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View Full Version : Van engine sunddenly stops, won't start. Help!


Stan Shmenge
04-23-2007, 04:20 PM
I have a 1996 Dodge Ram 2500 van. Last night, the engine died at a stoplight and wouldn't restart. It died almost as if I had shut off the ignition. Cranking the engine makes plenty of gasoline smell, so it's not the fuel pump/filter, it seems like an ignition problem. Do Ignition Coils fail suddenly or is it more likely the engine control computer? Is there an easy test I can do to ascertain what needs to be replaced? Thanks!

danceswithcats
04-23-2007, 04:30 PM
Although my knowledge of the 1996 Chrysler ignition systems is gray, yes the coil can fail suddenly. Assuming 96 still uses a traditional distributor, as opposed to a DIS or COP system, there's a pickup coil and electronic module processing the spark signal and communicating with the ECM. A failure of any of these can result in a no spark condition.

Joey P
04-23-2007, 05:45 PM
Although my knowledge of the 1996 Chrysler ignition systems is gray, yes the coil can fail suddenly. Assuming 96 still uses a traditional distributor, as opposed to a DIS or COP system, there's a pickup coil and electronic module processing the spark signal and communicating with the ECM. A failure of any of these can result in a no spark condition.
Could even be that that one of the wires came off (or broke) the coil or the distributer.

A.R. Cane
04-23-2007, 06:05 PM
Checking the spark is pretty simple, but it could be something else. I had a car that acted like that and it was the engine temp. sensor. It would suddenly tell the computer that the engine was cold, which caused the computer to send excess fuel. The engine would suddenly stall and wouldn't start until it cooled down, then it ran fine until it happened again.

Stan Shmenge
04-23-2007, 06:21 PM
Checking the spark is pretty simple, but it could be something else. I had a car that acted like that and it was the engine temp. sensor. It would suddenly tell the computer that the engine was cold, which caused the computer to send excess fuel. The engine would suddenly stall and wouldn't start until it cooled down, then it ran fine until it happened again.
Yeah, but the engine wasn't even fully warmed up, and refused to start an hour later when it was cold.

Could even be that that one of the wires came off (or broke) the coil or the distributer.Checked all that. I changed my plugs a couple of months ago and replaced the plug wires. All OK.

Stan Shmenge
04-24-2007, 02:35 AM
Arrrgh. I just went out to the van to see what I could do and it started right up. I drove it home on a warmer day than yesterday, and let it idle for half an hour in the driveway, so it doesn't seem like a heat sensor could be at fault. I would like to not look a gift horse in the mouth, but now I am more concerned than ever. If only the coil needed replacing! Now I have an intermittent problem that I am sure will come back to bite me.

I was thinking maybe condensation in the distributor, because it has been a dank dreary weekend, but in that case it never should have started in the first damn place, right?

I guess all I can do is wait until the AE-35 unit fails again. I hope HAL doesn't try and murder me.

Stan Shmenge
04-24-2007, 03:31 AM
Just to end the thread here, I think my battery may have been depleted. I had used the unswitched lighter thingy in the back of the van to charge my cell phone overnight a few days earlier, and only made a few short trips in the interim, and to top it off, I was blasting my radio as I started a nice slow drive on a chilly drizzly day... :smack: :smack: :smack:

I may need to get a high output alternator to keep this radio fed. Especially before I put in my amps and sub. :cool:

So all is well. It kind of shook me because I have never had a vehicle just die without warning like that, and I am always very meticulous with maintenance, so I am unused to this! Plus the fact that these vehicles are damn near bulletproof.

I will say that if anyone is in the market for a used full sized van, the Dodge is the best. Too bad they stopped making them. I plan on keeping mine forever. :)

crazyjoe
04-24-2007, 09:32 AM
I'm not sure why you think it was the battery. You said it cranked after stalling, and produced plenty of gassy smell. I assume you didn't put it on a battery charger after the stalling incident, and it cranked up and started again. A depleted battery won't do that, a depleted battery will just get worse.

Rick
04-24-2007, 10:14 AM
Coils can fail, and fail from heat. However a bad coil is a very rare thing. In my experience maybe 1/10 of the coils purchased are replacing a bad unit. The others are bought because "it might be the coil" :) (This is based on fact that about 90% of the coils I sold, would try to be returned when they did not fix the problem. "Sorry sir, as it states on your receipt electrical parts are not returnable")

I am concerned about the smell of gas. You should not be smelling gas while starting a modern car under any circumstance. If you are smelling gassy smells either you had Mexican the night before or there a problem with the fuel system on your van.
First thing I would do is pull the engine covers and check for any evidence of a fuel leak starting at the fuel tank and working forward to the engine.
Do this check before any other fault tracing Fuel leaks lead to fire. Fire bad.

