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Starter won't crank

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Old 08-21-2013, 05:44 PM   #1
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Starter won't crank

I'm out of ideas on this one, so I need some expert help.

1990 4Runner 3vze with the automatic transmission.

New battery, new battery cables (made from welding cables) and a new starter.
It cranks and starts fine in the morning, when it's cool outside.
If I try to start it in the afternoon, it will not start.
I tried that trick of turning the key real fast until it goes and that worked exactly once. Now, it will start when it's cool outside but not when it's hot.
When I turn the key, I hear the click under the hood, but it doesn't sound to me like the heavy click that a solenoid makes, but I'm used to the old GM starters from cars made in the '60s.
I replaced the old starter because I thought this problem was the starter. I replaced the replacement starter on warranty partly because of this, but also because the pinion wouldn't disengage. So this problem has been with this car through three starters. I'm starting to imagine the problem isn't the starter at all.

As I look over diagrams, I see an entry for a starter relay, and this problem seems to me like a relay that's going bad. However, I can't find where the starter relay would be if it's not on the starter.

Any ideas what I can do next?

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Old 08-21-2013, 06:01 PM   #2
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Park neutral safety switch on transmission. Or the starter relay which is in the driver kick panel fuse area. Or could be under the hood.
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Old 08-22-2013, 02:57 AM   #3
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I am going to have to agree with Neutral Safety Switch. It's located on the passenger side of the transmission where the shifter connects. Remove it, open it up, clean the contacts, re-grease and reassemble it. Check the exterior for cracks and if there are seal them with epoxy, let dry and reinstall...
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Old 08-22-2013, 10:21 AM   #4
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Oh how I wish I checked this forum before starting this morning! I went looking for relays and found a bunch of them. I found a diagram that seems to be all jacked up about what relay does what, so I was going to ask y'all about it. I even made a nice photo collage to help ask my question. I'll go give the neutral switch a look over before I start. I did have the transmission out with the engine, so it is entirely possible it wasn't even properly plugged in.

ThanX guys
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Old 09-02-2013, 09:59 AM   #5
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I haven't been able to get under the car and check this out yet because of an ugly work schedule and even uglier heat, so I've been looking to educate myself on the whole system and I think I've figured something out that I didn't know before, but I want someone with more knowledge to confirm it if you can.

I think I figured out there is no starter relay on automatic transmission vehicles because the neutral safety switch handles it. I have a diagram that seems to bear this out, but I'm not sure if I'm reading it right.

I highlighted the A/T components in yellow and circled the M/T parts in blue.

I'm hoping to have some time off when the day is still cool tomorrow that I'll be able to get the switch off and disassemble it. Am I going to find any surprises int here, like some spring loaded thing that shoots out and gets lost in the quagmire, or is it just a straight forward system inside?

Maybe I'll do a pictorial on that one for the next guy to experience this problem.
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Starter won't crank-neutral-safety-switch.png  
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Old 09-04-2013, 04:00 PM   #6
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I've been fighting with an intermittent problem for a while. Sometimes the car would start, other times, it merely clicked. In the process of repairing it, I replaced the battery, made new battery cables from welding cables, and replaced the starter.

The problem only grew worse and I noticed it only had problems when hot. A hot day, say over 95 degrees F would do it, or a drive to the grocery store. Then when it cooled down, it worked like a champ.

Eventually someone suggested the neutral safety switch, or NSS, was the culprit. I was still thinking of a relay somewhere and found multiple references to a starter relay. The only problem was that I didn't have one! After looking over a wiring diagram I came to the conclusion that the starter relay was only for manual transmissions.

So I went after the NSS and this is what I found:

On the right hand side of the transmission, where the shifter connects.

It was ugly and greasy and just plain dirty.

The backside wasn't any better, but I could also see a crack in the epoxy.
Only six screws hold it together and they come out easy.

There is a spot near the breather (blue arrow) where you can pry the two halves apart. it comes apart easily and you need to be careful to avoid losing any important parts. There isn't anything that will come shooting out, but there are two tiny springs that could easily get lost.

Inside the housing, you will find a swing arm with two tiny copper contacts in it. The springs are under those two items. I did notice there was no evidence of outside dirt in the housing, but the wear of 23 years was evident. The grease inside was dry and the contacts had just a slight tarnish on them. I cleaned all that and then used fine sandpaper to clean the contacts.

After I cleaned it all up, I marked the alignment line so I would be able to see it more clearly after it was installed. This line helps you to make sure the switch is reading your gearbox is in neutral/park when it really is in neutral/park.

There is also a round seal for the swing arm shaft. This was in good shape so I left it. There is another one just like it on the contact board half.

All parts clean and shiny and back together they go. The seal between the two halves was in good shape, so I kept it as well. I also put some epoxy on the back over the crack to prevent fluid entry if the crack ever got worse.

The switch is installed now. The red arrow indicates where the alignment line is. This line corresponds to the flat edges of the shift selector when the transmission is in neutral. Tighten the upper bolt, then tighten the castle nut to about 48 inch pounds, then loosen the upper bolt to allow mobility. Make sure you have a nice straight line, then tighten down the upper bolt.

Test it by starting the vehicle in both park and neutral.

This appears to have fixed my problem, though longer term testing is necessary which means I get to go out and drive it, which is why I'm going to all this trouble in the first place.

I'm just a noob with all this, so if a more expert mechanic has anything to say about it, including corrections or best practices, by all means, please speak up. I learned a ton about this problem and the process of fixing it and I hope my experience can help others.

Another interesting thing is that an old problem I've had seems to have gone away. The car tended to shift out of overdrive quite a bit and it was always worse when it was cold. While I was out driving it around, it would go into O/D and stay there until I slowed down or turned it off. I'm wondering if the O/D circuits through the NSS as well and bad contacts were causing those problems.
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