How to Change the Starter on Pontiac Carsby Contributing Writer; Updated June 12, 2017
Every time you turn the key to the Start position on your Pontiac car the starter motor uses the battery and a solenoid to spin the crankshaft to start the engine. The pinion gear on the starter and other internal components make this possible as well; however, these components wear out and, after hundreds of starts, utlimately fail. At that point you need to replace the starter motor. With the correct replacement for your particular Pontiac car model, follow this guide to install the new unit.
Under The Hood:
- How to Change the Starter on a 1995 Pontiac
- How to Change the Starter on a 1999 Pontiac Grand Am
- How to Replace the Starter on a '97 Grand Am
- How to Replace the Starter on a Pontiac Sunbird
Lift the right front end of the Pontiac with the floor jack, so that you can place the jack stand under the right front frame. Lower the Pontiac onto the jack stand. Place the wheel chocks at back of the rear wheels to prevent the Pontiac from rolling.
Open the hood and use the battery wrench to disconnect the negative battery cable from the battery. Push the cable end into a position where it cannot accidentally contact the battery terminal during the repair process.
Climb underneath the right front of the Pontiac and locate the starter. Its location will be determined by the year and model of your Pontiac, but it can be found by looking at the right side of the engine, where the transmission bell housing is bolted to the back of the engine block.
Disconnect the starter wiring using the socket set.
Support the body of the starter with one hand while you remove its mounting bolts with your other hand and the socket set. Do not let the starter weight come down on the bolts while you are removing them.
Compare the old starter to the replacement starter. It's not uncommon for auto parts stores to sell the wrong starter. Make sure the two are physically identical before attempting to install the replacement unit.
Hold the replacement starter in position, making sure you fully support its weight with one hand while you thread the mounting bolts in with your other hand. Without relieving the support, grab the socket set and tighten the mounting bolts down completely.
Reattach the starter wiring and tighten the starter down with the socket set.
Reconnect the negative battery cable with the battery cable wrench. Lower the Pontiac off the jack stand with the floor jack.
Items you will need
Lift the hood on the Grand Am and locate the car’s battery. Identify the negative post on the battery by its minus symbol on the top of the battery case. Use a socket wrench to loosen and remove the cable from its post on the battery. Wrap the entire metal terminal at the end of the battery cable with electrical tape. Lay the cable down within the engine compartment. Make sure the cable’s not contacting any other metal or the engine.
Open the driver door and fully engage the Grand Am’s emergency brake. Raise the car at its jacking point on the front passenger side using a car jack. The bottom of the tire should visibly measure eight to nine inches from the ground.
Position a jack stand slightly left of the car jack. Remove the locking pin from the support arm on the jack stand. Raise the support arm to accommodate the height of the car jack. Return the locking pin to the support arm of the jack stand to secure its height. Slightly lower the car jack so that the jack stand can bear some of the car’s weight. Do not remove the car jack. Rock the car back and forward slightly to assure it will remain stable.
Slide under the Grand Am head first and locate the starter. It will resemble a large elongated golden or black capsule. The solenoid will attach directly to it and will resemble a smaller capsule as well.
Label each of the wires connected to the solenoid clearly with white painter's tape. Do not use words on the painter's tape such as “red or black.” Instead, label the wires “inner and outer” or “left and right.” Use a socket wrench to remove the wire-securing nuts and slide the wires off their mounting bolts.
Remove the bolts securing the flywheel cover with a socket wrench if you have the 3.4L Grand Am. Lower the cover from its mounting position on the flywheel. Place the cover and its securing bolt to the side of the work area.
Remove the starter’s retaining bolts at its base where it mounts against the engine. Start with the top bolt. Before you remove the lower starter bolt, support the starter with your free hand. Remove the bolt and place both hands on the starter as you lower it away from its mounting position.
Place the starter back into its original mounting position exactly as you removed the old starter. Support the starter and hand thread each of the starter’s retaining bolts. This will assure the starter lines up correctly. Set your 3/8-inch-drive torque wrench to 30 ft-lbs. Completely secure the bottom starter retaining bolt followed by the top bolt.
Place the solenoid’s wires back onto their correct mounting point. Start both of the solenoid wires retaining nuts by hand. Reset the 3/8-inch-drive torque wrench to 22 ft-lbs. and completely secure both retaining nuts. Remove the painter's tape from the solenoid’s wires. If you removed the flywheel cover, mount it back into its original position. Hand thread each of the cover’s retaining bolts. Set your 1/4-inch-drive torque wrench to 89 inch-pounds. Completely secure the flywheel cover’s retaining bolts one at a time.
Remove all of the tools you used while under the car. Raise the car jack slightly to relieve the car’s weight on the jack stand. Slide the jack stand from beneath the Grand Am. Lower the car completely to the ground and remove the car jack.
