Vehicle Electrical Systems – Ignition Repair

There is nothing worse than having a vehicle that won’t start. Well, maybe starting your vehicle and not being able to shut it off. It’s the absolute worst when you have each of those problems on both of your vehicles. Last year the ignition on the 2004 LS powered LJ broke. A few weeks later the ignition on the 2006 stock LJ broke. It took me a long time to figure out what the exact part I needed to replace, and then it took me a while to source it. Here’s a bit of the process I went into the not only diagnose the problem but fix it.

What broke?

I got in the Jeep, turned the key and heard a “crunch” of something small and metallic. Turned the key again, nothing. Jeep wouldn’t start, wouldn’t run, nor would it go into accessory. At first I thought I shorted something out and nuked the starter. So I got a new starter, swapped it in, swapped the relay, and changed the ignition fuse. Still nothing.

Well that’s not a good sign.
Broken ignition switch actuator pieces

I hit google and did a quick search and quickly found out this was a common problem on the late 80’s, 90’s, and early 00’s Chrysler vehicles. Not just Jeeps, but Chrysler and Dodge Cars, Ram Trucks, their SUV’s, and pretty much anything Chrysler made over that 20+ year span. The culprit: the ignition actuator. The piece that goes between the key tumbler and the ignition selector switch. To confirm the diagnosis I needed to take apart the ignition.

Here you can see the broken actuator.
I guess a few thousand starts over 15 years and 107,000 miles on the ’06 did it in
At least the one on the ’04 it had 230,000+ miles
New ignition actuator for the win
Dorman part number 924704 – I got mine from Rock Auto in a few days.

Low and behold, a small pile of shrapnel appears. So the diagnosis of a broken ignition actuator is confirmed. The question is, can one be found. After a little cross referencing I tracked down a Dorman part number 924704. Remember that number if you own a Chrysler product from the late 80’s through the early 00’s. Not an expensive part by any stretch of the imagination, but let’s just say it’s not the easiest thing to replace.

Take it all apart

First step is to take apart the center console around the steering column. This isn’t hard on a Jeep Wrangler. Just a few screws and clips holding the knee panel on, and a few screws holding the two-piece column cowl together.

Two screws hold the two-piece cowl around the steering column together.

Once the plastic covers are all off and out of the way the first trick is getting the key tumbler out of the ignition. This is done by inserting the key, turning it to the run position, and then depressing a small retention clip on the bottom. Remember to make note of the key position being in the “run” position – this will be important later.

This is the screw that holds the ignition switch onto the column
It’s a anti-tamper Torx T15

Once the key tumbler is out there are two screws holding the park lock-out cable in position and one screw holding the ignition switch in place. Be careful not to loose the spring and detent pin from the park lock-out cover. Also make sure not to damage the ignition switch or any associated wiring – lest you have to replace it too.

Reassembly

Once that is all apart, it’s time to switch out the bad actuator and put it all back together. The important thing to remember is that the key tumbler will need to slide in while the key is in the “run” position. Depending on how and when the ignition actuator broke you may need manually select this position. Using a flathead screwdriver you can manually turn the switch to the “start” position and then it will spring back and rest in the “run” position. Leave the switch in that position and then install the ignition actuator firmly, but making sure not to break the plastic rod or clips. Also make sure not to loose the spring for retention clip on the cylinder – I lost two while doing the ignition on the ’06. Luckily I was able to cannibalize the old ones from the ’04 and ’06 to get it to work. Somewhere on my driveway are two really small springs and an even smaller clip. My monthly offering to the Jeep gods I guess.

Here you can see the switch (left) actuator (middle) and key tumbler (right) test fit together.
The key tumbler slides into it’s home when in the “run” position
You can see the detent lock for the key tumbler protruding from the bottom

Anyway, moving on, once the ignition switch and actuator are joined they can be reinstalled along with the switch and park lock-out cover. Do not hook any wiring up yet. Once that is done the key tumbler can be slid back in. If for some reason your forgot to put the ignition switch in the “run” position (like I did) or it slipped out of alignment and you didn’t realize it, you can use a long flathead screwdriver to manually turn it to the “run” position. This is why it’s important to not have the wiring hooked up.

Once everything is together it’s best to cycle the key a few time through all the positions – including back to the “accessory” position just to make sure nothing jams. Once that is confirmed you can reattach the wiring harness to the ignition switch, test it to make sure, then reassemble the plastic cladding in the reverse of how you took it apart.

While you’re at it…

Speaking of Chrysler and their epically awesome wiring (not), one of the things you should consider doing if, like me, you have an ’98-’06 Wrangler, late model XJ Cherokee, or a ZJ is replace the headlight selector switch. There is a common failure in the headlight switch with the fog lights that when the switch fails it fails in the ON position. Meaning your fog lights will be stuck ON all the time. This is why so many Jeep people end up removing factory fog lights and installing aftermarket once (well, that and the stock fog lights on most all Jeep brand vehicles suck).

Two screws on the top of the steering column hold the selector assembly to the column

In my case I had a replacement stock I planned on using the ’04 but since I have the same problem on the ’06, and it’s going to stay stock, I opted to install it while working on the ignition on the ’06. I will most likely be running an sPOD in the ’04 so I can basically ignore the stock wiring and switch for the fog light circuit.

Install on the headlight selector stock is pretty easy. Disconnect the wiring harnesses going into the switch assembly, two screws on the top, remove the assembly. Then two small screws hold the turn turnsignal stock onto the assembly. Also make sure to swap over the turnsignal relay. No idea why it’s here on the stock and not under the hood with the rest of the relays, but don’t forget to swap it over.

The new headlight selector (top) looks so clean compared to the old one (bottom).
Notice the turnsignal relay protruding from the middle. Remember to switch that over.
Also remember to grab the little rubber booty from the old headlight selector switch.

Installation is just the reverse of the install. Again, given you’re already taking apart the steering column cladding to get to the ignition this is a good “while you’re at it” kind of job. Especially if you’re like me and already have the parts but lack the motivation to do it as a standalone chore.

Conclusion

I found this video by user COrobotchicken on YouTube to be super helpful. I highly suggest you watch it if you need to do this repair on your Chrysler vehicle: https://youtu.be/-5mo3OADUnA

Diagnosing ignition problems is never easy. However if you start at one end (switch) or the other (starter) you can often figure out what the problem is. I have had everything from a bad starter, to a bad relay, to bad wiring, and now now a bad ignition switch actuator cause problems. Ruling out one or two of the easy problems can often point you in the right direction.

That said, on new(er) computer controlled vehicles ignition problems get a little more complicated and often require more specialized diagnostic computers. I also don’t recommend poking around ignition systems that have incorporated anti-theft components as that can cause your vehicle to become an oversized paperweight real quick. Luckily for me the ’06 lacked the security chip option and the chip reader in the ’04 was nullified when I did the LS swap. So I had no real fear of screwing up what it an otherwise simple system.

Now, for those curious, yes, you can actually run a vehicle if you bypass the ignition actuator. I drove the ’04 LS powered Jeep for about a year by manually activating the ignition switch and then using the key like normal to unlock the park-lockout and steering column lockout. It was a MacGyver fix that worked till I found the motivation to fix it right. I was also debating just bypassing the system altogether and installing a push-button start. I still am, but at least for now it’s all back together and working properly.


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