Easy repair of the "non-rebuild" star...

Easy repair of the "non-rebuild" starter for the first gen sohc neon

Posted in the Dodge Neon Forum


Gary, MN

#1 Nov 18, 2008
I ended up getting a 98 dodge neon last year. While the car had a list of problems due to an abusive former owner, it still ran great. One thing that I always found funny though was that it sounded like a turbo was whining as the starter cranked. Being experienced with cars, I knew it was the starter. I looked around for a rebuild kit but was told that the starter wasn't able to be repaired. Sure enough, a few months later, the starter died. I was appalled at the price of a new one so I decided to see what I could do about fixing it. I knew that it was the brushes in the starter, not the solenoid, so I was already ahead of the game.

Most of you are probably wondering how it can be done. I'm not saying I'm an expert or anything, but here is how I managed to repair it for absolutely FREE!. That's right. I didn't spend one dime on gaskets or parts. Here's the breakdown as best I can describe it.

To remove the starter: First thing, remove the battery from the car. You may want to listen to tunes while you're working like I was doing, but it has to be out of the way.

Next, remove the fuse block by pressing the two plastic tabs forward on the side that is against the battery box. They are small, but you should manage to get them loose by using a small screwdriver. Once it's free, just push it out of the way. Then take loose the little brace bracket and ground wire attaching the battery box to the upper radiator core support. Now you can remove the battery box by taking out the upper mount bolt and loosening the two lower mount bolts. You may have to crawl under the car to get to them. Trust me, they can be a pain.

Once you have them loose enough, CAREFULLY pull the battery box up and disconnect the temp sensor on the bottom via the plug. I broke mine cause I wasn't careful, but it didn't hurt anything.

Now comes the fun part. Removing the intake manifold and throttle body. I did this to have better access to the starter, but you may not have too. I know some of you are asking how I could do that without spending the cash for new gaskets. I lucked out. The sohc neon with the plastic intake has REUSABLE gaskets between the throttle body and intake, and the intake and head. They will work just as well as new as long as they aren't damaged already. Check for cracks and compression. If they are still soft and pliable, then they can probably be reused.

To remove the intake, you will need to take loose the throttle cables. If you have cruse control, there will be three cables, two if not. They are easy enough to remove by pushing the throttle back slightly, turning them down, then slipping them off. They just pop on and off in case you were wondering. Then, using pliers if you have to, press the side tabs on the cable holders where they come through the mount bracket. Slip them out and prop them out of the way. You may want to use zip ties to hold them out of the way, because they can get annoying when they flop loose and get in the way again.

Gary, MN

#2 Nov 18, 2008
Now you can take loose the mount brackets for the throttle body. Be sure to get all of the bolts. Before you pull it off the intake, be sure to try and get the sensors disconnected from the throttle body via the plugs. Once all is unbolted and unplugged, set the throttle body aside.
Now for the intake manifold. I wouldn't recommend this to people with the aluminum intake as you WILL need a new gasket for it.
First off, drain the pressure from the fuel system by opening the gas cap. It may sound like a stupid step, but it keeps the gas from spraying at you. Next, pop off the fuel line by depressing the white tabs on the hard line side of the connections. The plastic line is held with those plastic clips and a bit of friction, so be careful when removing it.
Next, unbolt the fuel rail and injectors from the intake via the two mount bolts which should be obvious. They are above the fuel rail on mounting tabs. Once you are sure that you have it loose, pull the entire fuel rail loose from the intake. Be sure not to jar it too much or you may damage the o-rings on the injectors. You don't HAVE to take them loose from the fuel rail, and I wouldn't recommend doing that, but they can be removed by popping off the metal clips at the junction between fuel rail and injector. Inspect the o-rings on the injectors to make sure they aren't damaged. If not, then you can reuse them as well.

Now you can finally remove the intake. There are at least 8 mounting bolts on the flange where it meets the head between the runner tubes, and one down by the water pump. Once they are loose, make sure that you've unbolted the exhaust crossover tube bolts and the pcv valve tubes, then slip the intake away from the head. You may have to move it towards the power steering pump to slip it off the end of the exhaust crossover, but it should be more or less free. There may be one or two sensors on the intake depending on your model year, so pop those free via the connector plugs as well.

Now comes the fun part... The starter itself. With the battery DISCONNECTED, remove the nut attaching the main power wire from the starter. If you had your battery sitting on something and still hooked up so you could jam to the radio, TAKE IT OUT! The sparks may be pretty but it's a bit of a pain to get jolted. There should be at least two wires under the nut, so don't miss um. There should also be a third wire with a simple spade connector on the far side next to the engine block. Once you have them removed, unbolt the two starter mount bolts and slip it free.

