Living in Starter Hell

p171mp2o7e8lm1fjv69n14p7m1v0_42335Always something, right? Back in early March we were having starter problems. When I’d turn the key over, I’d get a loud click as if the solenoid was kicking in, but the starter wasn’t turning. I cleaned all the connections, but that didn’t seem to fix it. I called Josh the mechanic and scheduled for him to come down to the marina and have a look. At the last minute I found out that I couldn’t make it down, so I called Josh and told him to go ahead without me and I’d meet him later. He called a few hours later and told me the diesel was running fine. He had gone in and cleaned all the connections on the battery, and managed to get the starter to turn the engine over and get her started. Great! We thought we might be looking at having the starter rebuilt, but he managed to get things sorted out.

A few weeks later, after we ran the tank dry while doing the first part of our shakedown, I put a few gallons of diesel into the tank and had to bleed the air out of the system. The starter was working great, and ultimately I got it running. The next weekend we headed back down to the marina with another five gallons in our Jerry can to give us a little extra to make it to the fuel dock. Unfortunately the starter problem rared its ugly head once again. Loud click, but the starter would not turn.


Starter tucked in between the block an support.

When first mate would turn the key over all we’d get is a loud click. I was below and told her to hold the key over for a few second so that I could try to see if the starter was getting enough current to at least make it warm. That might clue me in to whether or not I was getting enough current. Earlier I had connected a volt meter directly to the batteries, and when turning the key over the voltage at the batteries went down to around nine volts. I figured the connection to the batteries must be good to draw the voltage down that much,so either the batteries were weak or the started was shorted. When first mate held the key over, sure enough the started heated up quickly, and I hollered at her to release the key, which she did.

We pulled both batteries out and took them into town to be tested. Both ended up being a really good condition. After all they are both only a few months old, but you have to rule everything out before you go tearing into engine components. We bought a third new battery for the house, just to make sure we had enough reserve power to spin up the starter. Still, same thing.

I think what we’re looking at is an intermittent starter motor. Next trip to the boat I’m going to see if I can pull the rear casing off and turn the motor a bit, then retry starting it. In the end we will probably have to pull it and have it rebuilt. That may entail jacking up the port side of the diesel to be able to get to the bolts under. We will see and I will keep you all posted!

About Captain Tom

Over 10 years sailing and over 3500 miles under our keel. Was an engineer (EE) for over 30 years, then after moving into management, decided that the corporate world was no longer for me. Ran my wife's law office for 15 years and recently retired. Now we live aboard and sail the California coast, soon to leave for the Sea of Cortez.