F.ound O.n R.oad D.ead

Since the Airstream is in the driveway being serviced (see previous post), we had to find someplace for the Econosaurus (our 15 passenger FORD E-350 Power Stroke Diesel) since leaving it in the street on a trash pickup day would not only inconvenience the garbage men, but get me a $25 fine.

No problem, my dear wife moved the E-350 over to the nearby school parking lot.

Following afternoon, after the refuse, recyclables, lawn bags were collected and street swept, she went to collect the van.

Turned the key- totally dead. No chime, no dash lights, nothing.

It did this maybe three times prior, over the past several weeks.  But, after waiting a few minutes it would start like nothing happened. 

This time, nope. 

Symptoms:

  • Turning key forward for the “WAIT TO START” light would either dimly light the dash lights with a chime that sounded like a dying cat, or nothing at all.
  • The batts would read 12.0V until I tried to start, then they would drop to 8.0V, and there was no action/crank/start at all (massive amp draw?).
  • Jumping it with a V-10 Super Duty, batts on Super Duty read 14.0V, while batts on my van read 12.4V. Attempting to start just gave me a clicking starter motor (heavy duty jump cables got very hot).

Start with the easiest, most obvious. Check the batts.  The old girl had two new batts in her, and the connections were clean, so this was going to be something a little more involved.

Next, was the Transmission Range Sensor. If that’s out of alignment, it will prevent starting. That’s easy enough to check, number 158 on schematic below.  There’s a little hash mark that says “NEUTRAL”. When the gearshift is in ‘NEUTRAL’, it needs to line up. It did. I also pulled the plug connected to it, and cleaned it with electrical solvent just to be sure.

4R100 schematic

The FORD service manual “pinpoint tests” call for checking the resistance on the starter motor solenoid. A reading of .95 ohms is good, with any high or low indicating a bad unit. Bingo! My Klein voltmeter returned an out of range high reading.  I figured it was the starter since buying her a couple years ago, her start crank was very lethargic. Picked up a new (not remanufactured) Motorcraft at NAPA for $200 with AAA discount.  

When you’re dealing with ignition stuff and 8GA cables there’s three ways of doing repairs: reckless, hasty, or safe. ‘Reckless’ would be swapping out the starter motor with both batteries connected. ‘Hasty’ would be disconnecting the negative cable on the front battery, then disconnecting the auxiliary battery feed from the positive clamp, and hoping there’s no crossover somewhere else. ‘Safe’ would be disconnecting negative connections on both the front and auxiliary batts. I’m sure you guessed, ‘safe’ is a P.I.T.A. Dropping the auxiliary battery off the passenger side frame rail is way more cumbersome than it sounds, especially when you’re working on the ground in a school parking lot- believe me.

Once the batts were safely disconnected, pulling the starter motor was pretty straight forward. (3) wire eyelet on post connections, and (2) mounting bolts are all there is.  Pull the new starter out of the box, and reverse the procedure.

Four and a half hours later, I get in the driver seat, and turn the key. Nothing. Same problem. Dadgum. Either my voltmeter is busted, the service manual is wrong, or I don’t know how to read resistance.

Next step: Google-Fu. Known issue on this model is faulty ignition switch. Will create strange issues similar to what I’m seeing.  That’s an easy part swap. $25 and 20 minutes later, it’s replaced.

No joy. Still same problem.

Which leads me to the final solution. Take off and nuke the van from orbit. No, seriously. What else could it be, right?  I’m thinking it’s a bad ground, bad wiring somewhere (short), bad alternator, bad glow plug relay, heating element short in either the fuel or air, or bad starter relay.

Starter relay behind front battery on passenger fender

I go with ‘bad starter relay’, and whadayaknow? She starts like a BEAST.

See You Down the Road!

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