Congratulations. If you made it this far, the hardest part is over.

Gary, MN

#3 Nov 18, 2008
Take the starter over to a workbench or set it on a newspaper on your kitchen table. You are gonna want plenty of light and plenty of space to work on it.

It shouldn't be too hard to figure out how to disassemble the starter case, but it may take some serious elbow grease. Once you have it apart, it should become apparent what I did to fix mine. Most of you who are reading this would have guessed that it was the brushes on my starter that failed. You'd be right. One of the brushes was completely gone.

Now's the time I should tell you that it's always good to have a spare piece of copper pipe around...

You may be wondering what good a piece of copper pipe could do for a starter that has welded and riveted leads to the brushes. Well, as long as the wire to the brush is still relatively intact, you can reuse it.

Take your old piece of copper pipe and break off a chunk about the length of a dime's width (something like 3/8ths of an inch). Take your pliers and crush the piece of pipe until you have something resembling a brush. You may have to shave off a bit here and there to make it fit into the old brush holder, but take your time. It doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to fit without binding up.

Now I should mention that the brushes are held against the starter electromagnet with springs. IF yours is missing, you'll need a new one. I lucked out with mine remaining in the holder. Carefully slide the new brush you just made into the hole with the spring and make sure that it's not going to pop out again mid assembly.

Once you are sure that it's seated properly and the brush is moving freely, push back the spring with a small screwdriver. Shove what's left of the old brush wire between the spring and new brush (your copper pipe piece) and let the spring off. Give it a few hard shakes to make sure that the wire isn't going to fall loose with normal road driving. Once everything is properly in place, put the starter back together.

To test and see that the motor is working properly, take your battery and a pair of jumper cables, then hook them to your starter. Hook the ground of the cables up to the housing of the starter gear and the positive to the large bolt of the starter where you took off the nut and wires. Then QUICKLY touch the positive of the jumper cables to the positive terminal of the battery. If it spins, then it works. If not, and you're sure you're testing it right, take the starter apart and make sure nothing came loose.

Once you have your working starter, then just put everything back together again.

CONGRATULATIONS!!!! You just rebuilt a starter that isn't supposed to be repairable for absolutely FREE!.

Note: You might have seen that I was VERY vague about the starter disassembly and repair. That wasn't an accident. If you've never seen the inside of a starter or won't get a picture diagram of the starter you're working on, you'll most likely end up wrecking it worse then it was. Having experience is the best way to ensure a proper repair.

If I've left something out you think you need to know or still wondering about, just ask.

Victoria, Canada

#4 Jul 9, 2011
Okay, shortcut on the removal. You can cut a hole in the battery box over the starter bolt. Passenger side, just a little back from middle, from the bottom up to as big as you want the hole. No need to remove the box or manifold, etc.. Then, you can remove the front motor mount bolt, lower the front of the engine, and work under the car to remove the other bolt. The starter can drop down under the car. No gaskets, not too difficult.

Now, how the freak did you actually get the starter apart?

Clarinda, IA

#5 Jul 10, 2011
I took the bolts on the bottom pf the main casing loose. There are two and they're relatively small, so you need to be careful not to strip them. If you're having trouble holding the motor tight enough to get them broken loose, try gently clamping the starter in a vice or wrapping it in a towel that you don't mind getting greasy to give you a little more friction to hold it.

Victoria, Canada

#6 Jul 10, 2011
Thanks for the reply. I figured it out. I had the bolts out but nothing was coming apart other than a little slack from the solenoid throw. Turns out I just wasn't being violent enough. It was a parts-car spare starter I was working on... the gear wasn't throwing out to engage the flexplate, just seized. So, faced with buying another one, I decided this one WAS going to come apart - it did, eventually. Nothing broken or stripped. I managed to get everything spinning and sliding as it should and reassembled.

Swapping it in took one and a half hours, not really rushing - third time lucky and everything is running as it should.

Oh, I should mention that dropping the starter down rather than going up is easier with the front motor mount bracket removed from the car. Only 2 nuts and a bolt, but I rattled an impact gun for a while to get them off. Without impact, I doubt it would be possible... then again, with the Neon I've got, just about everything is rusted enough to require impact to work on.

Clarinda, IA

#7 Jul 10, 2011
I've swapped 3 engines with nothing but hand tools, so I know it's possible. Without an impact though, taking the starter out the top is usually easier because you don't have to deal with as many stubborn bolts. In most cases, by the time that you need to work on the starter, the intake gaskets should be replaced anyway due to heat damage.

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