Trailblazer wouldn't start. Then did, then didn't, now does again.

Sparky

Original poster
Member
Dec 4, 2011
12,927
OK quick rundown of the events today:

Drove from home to office.
Drove from office to client's office.
Drove back to office.
Drove to pick up lunch.

And the Trailblazer wouldn't start.

I'd turn the key, all lights on the dash would light up, radio come on, etc, but turn it to start and it wouldn't crank. The starter wouldn't even click. I turned the key back off, then back on, same thing. Tried putting it in neutral, same thing. Checked fuses and relays and didn't see anything obviously wrong there, so I went back inside and ate lunch. Came out 15 minutes later or so and tried again. It still wouldn't crank. Pulled out the keys and it started dinging like the keys were still in the ignition :confused: Smacked the ignition with my palm and it stopped.

On a whim I took out a small hammer I had in the back in a toolkit and a wrench, disconnected the battery for a minute and smacked the starter solenoid with the hammer. Hooked up the battery again and it fired up instantly. Except my radio didn't come on. I drove it home, parked it, turned it off, and tried to start it again. Back to not cranking again, but the radio did turn on this time. Smacked the starter with the hammer again and it made no difference. So I drove my Camaro the rest of the day. Got back home just a few minutes ago, and tried starting the Trailblazer. Fired right up. Let it run a minute, turned it off, tried again and it fired right back up.

So the oddity of the radio and the dinging as if keys are in the ignition makes me suspect the ignition switch. I've never replaced it yet, nor the starter, and AFAIK they are both original. Does this sound like a reasonable suspicion? Also I don't want to seem a stupid person but I've never actually seen how the ignition switch comes out. I could probably figure it out but any pointers or is there a how-to I can look over? Stick with AC Delco for the switch or does it not matter?
 

Denali n DOO

Member
May 22, 2012
5,596
Sparky said:
OK quick rundown of the events today:

Drove from home to office.
Drove from office to client's office.
Drove back to office.
Drove to pick up lunch.

And the Trailblazer wouldn't start.

I'd turn the key, all lights on the dash would light up, radio come on, etc, but turn it to start and it wouldn't crank. The starter wouldn't even click. I turned the key back off, then back on, same thing. Tried putting it in neutral, same thing. Checked fuses and relays and didn't see anything obviously wrong there, so I went back inside and ate lunch. Came out 15 minutes later or so and tried again. It still wouldn't crank. Pulled out the keys and it started dinging like the keys were still in the ignition :confused: Smacked the ignition with my palm and it stopped.

On a whim I took out a small hammer I had in the back in a toolkit and a wrench, disconnected the battery for a minute and smacked the starter solenoid with the hammer. Hooked up the battery again and it fired up instantly. Except my radio didn't come on. I drove it home, parked it, turned it off, and tried to start it again. Back to not cranking again, but the radio did turn on this time. Smacked the starter with the hammer again and it made no difference. So I drove my Camaro the rest of the day. Got back home just a few minutes ago, and tried starting the Trailblazer. Fired right up. Let it run a minute, turned it off, tried again and it fired right back up.

So the oddity of the radio and the dinging as if keys are in the ignition makes me suspect the ignition switch. I've never replaced it yet, nor the starter, and AFAIK they are both original. Does this sound like a reasonable suspicion? Also I don't want to seem a stupid person but I've never actually seen how the ignition switch comes out. I could probably figure it out but any pointers or is there a how-to I can look over? Stick with AC Delco for the switch or does it not matter?

I had intermittent no start when I had warranty, the usual throw parts at it deal. They changed ignition switch first and it still did it then they put a new starter and it fixed it. The weird part was that starter was replaced along with a battery when they were throwing parts at the battery draining issues. I read an article here about switch change and even I was comfortable to do it, I forget which member submitted it.
 

AtlWrk

Member
Dec 6, 2011
674
http://gmtnation.com/f93/how-replace-your-ignition-switch-3430/

The "Article Submissions" thread on the main page contains all of GMTN's articles.

