Ignition intuition: This car has a mind of its own

Dear Tom and Ray:

       I have a 2001 Dodge Neon with more than 150,000 miles on it. Until very recently, it's been an extremely reliable vehicle, and I've loved it. Lately, and at random times, however, the engine will not shut off– even with the key removed from the ignition and in my hand! I've already gotten a new key and replaced the entire ignition cylinder, but it happened again yesterday evening. Luckily, yesterday I was able to fiddle with the key a little bit and finally get the stupid thing to shut off. What could be causing this? At this point, the mechanics I've taken it to haven't been able to identify or fix the problem, and I can't find anything on the Internet. Each time it's happened, my local mechanic has disconnected the battery, which made the car turn off. After that, though, it runs perfectly for maybe a couple of months, until it happens again. Any idea what could be wrong? – Grace        

TOM: You're a lucky woman, Grace – you can't get your Neon to stop. Most of our customers with Neons can't get them to start!       

RAY: You say you replaced the ignition cylinder. But that's just the locking mechanism that the key fits into; it's not the ignition switch itself. So you easily could have a bad ignition switch.        

TOM: But before you replace the switch, try replacing the ignition relay. Rather than have a huge amount of current running through the steering column to the ignition switch at your fingers, the ignition switch signals a power relay under the hood. It's that relay that actually sends current to the engine's computer, which enables the engine to run. That relay could be faulty and sticking in the "on" position.       

RAY: The relay probably costs 20 bucks, and it takes two minutes to replace. So start there, and see if that fixes your problem.        

TOM: If not, then it's almost certainly the ignition switch, because there's really not much else that could cause this. But since replacing the ignition switch will cost you several hundred dollars, don't do that until you've ruled out the $20 fix. Good luck, Grace.        

* * *       

Wait! Don't buy another car without the mechanic's checklist that's included in Tom and Ray's pamphlet "How to Buy a Great Used Car: Secrets Only Your Mechanic Knows." It will help you get a good used car and avoid the clunkers. Send $4.75 (check or money order) to Used Car, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.        ***       

Get more Click and Clack in their new book, Ask Click and Clack: Answers from Car Talk. Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper, or email them by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.       

(c) 2013 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman        Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.      

Read more on: Click and Clack

3 comments

Could we get these guys to weigh in on what to do if your car accelerates out of control?

They already did: http://www.cartalk.com/content/today-what-do-if-unintended-acceleration-...

And while this blog post is just fine, these guys are not the car geniuses people make them out to be.

Was this syndicated column always in The Hook? I don't recall.

If not, is this what the new leadership is promoting: write a check for a syndicated column and forego original stories?

R.I.P.: Thomas Gibbons