Car Won’t Start? This Easy Roadside Fix Might Work

Bypass the Solenoid, if Your Car Won’t Start

With our gypsy living lifestyle, we’re often traveling (or staying) in remote places where the nearest auto mechanic is far, far away.  As you might imagine, the need to learn about fixing our vehicles is an important part of our new life.  (We are aspiring to be as independent as possible, after all!)

Thanks to a recent necessity, we learned all about our van’s starter solenoid. It was a good lesson, and one worth sharing in case it helps you.  The solenoid is an inexpensive part (around $10 or so for a replacement part from an automotive parts store) that you can easily replace yourself.  The solenoid acts as a bridge that transfers electricity from the battery to the starter. (The car only uses it when you’re trying to start the vehicle.)  So, if you try to start your car but it won’t turn over, it might be that the solenoid’s gone bad.

As it was explained to us, there’s a sort of logical trail you follow to see where the trouble is.

First, make sure that your battery isn’t the trouble. You’ll know this by trying to jump start the car.  If the jump start doesn’t work, then it might be the solenoid that’s bad.  If you have a battery gauge, you can check to see what amount of charge your battery has instead of jump starting it.  The battery should have at least 12.5 volts, for the battery to start the car.  If your battery is below that, try jump starting the car.

If that’s not it, time to try something else.

If the car doesn’t make any noise at all when you turn the key (no clicking, etc.) there’s a good chance that the solenoid has gone bad.  (If you hear clicking, it’s probably either the starter or alternator that’s the problem, at least as it was told to us.)

The hardest part in this whole process for us was finding the solenoid.  It wasn’t where the vehicle’s repair manual said it should be.  It wasn’t where the nice fellow at the automotive parts store said it could be.  It wasn’t where the references online for our vehicle said it should be.

How to Find the Solenoid:

Instead, we recommend saving yourself time and frustration by finding the solenoid this way:

  1. Locate the vehicle’s battery

    3 find cables

    Find the battery and follow the cables coming out from it to the solenoid

  2. Locate the red and black wires leading out from the battery
  3. Follow the wires, they will lead you directly to the solenoid (although, sometimes it’s on the other side of the vehicle).

How to Bypass Your Car’s Solenoid:

Note: To bypass the solenoid, you’ll need a flat-head screwdriver.

Step 1:  Place your key in the ignition and turn to the “on” position

Step 2:  Locate the solenoid (do not touch it, as there’s electric current now live from the battery).

Step 3:  Touch the tip of the screwdriver to the bottom bolt sticking out of the solenoid.


touch bottom bold_LI

Touch the tip of the screwdriver on the lower bolt.  Keep your hands clear, as there’s live electrical current there.


Step 4:  Keeping the tip of the screwdriver against the bottom bolt, lean the screwdriver so that the metal shaft also touches the top bolt at the same time.  (This creates the bridge for the electricity to flow through).

lean to touch top bolt too_LI

Lean the screwdriver against both bolts at the same time.  This should start the car.

If the problem is the solenoid, your vehicle will start itself as soon as you bridge both bolts.  (I’m always startled at the noise of the car trying to turn over, and have to try a couple of times before the car starts.)  You can now drive on down the road.  But you may need to use this process to start the car again once you park somewhere.

(We’ll have another post soon about how to replace the solenoid yourself.)

If bypassing the solenoid doesn’t work, it’s probably time to call the tow truck.