Rarely do we advise throwing parts at a problem without a thorough diagnosis but many electrical gremlins are caused by a flakey ignition switch. And when the problems are actually centered around the switch I'm pretty comfortable saying just replace it. It's pretty cheap and very easy. Doooooo it :wink:
 

mubai

Member
Jan 5, 2012
321
"Pulled out the keys and it started dinging like the keys were still in the ignition." This just started to happen to me along with hesitation in starting, it hasn't completely said, "no, i ain't gonna start," but it definitely feels like that's coming.

I'm going to order/pickup the ignition switch and replace it. It's $22 from Amazon and $41 to pick it up today from Advance Auto, I'll probably spend the extra $20 and get it done right away to prevent getting stuck somewhere.
 

Sparky

Original poster
Member
Dec 4, 2011
12,927
Ah. I went to the "articles" link above but didn't find it in there, so that's why I asked. Thanks for the link! That looks stupid simple.

If it wasn't so stupid hot today I'd go pick one up at the parts store and swap it out.
 

AtlWrk

Member
Dec 6, 2011
674
The "dinging like the keys were still in" got me thinking:

The "key present" sensor is in the lock cylinder itself, not the ignition switch. This sensor is also used by the VATS which may be what is disabling your start--not a bad ignition switch. Did you get a security light when it failed to start?

EDIT: To clarify: I don't know the intimate details of the VATS and key system to know for sure if this is a reasonable root cause. I only having wiring diagrams and educated guesses.
 

mubai

Member
Jan 5, 2012
321
AtlWrk said:
The "dinging like the keys were still in" got me thinking:

The "key present" sensor is in the lock cylinder itself, not the ignition switch. This sensor is also used by the VATS which may be what is disabling your start--not a bad ignition switch. Did you get a security light when it failed to start?

EDIT: To clarify: I don't know the intimate details of the VATS and key system to know for sure if this is a reasonable root cause. I only having wiring diagrams and educated guesses.

Mine hasn't failed to start and no security light. I'm the original owner, 2002 with 182,000 miles, so I figure it needs to be replaced anyway. Lucky, I guess, I got this far without replacing it.
 

Sparky

Original poster
Member
Dec 4, 2011
12,927
No, no security light. I thought these keys were "dumb" keys anyway, without any sort of chip in them.
 

kardain

Member
Dec 16, 2011
557
Sparky said:
No, no security light. I thought these keys were "dumb" keys anyway, without any sort of chip in them.

You are correct.

GM utilizes two types of vehicle anti-theft systems (VATS) that relate to the ignition cylinder - PASSLOCK and PASSKEY

In a simplified explanation, it works as such.

Passkey is what you are describing at the end of your statement. The chip is a resistor. A signal is sent through the resistor to the VATS system. The VATS system takes the resistor value and compares it against what is coded in for a "good to start" value. If the value matches, the vehicle starts. If the value doesn't match, the fuel pump is shut off and you get the security light. Since your key does not have a chip, continue on.

Passlock works similarly to Passkey, with a couple differences. The chip is not present in the key. The VATS system compares the tumbler position in the lock and checks for a key present in general via a resistor in the ignition cylinder itself. If the tumbler position matches what the computer says is OK to start and the proper "key present" signal is sent, the vehicle starts. If not, the fuel pump is shut off and you get the security light.

As both systems rely on multiple validations with no redundancy, there is room for "false negatives". As wear and tear occurs, proper contact may not be made to allow one signal or the other to pass through to the VATS system to get the all clear. With Passlock, excess weight on the ignition cylinder can cause premature failure thus resulting in no start. So all you with a bunch of keys on your keychain are at risk of false positives.

