Volkswagen vehicles are not known for their reliability but any car owner can encounter starting problems at some point in their vehicle’s life. There are several potential reasons why your Volkswagen may not start and it’s important to diagnose the problem correctly to fix it.
One of the most common reasons for starting problems in Volkswagen vehicles is loose or corroded battery cables and wiring harness connections. If the battery cables are not tight, clean, and free of corrosion it can inhibit the flow of current to the starter preventing the vehicle from starting. Volkswagen wiring systems and methods are not the pinnacle of electrical engineering. The push on spade type connectors are rife with issues in and of themselves. Always check your wiring everywhere you can find it.
Another potential issue that can cause starting problems in Volkswagen vehicles is a loose or corroded ground strap between the front of the transmission and the chassis. This ground strap is crucial for providing a negative ground to the vehicle, and if it’s rusted out it won’t be able to provide a full negative ground resulting in starting problems. It simply doesn’t allow enough of a ground for the electric current to travel properly where it is needed.
The ignition switch and connections between the headlight switch and the ignition switch can also be a source of starting problems in Volkswagen vehicles. Badly connected wires can inhibit the flow of current to the starter and worn contacts in the ignition switch can result in intermittent or complete failure of current flow to the starter. Other times the ignition switch is simply worn out. Cheap aftermarket replacements can also have the same problems as a 25 year old Volkswagen part so don’t rule that out when troubleshooting based on the time period it was replaced. Check it anyway.
If your Volkswagen has a manual transmission a worn starter bushing in the transmission bell-housing can cause the starter shaft to wobble, resulting in the armature coming into direct contact with the field windings and causing a direct short. This can ruin the starter as well as the teeth on the flywheel. To prevent this always replace the starter bushing when replacing the starter and apply a thin coat of disc brake wheel bearing grease on the inside of the bushing and on the starter shaft to extend its life.
Occasionally, the solenoid in a Volkswagen starter can “freeze up” or “get hung.” Lubricating the solenoid piston with a MOS2-based grease such as CV joint grease can often fix this problem. Before re-lubricating the piston and bore clean them with brake parts cleaning spray. For the short term what the solenoid with the butt of a screwdriver or a hammer handle in hopes it becomes dislodged and you can get home.
When having your Volkswagen starter tested it’s important to ensure that the shaft on manual transmission starters is properly supported in the test stand. Most auto parts stores don’t have a fixture on their testing stands to do this. It’s best to have the starter tested at an auto electric shop or electrical rebuilder that has the proper fixture(s) for the job. Additionally, have your tester perform a “load” test as a “no-load” test won’t provide accurate electrical test readings on the starter’s condition. A worn out starter can turn over nearly as fast as a good starter but without any torque. You need torque to get your engine started.
Finally, installing a hard start relay such as Bosch’s WR-1 can improve your Volkswagen’s starting action. This relay shortens the current flow from the ignition/start switch to the starter solenoid enhancing starting performance. While the WR-1 kit is convenient, you can also use a Karmann Ghia horn relay and proper installation guidance to achieve similar results.
Starting problems can occur in any Volkswagen vehicle but with the right diagnosis and repair you can quickly get your car back on the road. By checking battery cables, ground straps, ignition switches and connections, starter bushings, solenoids, and having your starter properly tested you can identify and fix the issue with your Volkswagen’s starting system.
If you are stuck somewhere and can’t get it started remember that you can turn on the ignition and push start it. Unless your ignition switch is bad. At least there is still a chance of getting home.