If all of that checks out OK, then I would scan the system for fault codes and follow up on whatever is found. An intermittent open circuit to the Engine Coolant Temperature (ECT) sensor can on many cars cause the engine to assume that the coolant is -40 and dump massive amount of fuel into the engine.

I also agree with crazyjoe I doubt very strongly that it is a battery problem. just maybe a cable problem, but in all likelihood it is not a battery problem.

Stan Shmenge
04-24-2007, 11:08 AM
This engine has a carb, so fuel smell isn't unusual. I am convinced it was just a run down battery that was further depleted by the radio on my little drive to the point where it didn't have enough voltage to fire the plugs, because now it works fine. Leaving it overnight was enough for the battery to come back up to a decent voltage so that it would start again.

simster
04-24-2007, 11:13 AM
Seriously doubt it's the battery:

1.) You said it cranked after it died
2.) Once running, your running off the alternater and the battery is not doing much...certianly won't cause an engine to die (unless the aforementioned alternater is dead, then once the battery is drained, car will die, but you wont be able to crank the engine.
3) Hi Opal!

The battery does not "fire the plugs", nor does the alternator... these things are done by the coil/ignition modules. (yes, power must be supplied to them, usually by the alternator, but it isnt the alternator providing the actual "spark".)

First thing I would check would be the distributer cap, and the wire that goes to the coil, then the coil.

crazyjoe
04-24-2007, 11:18 AM
Well feel free to dismiss advice from experts (I refer to Rick, not me), but I have never had a battery get better by "resting" overnight. Also, during normal operation, your battery should not be providing the power to fire the spark plugs. That should be coming from the alternator.

If the battery had enough power to turn the car over, the additional amount needed to fire the plugs on startup is trivial. You didn't mention that it seemed to be cranking weakly or anything, so I still maintain that it is not a battery problem. But hey, you're the one who will be stranded, not me, so make sure your battery gets plenty of "rest" overnight and maybe knit a small pillow for it to sleep on.

brewha
04-24-2007, 11:20 AM
If it's a '96, it should have a computer. On most Dodges, you can access the self diagnostics by turning the ignition on (one click before engaging the starter), turn it off, turn it on, turn it off, turn it on and leave it.

your check engine light will start flashing if that works. If the light flashes 5 times then pauses then flashes 5 times again, that is a code 55 and means that the computer didn't pick up a problem. If it flashes anything else, look up the code and that should be a good place to start.

Gary T
04-24-2007, 12:48 PM
Happy Wanderer, you've got some significant misperceptions. One is that a battery would act as described. Another is that the engine has a carburetor. If it is indeed a '96 model, it has fuel injection. If the engine did indeed die very suddenly, and immediately thereafter cranked normally but would not restart, it's a virtual certainty that it's not a battery problem.

The symptoms described are textbook-typical for a failing electronic component. When such parts get old, they often get heat* sensitive and stop working suddenly as if switched off. With time (which can vary from minutes to days), they "reset" and start working again. For a while.

Among the suspect parts on your vehicle are the Automatic Shutdown relay, the Engine Coolant Temperature sensor, the Crankshaft Position sensor, and the PCM (Powertrain Control Module - computer). There are other possibilities, and there's always the chance of a wiring problem. Sorting out what's working and what isn't requires detailed system information and test equipment, and usually isn't easy for the layman.

That said, the chief suspect is the Crankshaft Position sensor, which is a common failure item on Chrysler products.
______

*"Heat sensitive" doesn't mean it necessarily takes perceptible heat to act up, nor that it always and/or instantly recovers below a certain temperature. Sometimes just the miniscule internal heated generated from the component's operation is enough for it to act up.

Rick
04-24-2007, 03:13 PM
This engine has a carb, so fuel smell isn't unusual. I am convinced it was just a run down battery that was further depleted by the radio on my little drive to the point where it didn't have enough voltage to fire the plugs, because now it works fine. Leaving it overnight was enough for the battery to come back up to a decent voltage so that it would start again.
::: Shrug::: What do I know, I have only been in this business for 39 years. ::: Shrug:::
1996 cars do not have carbs on them. (Assuming of course that yours is stock.)

Gary T I thought about the Crank position sensor, but dismissed it due to the report of fuel smell. I am assuming that it takes a crank signal for the ECM to trigger the fuel pump and injectors on a Chrysler. (That is how cars I am familiar with work)

Gary T
04-25-2007, 08:35 AM
Gary T I thought about the Crank position sensor, but dismissed it due to the report of fuel smell. I am assuming that it takes a crank signal for the ECM to trigger the fuel pump and injectors on a Chrysler. (That is how cars I am familiar with work)
It might need that signal to pulse the injectors, but the pump will run for 2 seconds (prime) when the key is switched to "on," and run when the key is in "start," irrespective of any sensor signals. I'm guessing the fuel smell is a small leak that isn't noticed with the engine running due to the belt-driven fan. All speculation without seeing the vehicle, of course.

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