There is a third which is transceiver based (passlock III or passlock 3), but I'm not sure how that works... I do know that trailblazer/envoy and the other GMT360's do not use it so no need to look in to that further.
 

mubai

Member
Jan 5, 2012
321
1. Tilt the steering wheel in the top most position
2. Remove the knee bolster (definitely makes it easier and takes 30 seconds).
View attachment 21620
View attachment 21621
3. Remove the tilt lever, I used a plastic pry tool.
View attachment 21622
View attachment 21623
4. Pull the lower cover down, starting on the left side, then right side (Feels awesome on the fingers, :no:). Once it's initially popped out, you'll be able to wiggle it off, use a little force after it's popped and feel for where it's stuck to get it out. No need for brute strength on it.
View attachment 21624
View attachment 21625
5. Now time to get some slack in the wires that will allow you to unclip the pigtail of wires from ignition switch. Bend the clip holding the wires on the right side, doesn't matter if it cracks, it's part of the ignition module. Then I used a pair of wire cutters to cut the wire tie on the left side. Also, I never replaced the wire tie, it rested just fine once I replaced it, but your choice.
View attachment 21626
View attachment 21627
6. Detach the pigtail from ignition switch, there's only one freaking tight tab that you'll need a flat head screwdriver, push it down gently but with some force with your other hand pull the pigtail out. I don't recommend grabbing it by the wires, just the housing. I used a pair of pliers to get a good hold of it.
View attachment 21628
7. Push in the white tabs with a moderately skinny screw driver, you'll feel it when it pops. I was able to do it one at a time. There's already a good pic of it from the OPhttp://gmtnation.com/f93/how-replace-your-ignition-switch-3430/.
8. Inserting the new ignition switch. I had to do a bit of trial and error when I put the new ignition switch back in to get the gears right. Once the key is in, it should turn smoothly and fire up. Didn't happen like that for me, I plug and plugged 3 times before I got it right.
9. If the key gets stuck, you can depress the brass button to get the key out.
View attachment 21629
10. Here is the final position of the gears before I got it to fire up.
View attachment 21630
View attachment 21631

Hope these additional pics help!
 

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mcc

Member
Apr 8, 2012
49
Thanks for the pics! I just did mine and I got it aligned right on the first try. The wire harness proved very difficult to remove though- I ended up snipping off the plastic it latches into on the ignition switch to get it out.
 

mubai

Member
Jan 5, 2012
321
mcc said:
Thanks for the pics!

No problem!

mcc said:
I ended up snipping off the plastic it latches into on the ignition switch to get it out.

Yeah, that's why I suggested it, b/c you can really screw things up if you start yanking on the wires.
 

Sparky

Original poster
Member
Dec 4, 2011
12,927
Well I just confirmed today it is not the ignition switch. Figures, it was the cheap and easy thing. Well, aside from the lower half of the column cover not wanting to go back on. Fought with it for 5 minutes and couldn't get it back on there, scratched my head, tried again and it popped right on. Hah, always how it works. Anyway, put the ignition switch in, turned the key, and it started but the starter hesitated. Turned it off and tried starting again, nothing. Tapped the starter relay. Nothing. Smacked the starter with a hammer and it fired up. Sooo the starter solenoid is sticking from all I can tell now.

Figures the fix can't be the cheap one, but that's usually my luck with vehicles :crazy:

By the way, did anyone know there is a little plug on the bottom steering column cover that if you pop it out you can then reach up and push the manual key release button in case of a dead battery that is holding on to your keys?

Any recommendations on what starter to get? Rock Auto has a USA Industries for under $100, or several others and prices all the way up to $250. I don't want to cheap out and get something that's junk and won't last, but I also don't want to overpay either.

*edit* screw it, I think I'm going to try to repair my starter instead. The solenoid is sticking, the motor itself is fine. Worst case is I screw it up more and have to buy a new one anyway!
 

mubai

Member
Jan 5, 2012
321
Sparky said:
By the way, did anyone know there is a little plug on the bottom steering column cover that if you pop it out you can then reach up and push the manual key release button in case of a dead battery that is holding on to your keys?

