Do it yourself

March 13th, 2015 at 4:51:11 AM permalink
Dalex64
Member since: Mar 8, 2014
Threads: 2
Posts: 1973
My car won't start. It turns over strongly, but just makes occasional sputtering noises and won't catch.

It was outside, un-run, for a few weeks during the last cold spell. I tried it again when it warmed up to the 40's, but it still doesn't work.

I know I need fuel, fire, and air. Any diagnostic tips? I've checked the easiest thing so far - the gauge claims I have a half tank of gas. No idea if it is being delivered or not.

The car is fuel injected. It makes some of those easy checks I knew how to do on a carburated car not so easy.
"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts." Daniel Patrick Moynihan
March 13th, 2015 at 6:11:33 AM permalink
AZDuffman
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 103
Posts: 7145
Quote: Dalex64
My car won't start. It turns over strongly, but just makes occasional sputtering noises and won't catch.

It was outside, un-run, for a few weeks during the last cold spell. I tried it again when it warmed up to the 40's, but it still doesn't work.

I know I need fuel, fire, and air. Any diagnostic tips? I've checked the easiest thing so far - the gauge claims I have a half tank of gas. No idea if it is being delivered or not.

The car is fuel injected. It makes some of those easy checks I knew how to do on a carburated car not so easy.


Even on a fuel injected I think you should still be able to spray some starting fluid (ether for the older set) into the intake and see if it will fire up. That would test it for fuel. That it sputters tells me there is a fuel problem and the plugs are doing their job. Might have gotten a lot of condensation in the fuel tank if it sat?

That is just my thought, Face is a better mechanic than I am so perhaps he can confirm or deny my thoughts.

EDIT: This could also be some kind of fuseable link. I've had no-starts because of that. No idea how to find or fix those.
The man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it
March 13th, 2015 at 8:06:40 AM permalink
Face
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Quote: AZDuffman

That is just my thought, Face is a better mechanic than I am so perhaps he can confirm or deny my thoughts.


Thanks for the endorsement. Damn you for the pressure ;)

Quote: Dalex64
My car won't start... ...Any diagnostic tips?


It would / might help if you were as specific as possible. Year, make, model, general condition, etc. Sometimes it's something stupid that's specific to one of those details. Generically, there are a million "could be's", so I guess I'll just list some of the common / easy to diagnose ones. You're gonna need another set of eyes for much of this.

1. No air. The chances of this are obviously higher the more rural your home, but with cold weather and no use, your air box becomes a fabulous home for bitty rodents. Just 10 days of no use found my snowblower packed with straw from one at my house, so your "few weeks" was plenty of time. Tis an easy diagnostic, just pop the cover and look. Even if they've nested in the "tube" part, the evidence will be everywhere. While it's open and regardless of evidence of mice, check the filter to make sure it's not caked shut.

2. No fire. The "why" behind no fire is sort of dependent on age, but whatever. Check the plugs for spark. Just pull them out of the block, pop them back into the spark plug wires, and rest the spark end on the block. Check owner's manual so you can pull the fuse for fuel so you don't drown the cylinder / start a fire. Turn the engine over and check for ample spark. The reasons for no or weak spark are varied, so I'll wait until you report back before listing a wad of possibly unneeded info.

3. No fuel. While your plugs are out for the spark test, make sure they're bone dry. After replacing the plugs and fuel fuse, turn key to "ON". Listen for buzz of the fuel pump kicking on (should only last a second or two, might need someone closer to tank to hear it well). No buzz = bad pump. If all of the above is good to go, turn it over for a bit. If no start, turn it over while at half throttle. If no start, turn it over at full throttle. Note any changes to amount of sputtering / how close it is to firing (more, less, same). Pull and check plugs again. Are they wet? If not, it's a fuel issue.

If air is clear, spark is strong, and fuel is present, check the "long shots". Are you sure exhaust is clear? It likely wouldn't be a faulty exhaust unless you had already been experiencing issues (rough idle, sulfur smell), but did mice / snow packed it shut? How about under hood, are all those bitty hoses unkinked and free of cracks? A lot of the fuel / air stuff is dependent on vacuum; a cracked or kinked line can throw the whole works out of whack.

All that stuff is sort of the basic "applies to all cars" troubleshooting. If all checks out we get a bit more in depth, like diagnosing bad injectors (not likely), bad mass air flow sensors (possible), and stuff specific enough I'd need the year / make / model / mileage / condition info to continue.

Report back! =)
Be bold and risk defeat, or be cautious and encourage it.
March 13th, 2015 at 10:10:54 AM permalink
petroglyph
Member since: Aug 3, 2014
Threads: 17
Posts: 2293
IMO

Go to Napa or just about anywhere, truck stop, auto parts store, etc. and pick up some fuel line anti-freeze. In Alaska it is in all the quicky marts and grocery stores. I keep it in the vehicle as do many cold weather patrons.

The most popular product up North was called "Heat", [little yellow bottle] pour 1-2 bottles in your tank and in an hour it ought to light up. I have had it "wick" right up to the cylinders. You probably have water in your tank that turned to ice. When you open the bottle and it is sealed with an aluminum cap, make sure when you pierce that, that none of the aluminum goes in the tank.

When I was carbureted, I could look down the carb and see ice sitting on the intake manifold, I would take a hair dryer and put it in the carb, in a minute with that warm air going in there, the truck would light right up. You might try using one on your injector lines going into the block.

I have dug cars out of snow banks after weeks, with this exact problem. The heat worked every time. My neighbor I believe just used Isopropyl alcohol, that would just work as fuel anyway. Also, certain gas stations tend to have more water in their fuel than others. I think one put it in there on purpose.
Everyone gets thrown from the plane to maintain altitude
March 13th, 2015 at 11:09:52 AM permalink
Dalex64
Member since: Mar 8, 2014
Threads: 2
Posts: 1973
I will do much of that tomorrow.

