lights dim to nothing when this happens, odds are the battery is flat. Attempt to jump-start the car. If a jump-start succeeds, then either the battery is bad or the charging circuit is.

If, however, the lights remain bright then we can safely assume that the fault is elsewhere than the battery. From here, you will need your jumper cables as test leads. Using one side of them, we are going to systematically jumper out sections of the starter circuit till we manage to find the defective component.

Locate the starter on the side of the motor. You will notice that there is a brass nut connecting the cable to the rear of the starter. The first thing we're going to try is jumpering this directly to the battery - this will take all of the switching out of the circuit.


First, connect one side of your jumper leads to the ground terminal directly on the battery, and connect this to one of the mounting studs on the starter. Connect the other jumper lead to the hot terminal on the battery, then touch the clamp on the other end to the brass stud on the back of the starter. THIS WILL SPARK! If the starter begins to turn the motor over then we can safely assume the starter is good and proceed down the line to test the rest of the circuit with our jumper lead. If not, then break out the wrenches and/or the starting handle because the starter has packed it in. Replacement or a rebuild of the starter is in order.

With this verified, we can determine which side of the circuit is causing the difficulty. Disconnect the ground connection and touch the hot lead to the stud again. If the starter doesn't turn then there's a corroded/bad ground in the battery circuit to the car ground. What you likely have is a corroded cable termination or a bad terminal between the battery ground terminal and the engine/car chassis. A bit of simple detective work should be able to put this right. If it does turn, then proceed - we need to isolate the failing component in the hot-side of the circuit.

Now that we've determined the functionality of the starter, locate the starter button or solenoid. Whichever you have, it will have two heavy wires attached to it - one from the battery and one from the starter. Touch the end of the jumper lead to the starter side of the button/solenoid - starter should engage and turn the motor.

Clip the lead to the battery side of the button/solenoid and attempt to turn the engine over with the button/key. If it now works then your problem is a defective battery cable to the solenoid/button. If not, then the button or solenoid is the issue. If the button, it needs to be replaced. If the solenoid, there is one more test we want to make.

Going to a terminal on the starter is a red and white wire - this is the lead from the key switch on solenoid-equipped cars. Remove the lug from this terminal, clean the terminal and touch the jumper cable clamp to the terminal. If the solenoid clicks and the starter turns then the problem is upstream of the starter circuit - a defective ignition switch, faulty lug on the wire, disconnected wire or the like. Again, a bit of detective work with a test lamp should point out the bad component.

What if it turns, but slowly?

Most if not all of the above suggestions for no-turn apply to slow-turn situations - again, jumpering out components is the way to isolate the faulty item. The other thing to do in this situation is a bit of disassembly and wire brushing - copper and lead oxides aren't well-known for their conductivity.

A thorough physical inspection of the connections involved on both the hot and ground sides of the circuit is in order if you have a well-charged battery that simply won't turn the car over quickly enough to start it. Clean up the battery posts and cable ends, and inspect/tighten/clean the terminations of the cables and you'll likely solve the problem in short order. If not, jumpering components as above should isolate the issue in short order.

To conclude, starter issues aren't rocket science or magic - a little knowledge of the system involved and some methodical troubleshooting should reveal the source of the difficulty in no time.




Copyright Dixon Kenner, 1995-2011. Last modified March 15, 2005.
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