Yes, I wrote something to that effect in Step 9. I wasn't clear about the little cap you can remove.

Sparky said:
*edit* screw it, I think I'm going to try to repair my starter instead. The solenoid is sticking, the motor itself is fine. Worst case is I screw it up more and have to buy a new one anyway!

Definitely take pics and post them, whether or not you succeed at repairing it. My Haynes manual says to remove the front driver's side tire and go through the wheel well to get to the Starter, but I saw some post saying to go from the top. I would totally help if I lived nearby.
 

Sparky

Original poster
Member
Dec 4, 2011
12,927
I removed the starter today to try and fix it.

I'm buying a replacement.

I went to disconnect the solenoid engage wire and after backing the nut off several turns the shaft twisted off. OK, well let's see how bad it is once we get the starter out. Went to unbolt the battery cable but it was hard to see (doing it from the top) and I went to loosen the other nut instead. Barely put any pressure on it and it completely busted the back end of the solenoid off and I just started to :rotfl: Ah well, guess I'm replacing this thing. It's pretty crusty looking anyway.

So do I buy a Duralast for $185, a USA Industries from RockAuto for $95, or an AC Delco for $150 from RockAuto? Or any other particular brand? Or should I buy a used one for $50? Hmm... I figure all the new $75 starters on ebay are probably junk.

And as requested, here's a pic of the starter in all its broken glory :crazy:

View attachment 21700
 

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MAY03LT

Member
Nov 18, 2011
3,420
Delmarva
Sparky said:
So do I buy a Duralast for $185, a USA Industries from RockAuto for $95, or an AC Delco for $150 from RockAuto? Or any other particular brand? Or should I buy a used one for $50? Hmm... I figure all the new $75 starters on ebay are probably junk.

If it were for my TB and time wasn't an issue it would get a used one. If I was in a pinch and had to buy one at a store, I'd get a napa power series (reman). Not just because it says "power" in the name, they are pretty good. I doubt that they can beat the prices of the ACD or the Duralast though.

Also, cool pic.:cool:
 

pennywise

Member
Mar 28, 2012
46
That thing looks prett bad. I would buy the one that had the best warranty. It costs more now but inafew years it might save you a couple bills.
 

mubai

Member
Jan 5, 2012
321
Sparky said:
So do I buy a Duralast for $185, a USA Industries from RockAuto for $95, or an AC Delco for $150 from RockAuto? Or any other particular brand? Or should I buy a used one for $50? Hmm... I figure all the new $75 starters on ebay are probably junk.

See if this helps your decision
View attachment 21702
 

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Sparky

Original poster
Member
Dec 4, 2011
12,927
It isn't working :confused:

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Weird.

Oh, it doesn't work for store pickup, only shipped. Hm.
 

Wooluf1952

Member
Nov 20, 2011
2,663
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
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Sparky

Original poster
Member
Dec 4, 2011
12,927
Awesome. Got one ordered from there. I'm going to get up early tomorrow (that's gonna be hard), pick it up, and get it installed before I go to work so I can hopefully beat the heat (just it'll be horribly humid).
 

Sparky

Original poster
Member
Dec 4, 2011
12,927
Starter replaced. It starts! :wootwoot:

Off to work!
 

Sparky

Original poster
Member
Dec 4, 2011
12,927
No I didn't partially because of time. But there was really no good way to get pictures of the process from the top. But peer down there from the driver side and you'll be able to see the starter with the wires hooked up. There is a small nut that holds the ignition wire, a large nut that holds the power feed from the battery, a bolt on the lower ear of the starter, and a threaded stud with a nut holding the upper ear of the starter. That threaded stud vs a bolt was great thinking on GM's part because it makes it so much easier to line it up without being able to see it very well.

I disconnected the vac hose on the driver side to get a little more room, then just reached down there with ratchets and wrenches to get it free. If you're short and/or don't have long arms you may not be able to get it from the top.
 

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