Remove the electrical tape from the negative battery cable terminal. Securely reconnect the cable back to its post on the battery with a socket wrench. Shut the hood and release the car’s emergency brake. Start the engine to test out the new starter.
Items you will need
Black electrical tape
White painter's tape
3/8-inch drive torque wrench
1/4-inch drive torque wrench
Identify the starter's location on the engine. On 1997 Pontiac Grand Am, the starter is found underneath the intake manifold and above the oil filter. The starter is the part that is about half the size of a football and looks like two cylindrical pieces joined together (one cylinder is larger than the other).
Raise the Grand Am by driving it up on ramps. If it will not start, then you will need to raise it by using a floor jack and jack stands. Place the floor jack on the driver's side and raise it, placing the jack underneath the frame. Release the floor jack and do the same process on the passenger side of the car.
Remove the oil filter from underneath the engine. In order to change the starter on a 1997 Pontiac Grand Am, you will need to remove the oil filter in order to access the bolts holding the starter into place. Put the oil filter face down on top of a drain pan so that excess oil can drain from it while you are replacing the starter.
Disconnect the black battery cable from your car battery. This will ensure that you will not be electrocuted while working on your car's electrical system, part of which leads to the starter. Wait for fifteen minutes so that any potential electric charges can dissipate.
Change your oil while you are waiting. Since you have to remove the oil filter, you might as well change the oil and put a new filter on after changing your starter. Be sure that you are not allowing any oil to leak on your driveway.
Disconnect the electrical connection tab that is leading to your starter on your Grand Am. If it is stuck, then gently pry it with a flat-head screwdriver.
Unscrew the copper nut holding the electrical wires into place in front of the starter. This will give you more room to work with as you remove your starter from the engine.
Unscrew the two bolts holding the starter to the flywheel of your engine. Remove the bolts and then remove the starter.
Slide the new starter into place and bolt in the holding bolts to secure it to the flywheel. If you are cranking on the bolts in order to get them into place, then you may not have proper alignment between the starter and the flywheel. If this is the case, then you will need to remove it and slide it back into place.
Connect the electrical connection tab leading to the starter. Put the oil filter back on. Reconnect the negative battery terminal with the black cable. Try starting your Pontiac Grand Am.
Lower your 1997 Pontiac Grand Am from the ramps or jack stands once you have successfully replaced your starter.
Items you will need
Socket wrench with adapters
Oil catch pan
Oil filter wrench
Remove the Starter
Remove the negative battery cable using a wrench.
Take the engine harness off the motor mount to gain access to the starter mounting bolts using a ratchet and socket, if necessary.
Raise the front of your Pontiac Sunbird using a floor jack and support it on two jack stands. On some Sunbird models, you may have access to the upper starter-mounting bolt from the top of the engine compartment.
Unbolt the solenoid cover from the top of the starter motor, if your particular model is equipped with it. Use a ratchet and socket.
Label the wires connected to the starter solenoid, mounted on top of the starter motor, if necessary. Then remove the wires and the battery cable from the solenoid using a wrench or ratchet and socket.
Detach the rear support bracket from the starter motor using a ratchet, ratchet extension and socket.
Unscrew the two starter-to-engine bolts using a ratchet, ratchet extension and socket. Depending on your particular Sunbird model, these starter-mounting bolts may be different in size and there might be one or more shims mounted between the starter and engine block. Make a note of these items to make starter installation easier, if necessary.
Remove the starter from the vehicle.
Install the New Starter
Set the starter motor and shims in place.
Start the two starter-to-engine mounting bolts by hand or use the ratchet extension. Then tighten the bolts using the ratchet, ratchet extension and socket.
Attach the rear support bracket from the starter motor using the ratchet, ratchet extension and socket.
Connect the wires and battery cable to the starter solenoid using the wrench or ratchet and socket.
Install the solenoid cover to the top of the starter motor, if your particular model is equipped with it. Use the ratchet and socket.
Lower the vehicle.
Attach the engine harness to the motor mount using the ratchet and socket, if you had to remove it to gain access to the starter mounting bolts.
Connect the negative battery cable using the wrench.
Update the ECM/PCM Memory
Perform an "Idle Learn" procedure on your Pontiac Sunbird if it is equipped with a 3.0L engine. See the Tip box at the bottom of this article for more information.
Hook up a suitable scan tool to the Data Link Connector (DLC) located under the dashboard.
Turn the ignition switch to the On position but do not start the engine.
Select the Idle Air Controller (IAC) on the scan tool; go to Miscellaneous Test Mode and select Idle Learn.
Make sure the transmission is in Park (automatic) or Neutral (manual).
Run the test following the instructions on the scan tool.
Unplug the scan tool and turn off the ignition switch when you have finished the test.
Items you will need
Ratchet and socket set
Floor jack and 2 jack stands
Scan tool for 3.0L engine models