Quote: Axel Foley
You're not gonna fall for the banana in the tailpipe? It should be more natural, brother. It should flow out, like this - "Look, man, I ain't fallin' for no banana in my tailpipe!" See, that's more natural for us. You been hanging out with this dude too long.


Thanks for the advice on pulling the fuel pump fuse - I thought I'd pull a spark plug and see if it shot a nice smelly charge of fuel-air out. Checking for a wet spark plug after the fact does seem like a better idea.

I had a car that developed a tear in the flex tube after the MAF sensor. That ran real bad! I'll look at that when I look at the rest of the hoses.

I did check for an exhaust obstruction in the form of ice, in case the car had been backed into a snowbank.

I didn't notice much difference in the stumbling at different throttle positions, but I think it was doing slightly better at full throttle.

One thing that has impressed me is the amount of total cranking time I've put on that battery without running it down yet.

I'll tell you the details about the aged creature now. This is a 1998 Saturn SW2 wagon with nearly 200,000 miles on it. I'm not sure if the plugs and wires have ever been replaced. it is on it's third starter - the second one I replaced a few years ago from a junkyard part, but the 3rd one came from a service station (dunno where they got it from) when it suddenly quit working. I think the one I put in was from a 96, so it was even older than the original, but more functional.

For many years the check engine light was on for a bad oxygen sensor. That was until the check engine light burned out, now that doesn't bother us anymore. It burns a quart of oil every 800 miles or so.

I don't have any specialty tools, so changing the starter is probably the most complicated sort of job I can do.



Thanks for all of the advise!
"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts." Daniel Patrick Moynihan
March 13th, 2015 at 11:57:51 AM permalink
Fleastiff
Member since: Oct 27, 2012
Threads: 50
Posts: 5141
Water settles to the bottom of the fuel tank so that may have been the problem. Cranking power is good so its not an ice cold battery.

Fuel filter clogged??
March 13th, 2015 at 1:16:01 PM permalink
Face
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Member since: Oct 24, 2012
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Quote: Dalex64

Thanks for the advice on pulling the fuel pump fuse - I thought I'd pull a spark plug and see if it shot a nice smelly charge of fuel-air out. Checking for a wet spark plug after the fact does seem like a better idea.


You don't have to. I just don't know you that well and am trying to be professional. In reality, never in the history of ever have I done this. I personally just let the fuel spray all over XD

Quote: Dalex

For many years the check engine light was on for a bad oxygen sensor. That was until the check engine light burned out, now that doesn't bother us anymore. It burns a quart of oil every 800 miles or so.


Those many years of a bad O2 could have been covering something else. I'm not terribly versed in Saturns, but a CEL tells you there's a problem, not how many or what type. If it's on because of a bad O2 and then your crank positioning sensor goes, you'll have no idea. Well, other than your car will stop running =p

Unfortunately, your '98 is ODBII and doesn't have an easy to decipher CEL. Older cars you could just jump the ECU with a paper clip and the CEL would beat out a code you could translate based on number of blips. For yours, you have no option other than a scanner, which I think you can rent / borrow from any major parts store.

A quart p/800 also points to burnt rings. I suspect the back of the wagon is black and puts out blue smoke when you tromp on it. Burnt rings not only let oil into the combustion chamber but also cause a compression leak. If you don't have enough compression, the fuel won't burn. Granted, they'd have to be quite bad indeed, to the point you're going down the road like Spy Hunter in a smoke screen, but I guess it's a possibility.

Do all the fuel / air / spark tests first. We'll see what you find and go from there.
Be bold and risk defeat, or be cautious and encourage it.
March 13th, 2015 at 2:12:29 PM permalink
Dalex64
Member since: Mar 8, 2014
Threads: 2
Posts: 1973
I do have a basic code reader, so I can read and clear codes.

I always kinda figured the o2 sensor is clogged with soot from the burning oil.

There is a black ring around the tip of the exhaust. You don't get any noticable smoke unless you really rev the engine, so we try not to do that.

Apparently the Saturn S series engines are notorious oil burners. It isn't as bad as my 1979 Plymouth Horizon (with a VW engine) was - that was burning a quart every 400 miles and it was easy to lay a smokescreen at a stop sign. That one had a noticable cloud behind it when driving at even moderate rpms.

I'll be back tomorrow with the results. I'm hoping for critters in the air intake.
"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts." Daniel Patrick Moynihan
March 13th, 2015 at 11:00:53 PM permalink
Face
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Quote: Dalex64

I always kinda figured the o2 sensor is clogged with soot from the burning oil.


It could be. Or it could be just a general fault, because GM, where "failure is not an option, it comes standard!" =p

But just so we're clear, the O2 isn't your issue. All that does is read the chemical composition of the exhaust and sends a signal to the ECU to enrich or lean the fuel mixture based on what it finds. I can be important as a faulty one can cause a too-lean issue which will eventually burn up a cylinder, but mostly it's an efficiency and emissions thing. You could knock it off with a hammer and your car would still start.

If you have a reader, it couldn't hurt to check while you're out there. It might tell you your problem straight up without all the shadetree troubleshooting.
Be bold and risk defeat, or be cautious and encourage it.
March 14th, 2015 at 3:23:14 AM permalink
AZDuffman
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 103
Posts: 7145
Quote: Face
It could be. Or it could be just a general fault, because GM, where "failure is not an option, it comes standard!" =p


Nice! How did I never hear that one before with all the time I have spent around cars?
The man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it