1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee - intermittent starting problem

I have a 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee that has an intermittent starting problem. Only once or twice a month, my car will not even begin to start. The times when the problem appeared, I turned the ignition key to try to start the engine, all the warning lights along the lower edge of the dash came on, but no sound was heard at all, the car does not even begin to try start (almost as if it has not battery power, but the warning lights all indicate the it does have power). When this first started happening, I would hear a fast clicking sound (about the tone and loudness of the turn signal, but about 6 times as fast), but I would only hear this as I was driving the car at normal speeds. The next time I would try to start it it would act as described above. Fortunately, after repeatedly waiting 15 seconds and trying again (about 5 minutes worth), the car would start as normal. The clicking sound seems to be coming from the lower steering column area, just after the steering column goes into the dash, however, I have not been able to detect exactly where near the steering column. I removed the plastic covers near the ignition switch and have listened and felt all around the metal areas near the ignition switch, but the sound does not appear to be coming from that area, as mentioned it appears to be coming from lower around the steering column. After a couple month's of this, I will more frequently hear the clicking sound when I am driving the car, but now the lack of starting does not occur after hearing the clicking sounds. The other day, I started thinking this reminds me of 1960's era cars, when the aged starter solenoid would get some spots on the metal disk, at times the car would not start acting as this Jeep is now doing. Back then you could put the car in gear (the engine was of course off), rock the car slightly to get the solenoid to spot move slightly, then you could start your car. However, this Jeep has an automatic transmission, so that temporary solution is out. I took the car in to a very respected auto repair shop, but it didn't act up the entire time they had it, so they had no idea what was going wrong. As mentioned, the problem is very intermittent, only occurs once or twice a month, but if it occurs just at the wrong time, it could be a significant problem. Any ideas what the problem could be? Thanks for any suggestions.
Asked Jun 23, 2014

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