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Volkswagen Vanagon: 1980-1991 (T3) 89 Vanagon. Won't start.

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Last Post: Jul 5, 2010 11:44 AM Last Post By: TomB

Posts: 20
Registered: 08/11/07
89 Vanagon. Won't start.
Posted: Apr 5, 2008 11:05 AM
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'89 Vanagon Wolfsburg, 4-speed. Not used for 3 months. Now won't start.
Battery almost new and charged to 12.67 vdc.
Headlights strong.
Half turn of ignition key activates dash oil, batt and temp lights, and I hear what sounds like a relay click below front panel. All dash fans.
At the rear, half turn of ignition key activates what sounds like fuel pump, which sounds normal to me. Sound duration is a second or two.
First full turn of ignition key causes same fuel pump sound which stays on while key is held fully turned.
I hear no starter motor sound at all. Nothing. And no clicking from rear.
I have looked for loose wires connection, and reseated contacts on ignition coil, and junction boxes. There seems to be no starter action at all.
Starter worked fine when last started in December.
Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

Posts: 7,661
Registered: 12/29/05
Re: 89 Vanagon. Won't start.
Posted: Apr 5, 2008 1:38 PM   in response to: 89vanagon in response to: 89vanagon
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It's either:
- ignition switch
  • starter
  • wiring problem

Remove the plastic steering column trim under the steering
wheel (2 philips screws, one on either side)

Remove (pull off) the black harness plug from the base of
the ignition switch (at the bottom of the ignition key slot).

Take a piece of wire or bare metal paper clip and bridge
the big red wire with the red/blk wire... does the starter
turn now?

If yes, ignition switch is faulty.

If no, put everything back together and crawl under the van
at the back (passenger side).

Have a look at the starter (11 o'clock position when looking
at the transmission from the front to the back).

There should be at least 3 wires attached to the solenoid
(see attached image)... 1 big one (goes to the battery), 1
medium one (goes to the alternator) and 1 smaller diameter
one... that's the solenoid "trigger" wire (at the 3 o'clock
position in the solenoid).

Make sure that the trigger wire is attached (blue circle).


- Remove the trigger wire from the solenoid
  • take a screwdriver and bridge the shaft against the big
terminal of the solenoid with the trigger pin on the solenoid

Does the starter turn now?

If yes, activate the starter like that a few more times.

Re-connect the trigger wire... go to the front and try the
key again.

"FKH161 is not responsible for any damage or problems that
may result from following his instructions or advice. They
are to be used at your own risk."

Had to add the above... just in case.

Posts: 20
Registered: 08/11/07
Re: 89 Vanagon. Won't start.
Posted: Apr 5, 2008 1:45 PM   in response to: 89vanagon in response to: 89vanagon
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Never mind. Turned out to be terminal 50 on Starter.

Posts: 240
Registered: 11/18/06
Re: 89 Vanagon. Won't start.
Posted: Apr 6, 2008 7:44 PM   in response to: 89vanagon in response to: 89vanagon
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This may sound stupid
But I had a family of squirrels live on top of my 85 Vanagon trans one spring, they knocked off the wires to the starter solenoid---not chew it off, knocked it off

try jumping it from the batttery
jk, is me

Posts: 1
Registered: 07/04/10
Re: 89 Vanagon. Won't start.
Posted: Jul 4, 2010 8:45 PM   in response to: FKH161 in response to: FKH161
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I have a 91 vanagon camper, same problem, but I have four wires, one thick red, one medium red, and a thin red(yellow stripe), and then another wire. It appears that the two wires, thick and medium red go to the battery terminal, and the other two thin wires go to 3 o'clock. Is that correct. Also there is constant power to the thick red, even if key is off, is that how it is suppose to be? There is no power at all to the two thin wires, which would be the trigger. No idea, why there are two wires, maybe because it is a camper edition. Anyways, how can I get the starter to get power?


Posts: 1,415
Registered: 08/06/02
Re: 89 Vanagon. Won't start.
Posted: Jul 5, 2010 11:44 AM   in response to: jk, is me in response to: jk, is me
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Is this an automatic transmission? The only diagrams I find with 4 wires to the starter are for auto trans with an auxilary battery - which the camper has under the driver's seat.

The heavy red wire to terminal 30 (large stud) on the starter goes directly from the main battery to the starter - no swtches or fuses, so it is always live. The switching for it is done by the starter solenoid. The medium red wire goes directly from the alternator to the starter terminal 30, joining the battery wire. So this is the wire that provides power and charges the battery when the engine is running.

On most models there is only one wire on terminal 50 (the starter solenoid), that comes directly from the ignition switch, start position. with the switch in the "start" position this provides 12V to the solenoid, which moves to engage the starter gear to the flywheel and als switches the 12V from the heavy battery wire to the starter motor. From the diagrams this should be red/black

With an automatic transmission the wire from the starter switch goes through a neutral safety switch, so the starter will only engage when in neutral. If the safety switch fails, no start!

Some models with an AUX battery add a 4th wire (normally also red/black) that goes to an AUX battery relay, but not all campers have this.

It's also possible that a prior owner ran the 4th wire as a bypass because of a starting problem.

For troubleshooting I'd connect a voltmeter to terminal 50 of the starter (thin wires) check voltage to ground (chassis) - run the leads to a safe location - while someone turns the ignition switch to "start" and see what voltage you have.

I've had Vanagon starters fail where even with 12V at the solenoid they wouldn't even click. Others where the voltage from the ignition switch was low due to burned contacts in the ignition switch. Others that would start when "whacked" (stuck solenoid), or would start cold, but not hot.

So checking voltage to the solenoid from the ignition switch is a good starting point to figure out what is wrong. The electrical portion of the starter switch is a frequent failure, but is cheap and easy to change.

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