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July 7, 2013

Dodge Caravan NipponDenso Starter Motor Contact Repair

I’ve now seen the same starter motor failure in three different vehicles, a 1996 Plymouth Vogager (same as Chrysler Town and Country or Dodge Caravan), 1988 Toyota van, and 1987 Toyota Tercel, over the past 15 years, in what looks to be the same model starter motor. The motor appears to be made by NipponDenso. Essentially, the copper contacts inside the high current switch that turns the motor on erode (possibly by spark erosion) to the point that contact across them is no longer made by a solenoid-driven plunger, and as a result the starter motor gets no power and won’t crank the engine. Typically, these contacts can be easily and cheaply replaced. Here’s how I did this repair in my 1996 Plymouth Grand Voyager LE (3.8L V6):

First, you will probably want to look at a Haynes manual or similar if you aren’t very familiar with these vehicles. Not essential to this repair, but pretty helpful for finding your way around the engine and otherwise:

1996-2002
2003-2007
2008-2012

Note that if you buy either manual by clicking on the appropriate image, I get a small commission. Even better, if you really want to help support a starving author, you can buy my new book Dog Friends. Dogs often ride in vans :-) . Click on the image to the right for details and previews. And please look out for my forthcoming book about repair!

In this vehicle, the starter is mounted at the front of the engine near the center but on the driver side. Here are the steps for taking it out and repairing it.

1. Disconnect negative terminal connector from the battery.

2. Put the parking brake on and lift just the driver side front maybe 5-6 inches, enough to easily get your head and shoulders under the front end and have some room to get at the starter. To do this, I did the lifting using a scissor jack, then supported the vehicle with a jackstand. I left the unloaded but still mostly extended scissor jack in place as backup in case the jackstand failed.

The starter is located at the bottom front of the engine on the driver side. Here’s a picture of it taken from the front

Starter motor from below, front of engine

Starter motor from below, front of engine

2. Disconnect the control cable from the starter relay (just depress tab in port in connector socket gently, and pull the connector out).

3. Disconnect the big high current cable from below. I used a 13mm socket, long variety, with a 3/8″ ratchet + long extension.

4. Remove the two big bolts that attach the starter to the engine. This is perhaps the hardest part because the upper bolt is hard to access. Be patient. I used a short 15mm socket + 3/8″ ratchet with no extensions and was able to remove both bolts from below. Keep track of the thin spacer/shield plate that goes between motor and engine, and hangs on the positioning dowel on the starter.

5. At this point, working under the front of the vehicle, you should be able to pull the starter out from below. You will likely need to gently push a big cable bundle sideways slightly to get enough clearance.

6. Now, you can take the starter to a workbench and begin the work of replacing the contacts. Here’s the starter on my bench.

starter motor

starter motor

7. Remove the three small bolts holding down the starter solenoid cover plate. I used a 7mm socket for that. The cover plate should pull off easily. Here it is partially removed.

starter motor, solenoid cover

starter motor, solenoid cover

8. Carefully pull out the solenoid core and the spring concentric with it. Now you’ll be able to see the eroded contacts. Mine looked like this.

eroded contacts

eroded contacts

9. Remove the 2 bolts holding the contacts in. In my case, I needed to use 12mm and 14mm sockets, the former to remove the smaller nut holding the high current wire going to the actual starter motor, and the latter for the nuts holding each contact on. I had found replacement contacts from a supplier on ebay (Triodiode DC Electric And Tractor), and I installed those easily. I also cleaned the copper washer on the solenoid plunger using fine sandpaper. With the new contacts in place on their respective bolts, I reassembled the starter solenoid. Here are a few additional pictures in case they are any help to you:

solenoid plunger

solenoid plunger

contact and copper attachment bolt

contact and copper attachment bolt

starter motor connector

starter motor connector

Re-installation in the vehicle is the opposite of removal.

Good luck and be careful. Cars are big, powerful, and heavy, and I can take no responsibility for any harm that happens to you, other creatures, or to your vehicle, if you follow my instructions.

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