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Ignition switch sticking in the start position


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It's a little unnerving to have the starter still engaged when the car is running. I have to force the switch back to the run position.

I've been searching and coming up short. I found some posts refering to the back of the switch needing replaced and also lubrication thru the key hole.

Anyone want to share their experience with this with their solution? links to other threads!!


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An ignition switch is composed of two parts. One is the tumblers, the part that ONLY allows a certain key to rotate ALL of it.

The other part is a simple electrical switch, a rotary switch. Unplug it from the tumbler part and you can turn it with a screwdriver.

http://www.rockauto.com/catalog/moreinfo.php?pk=488797&cc=1209316 (for a 1980 ZX)

You need a new one of those. They're relatively cheap, although replacing them isn't simple or easy.

both are attached to the steering column by a "collar" that prevents the column from rotating when the key is removed.

Typically the collar is bolted to the steering column with some special bolts whose heads shear off once they're tight.

To get them out, you take a dremel tool and cut a slot for a screwdriver in them. And it's REALLY REALLY hard to get the angle

on the screwdriver right, you'll use stubbies, super long ones, etcc.

Having someone who has done it all before show you how is invaluable.

Here's a trick, once you GET the screws out (usually 2 phillips and 2 seccurity) AGAIN use the dremel tool and cut some even cleaner

slots in the heads. Or replace them altogether.

Lubricating your switch won't fix it. It's the electrical part that's messed up. Broken copper contacts in there, jamming stuff. Time for a new one.

You may THINK you can get around behind it and just replace the electrical part without pulling the collar, but I've never successfully done it. And believe me I've tried.

Hope this tells you what you need. Most auto shops are very familiar with replacing ignition switches. They wear out on a lot of cars. And I suggest you buy one with the longest possible warranty.

Edited by Wade Nelson
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There are basically two parts to the ignition switch assy... The lock section, and the electrical section. The lock section has a screwdriver style post sticking out the back of it that will turn the electrical section if the correct key is inserted and rotated. The electrical section is the ignition switch which is held to the back of the ignition lock assy by two small screws.

Do I have a point with any of this? Yes... The point is that the spring that ensures that the "START" position is momentary is located in the electrical section. There are no rotational springs or detents anywhere in the lock section. All of the springing and detents of positions is done in the ignition switch, not in the lock.

That said... There are two things that could cause the problem you're having:

a) The spring in the ignition switch is not working properly and you need to replace the switch. It's cheap and plentiful and easy to replace. You might even be able to do it without taking the whole lock assy off the steering column.

B) The other possibility is that the lock assy is worn out and what is supposed to be a smooth easy rotation is catchy and notchy in certain positions. This is more difficult to fix and is more expensive.

How does the key feel in the rest of the positions? Does it rotate smooth? Can you pull the key out in any positions other than "LOCK"? When you say you have to force it back to the "ON" position, is it a smooth rotation back to "ON", or does if feel like it's getting caught on something?

BTW - Here's some of my experiences with the ignition switch assy. http://www.classiczcars.com/forums/thread44869.html and from that thread. The switch is in the lower left:


I fixed all my locks and keyed them all the same, but I never went back and updated that thread. There should still be some info in there that can help though.

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You guys are awesome!

When I said force-I guess i meant assist the key back to the 'on" position. It does feel like it's catching. But the ignition switch seems to work fine in all other positions. And where do I get this 'switch"?

I did try the wd-40 spray, but not too much.

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>And where do I get this switch

rockauto.com Tell 'em Wade sent ya. Or you can run down to the local NAPA store.

I've worked with a local locksmith a lot. A tiny spritz of Tri-flow lubricant is the ONLY thing she will use in locksets. And I've had very good success with it.

If the key / tumbler part of your switch isn't smooth, is binding, whatever, consider buying a replacement on Ebay. (once you unplug it from the electrical switch)

Steering lock and ignition switch housing (in Catain's photo) is what I'm calling the "collar"

Edited by Wade Nelson
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X2 on Rock Auto for the switch. I've got a 77 and I paid less than ten bucks for BECK/ARNLEY # 2011174. I'm not sure if the earlier cars used the same switch as the later ones, so just make sure you poke around a little and make sure you're getting the right switch for your car.

I defer to Wade's attempt to replace the switch without taking the whole lock assy off the column. I didn't try, but it looked "possible" to me. If you do have to get the whole assy off the column, you'll have to mess with the anti-theft screws. I don't have any threads to point you to directly, but I do remember that the removal of that anti-theft hardware is well documented.

Speaking of that switch... I was having the traditional "turn the key all the way to start and sometimes the starter won't spin" problem. The problem is a well documented failure of the contacts inside the switch. The switch contacts burn up after years of switching the starter solenoid current and that's the reason people install an auxiliary "booster" relay to drive the solenoid. Anyway, I took my old switch apart to see what was going on and even though it's not directly related to your problem, you can see the detent notches around the outside of the switch housing.

I chucked up my old switch to cut off the crimped over ring:


And here's the inside where you can see the burned contacts. But to the point, you can also see the detent notches in the silver housing on the left side, and if the problem with your car is the switch, then the root is the detent and spring system:


For a temporary solution to my issue, I cleaned up the contacts and bent them around a little for better contact and epoxied it back together. Works great. I also bought a new switch, but it's still sitting on the shelf. I don't want to put it in until I've made that booster relay mod because I don't want to burn up my new switch like my old one did.

That was nine months ago....LOL

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All you need to do is lessen the current load on the "START" contact by using a smaller relay to drive the bigger solenoid to drive the starter and there are lots of relays that you can use for that. The most common mod involves using a Ford starter solenoid as the booster to drive the solenoid integral to the starter, but there are other ways to skin the cat. And don't get hung up on the word "booster". I just made that up to describe it functionally.

If you search for "Ford" and "solenoid" on here an the other Z sites, you'll get lots of hits. Poke around and you'll find lots of info. Here are two examples I found that included some pics.

From Tony D's cardomain page: http://www.cardomain.com/ride/735451/1974-datsun-260z/page-14/

and from XenonS30: http://xenons30.com/starterrelay.html

PS - Sorry for the threadjack.

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And forgot...

Madkaw, The jury is still out for me as to whether your issue is in the lock or in the switch. I'm having a hard time picturing what could cause the momentary "START" return causing problems without having problems with the spring detents in other positions. Especially if it is catching as you suggested. If your lock has never been replaced and you're still running the same one from 71, then I bet it's worn pretty bad inside as well.

You'll know for sure where the issue resides as soon as you separate the switch from the lock assy.

There are only two tricky parts to the whole thing... First is getting the entire lock and switch assy off the steering column (and it sounds like you're going to have to get over that hurdle regardless of what the problem is), and second is getting the lock cylinder out of it's housing. Other than those two things, the rest is cake.

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Drawing on my own recent "been there, done that" experience, the lock component doe not have to come off the steering column to replace the electrical component. The electrical switch is attached to the back side of the lock with two screws. Get the covers off and trace the wiring to the plug on the switch. It typically involves a bit of contortionist work in the floorboard to see the screws but everything is accessible, if a bit tricky. A screwdriver with a magnetic bit is a great help in getting it back together.

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...the lock component doe not have to come off the steering column to replace the electrical component.

My experience is on a ZX, the Z may provide just enough room to do it. I'm not saying it was IMPOSSIBLE, but for me, 30 seconds with the Dremel tool

was a heck of a lot easier. I'd been down the same road on several Subarus, which have an identical collar / setup.

If you meet someone who owns a cordless dremel you can be ASSURED that stealing cars is at least a SIDELINE business for him, LOL

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