1977 Jeep Cherokee: Starter Replacement

Last Friday, after I’d decided to take a weekend off from hiking, I headed to Grand Junction to pick up some supplies for my quilting project. On my way home, I stopped for gas and when I tried to start the Jeep, I was greeted with an absolutely terrible grinding noise. The only logical thing I could think of was that the starter had gone bad. I made a phone call to #thehelpfulex who confirmed that it was likely to be the starter but perhaps it could be the flywheel.

FSM illustration

Regardless of what the issue was, the part was not going to be available at 8:30pm so I called for a tow back to De Beque. The next morning, I got on the phone and was able to get a starter ordered. Thanks to the wonders of community Facebook groups, a neighbor was able to pick up the starter for me and drop it off Sunday evening.

Monday, I tried to install the starter. First, I realized that I didn’t really know where to find a starter. Next, I realized that it’s a really simple job. Two bolts and one electrical connection and I had the new one installed. I hopped in the jeep for the moment of truth. …nothing…

There was no grinding noise but there wasn’t even an indication that the starter was doing anything at all. I could hear a click indicating that the starter solenoid was working but besides that, I was dead in the water.

I immediately blamed myself. I’m not a mechanic, therefore, it HAD to be my fault somehow. I followed wires all around the battery. I Googled. I browsed the FSJ forums. I called #thehelpfulex. He suggested that the battery was probably dead. That made no sense to me since I haven’t had issues with the battery discharging but I was willing to entertain the idea.

Tuesday, I got up and asked my neighbor for a jump. He lent me his battery charger so we topped off my battery. Still nothing. My neighbor and I poked around for awhile trying to figure things out. #Thehelpfulex called to check in on me and the project. He walked me through some troubleshooting ideas and nothing worked. I wound up in tears out of frustration. I hate being vehicle-less. I really really hate it.

Without any better ideas, I threw some money at the problem via Amazon Prime: I ordered a voltmeter to be able to better test the electrical connections and I ordered another starter. I figured in any case I could return the locally purchased one and this would help me eliminate the very unlikely scenario in which the replacement starter was bad.

Friday, the starter arrived late in the afternoon so I put off the swap until the sun had warmed things up a bit on Saturday morning to dive in. I was feeling a little defeated and nagged by a sinking feeling that something more major might be going on and I wasn’t going to be able to get Francis Sally started.

Before I crawled under the jeep for the dirty part of the job, I used the voltmeter to test a few things, many of which I had tested before but now I’d have data(!):

  1. Battery voltage: The battery measured 12.67 (about 95% charge). Clearly it wasn’t my battery.
  2. Voltage at the starter solenoid: Power appeared to be traveling through the cable to the solenoid since I measured the voltage at 12.62 there.
  3. Voltage across the starter solenoid: I didn’t actually measure this because I didn’t have a helper to read voltage or turn the key. (Santa really needs to bring Sprocket some thumbs for Christmas…)
  4. Voltage to the starter: First, I disconnected the negative battery cable from the battery terminal. then I disconnected the positive battery cable from the solenoid and attached it to the opposite side of the solenoid (essentially bypassing the solenoid). I reattached the negative battery cable and tested the voltage at the starter. I was measuring about 12.5V but the starter wasn’t doing anything.

That was enough. I’d confirmed that even with voltage flowing to the replacement starter it wasn’t spinning. I returned the solenoid wires to their correct positions and  quickly swapped to the replacement for the replacement starter.

Nothing.

I tried by passing the solenoid. The stater spun! I briefly entertained the idea that maybe I’d somehow burned up the solenoid with the bad starter. And then I remembered my neighbor had been trying to figure out why there was only one small wire going to the solenoid (the ignition wire). I swapped its position and tried again.

BAM.

The #damselNOTindistress was victorious again.

1977 Jeep Cherokee Starter Replacement