Dodgy Solenoid?

Well, the idea of this blog was to spend a few weeks catching up with 18-months of Land Rover ownership, then start writing more ‘current’ stuff. Day two and that plan has gone out of the window. Murpha decided to be an arse today….

Recently, my 110 underwent major surgery. This will be covered in other articles, but let’s just say that her old engine and gearbox are currently sitting in the boot of a 200tdi Discovery…which, coincidentally, seems to be missing its own engine and gearbox.

When I went to collect Murpha from the Hangar 53 workshop, Si mentioned that the battery may need a good charge, as it had been stood for a few months (again, I’ll explain about Hangar 53 and Si later – those guys are worth a book on their own!). When I went to start her, there was a ‘click’ and nothing. Another ‘click’ when I tried the key. And then, on the third turn, she fired up. Phew!

I didn’t think much of it, but did vow to charge the battery up at some point.

A few days later (today, actually), I went to start her again. This time, the clicks were plenty and the starter motor would not budge. Even with my jump starter on, it would not budge. I was not a happy bunny and spent about 20-minutes on my drive, cursing not only the fact that my Land Rover was immobile, but also the fact that nearly 3-tonnes of crap was now blocking my other car in. And my battery charger was 20-miles away, keeping my other (third!) car company in the workshop. I fall out of love with my darling Murpha very quickly when she lets me down, the bitch!

Then, maybe sensing my anger, the engine turned. V…E..R..Y    S…L…O…W…L…Y.

I’ll say one thing about this ‘new’ engine; it doesn’t take much of a turn over to fire up and, within no time, I had a breathing Land Rover throwing out diesel fumes on my driveway. Bliss.

As mentioned above, my charger had been left at the workshop and, rather than be a pain by asking Si and B if they could let me in to get it on their wedding anniversary, I decided to buy a new one I’d spotted on the Halfords website on a ‘half price’ offer for £20. To be honest, it would cost me a tenner in diesel to pick my old one up, anyway, so it was a no-brainer. This one was a lot better than mine, too. In fact, I might let Si & B have the old one as an anniversary present!

So, I placed an online reservation for the new one, had a wee (did you really need to know that?), grabbed my phone, said goodbye to the dog and hit the road.

Halfords is only about 8-miles from my house, but I figured that would be enough time to give the battery a bit of juice. Enough to get her started again, anyway. Famous last words…or thoughts.

I picked up the charger and 4-litres of oil. I’d seen them advertising that for £10 on TV, too, so was going to grab some, anyway. I’d like to point out that although it seems to be ‘cool’ to slag off Halfords by ‘serious’ motorists, I’ve never had a problem with them and found them very helpful. One lad even spent the best part of an hour changing a lightbulb on my Maserati recently for the princely sum of £6.99. Beat that, Maserati main dealer!

Anyway, you know what happens next. Yep, ‘click’. In fact, ‘click’ to the power of a hundred. I was convinced by now that Si was right; he’d told me earlier that his money was on a dodgy solenoid. If you’re a similar age to me, you may remember an old AA advertisement on TV, where the interfering neighbour sees a guy with his head under the bonnet and exclaims, “Dodgy solenoid?” in a really irritating voice. Well, I heard that voice then and haven’t been able to get him out of my head since!

I tried all the subtle ‘stuck starter motor’ tricks that I remembered from my youth; I smacked it with every piece of metal I could find. However, this was serious. Murpha was not being nice at all. One middle-aged woman in a tiny car did offer to lend me her jump leads. I thought that was really nice of her. Happy New Year to you, lady! This wasn’t budging, though, and I politely declined her offer. By now, I was convinced it was the starter motor or solenoid, so decided to take a socket to it. In the rain. Nice.

One advantage big Land Rovers have over ‘ordinary’ cars is that when a bloody great spark flies up because you’ve put your ratchet across a live and earthed it, you can jump up and NOT bang your head on the bonnet. To anyone looking, I was just a man on a mission. Only I knew that I’d nearly just crapped myself. It did give me an idea, though.

Desperate, I grabbed my jump-starter and placed it on the starter motor itself. Live to the solenoid, earth to the earth strap. I still don’t actually believe this did anything, but after two more ‘clicks’, Murpha farted into life! Unbelievable! I looked around, hoping to see a clapping crowd of suitably impressed people, but was disappointed and ended up throwing everything back into the Landy and driving straight home. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200.

Back home, I wasn’t going to take a chance; my ‘normal’ car was moved from the drive and Murpha was parked out of harm’s way until I knew she was okay.

GOOD CALL! Could I get her to start again? Could I bollocks! And, to make things worse, the starter motor that wouldn’t turn at all turned into one that wouldn’t stop turning. Engine running, or not, the only way I could stop it now was with the kill switch. If it hadn’t been for that, I’d have been frantically scrabbling around for a spanner to get the battery off!

By now, I was really confused. I Googled my problem. This sometimes helps, sometimes doesn’t. Previously, I had a few ideas in my head; dodgy solenoid, dodgy battery, dodgy starter motor or dodgy earth. One minute on Google later, add ‘dodgy ignition switch, question mark’ to that list.

Okay, so now I need to be methodical. I’d just bought a charger and the battery needed charging. To be frank, on New Years Eve, it’s all I can do, anyway. So, I put my fantastic little charger to use and it did a sterling job. I was genuinely impressed. I’d topped up the battery with some de-ionised water first, but it was indicating a full charge in a couple of hours. Time for the crunch test.

She fired up first time!.

Then, she fired up again!

This happened FIVE times. A new record, post-transplant! Not one ‘click’.

However, I’m still not convinced and vowed to myself that my mind wouldn’t be made up until this new-found good behaviour continued. I need evidence that Murpha has turned over a new leaf. In fact, hang on, you are about to witness a first. I’ll nip outside and try her now, ‘LIVE’ on brb…


She started on the first flick of the key. Yay! I am now a fully-qualified mechanic. In internet terms. Probably.

I will, no doubt, update this saga. I can tell you’re riveted by it. In the meantime, I’m going to look out for a good deal on a complete starter motor on eBay. If I want to go on journeys, I need a few spares kicking around. If you happen to have a 200tdi starter motor you no longer need, please shout!

Besides, I’m pretty sure the problem isn’t fixed. Murpha is lulling me into a false sense of security.

I’m sorry that I don’t have a suitable Land Rover photograph to accompany this piece, but here, have a product shot of the charger I bought. £39.99 in-store from Halfords, but £19.99 if you order it online and pick it up yourself*. Highly recommended!

My bargain Halfords battery charger
My bargain Halfords battery charger

*Well, that was the offer today. Tough titties if it’s expired.
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December 31, 2012Permalink