My truck had trouble starting today, what could it mean

Today after I got out of classes I had trouble starting my truck. It would turn over then quickly die. After about 3 attempts of starting it only to have it die I noticed if I revved the engine for about 30 seconds before putting it in gear it would go. Right now it doesn’t seem to be having any problems (I can shut it off then restart it w/o problem). The engine guage for the battery shows the battery is half full. I don’t remember what it said when I started the truck (if it was half full or low or what) but while driving home I turned off the Heating/ventilator and radio to conserve battery energy.

What are the potential causes? Was the battery dead? Is it the starter or alternator or what? Should I buy a new battery (i’ve had the same one for 3 years now)? Why does it now say on the guage that the battery is half full if the car wouldn’t even start w/o problems just 30 minutes ago?

Need more info. Did the engine just turn over or did it actually start firing and run for a brief period after you released the key? What kind of truck? Which engine? Fuel injection or carberator? Hot day? Cold day? My way-WAG is vapor lock but this is probably very unlikely in newer vehicles.

When I had this problem, a tune-up fixed it. I’d been long overdue for one, too.

Padeye, can you tell me more about vapor lock?

Also, what year is it? If it’s an older truck and it was a cold day it sounds like it’s turing into the type of truck that needs to be warmed up, especially if it died as soon as you put it in gear. If you have a Batteries Plus near by, take it up there. They can test the battery and alternator for you and tell you if there’s a problem with one or the other. Depending on how far you live from school and how long each try was when you were attempting to start it, I’m going to guess it’s not the battery or alternator.

Also, you may want to pull out a spark plug and see how it looks. It may be time to change them. While you’re at it, (this part REALLY depends on year/make/model) you might also want to take a look at, and change if neccisary/applicable your distributer cap, and rotor.

Oddly I had the ignition wires and spark plugs replaced a month ago. Maybe they mucked something up. But I’ve never had this problem before and it ‘seems’ to be gone now. I’ve restarted it after shutting it off 3 times since I made this original post. Once in the parking lot to test it and twice while going to different grocery stores I had to restart it when I was leaving.

It is a 1999 Ford Ranger 2.5L 4-cylinder engine so I assume it is fuel injected.

When I started it it would run, then quickly die out and the battery light would come on (I don’t think the ‘check engine’ light came on though). After the 4th or so time I revved the engine for 30 seconds, and drove. I ‘think’ that idling made it more likely to shut off so while I was driving home I tried to never idle, to always keep rolling.

It seems to be working fine now. I put some carb cleaner in the gas just in case its a fuel injection problem (since revving the engine seemed to help it get started).

It is a cold day today, 52F with the windchill. It also rained today.

In order to ‘test’ it. You should probably let it sit for several hours as it may be a problem related to starting when it’s cold. Also I’m starting to think more and more that it could be an alternator related problem, but I’m not convinced yet. You said the replaced the ignition wires about a month ago. Does that car have a distributer? If it does (and you know what your doing) pop it off the cap and take a look. Since you said it was raining out I would check for cracks in the cap that could be letting moisture in. As you can tell it’s tough to fix cars over the internet, many problems are very much an “I have to hear it” thing. But if you keep describing the symptoms and answering the questions, we’ll get it fixed sooner or later. (Could very well be later, so if you need to depend on your truck for something soon, you may just want to get to a mechanic or a friend that knows how to fix cars).

Oh, and BTW windchill won’t have any effect on the truck, just the actual temprature.

Do you mean that it’s only charging halfway, or is the needle just stopping in the middle of the guage?

I believe that engine has no distributor, and that it’s fuel injected. It uses that 2-plug-per-cylinder “waste spark” ignition system.

(Assuming it’s a slightly modified version of the 2.3L 4-banger available in 1997 Rangers, as I’ve heard.)

The needle is stable in the middle between high and low, but it has always been stable in the middle for as long as I can remember.

The battery gauge is a voltmeter. IIRC correctly when you look at the face, the two ends of the scale will be marked in red, indicating that the voltage is either too high or too low. If the gauge is in the middle it indicates that the voltage produced by the alternator is in the correct range. It is not a gauge to tell you your battery is empty or half used up. Check your owner’s manual for more info.
From the description given I doubt if it is a battery problem. After all you said that the engine turned over fine (several times infact) This would tend to indicate that the battery is OK.
So what did cause the problem?
Tough to call on a message board. Bad plugs could give such a symptom, so could a dirty throttle plate, leaky fuel injectors, idle air control valve, ECM, poor connections, problems with the fuel. Want me to go on?
My suggestion would be if the problem does not reoccur, don’t sweat the small stuff. If and when it does start to occur with regularity, then get a professional to give it a complete diagnosis.

You said it’s a '99 so it will have a OBDII port. You should be able to find a shop in town that will plug in a reader and tell you if it’s throwing any codes. Autozone will do this for free. This may help isolate the problem. Remember just becuase the Check Engine light isn’t on (yet) doens’t mean it’s not throwing codes. Some codes have to be triggered several times within a certain amount of time/miles/warmup-cool down cycles or starts before they will trigger that light. OTOH something like the gas cap only has to be off for a few miles before the light comes on. I only had to give the dealer $60 to tell me that’s why the light was on (the cap wasn’t on tight enough) before I bought one for myself.

Rick, you beat me to it. :smiley:

I was initially leaning toward the battery - newer vehicles, in my experience, exhibit some really strange symptoms when the battery is failing. The car cranks just fine, then you start moving and it shuts off - that sort of thing. (The local friendly mechanic blames this on all of the electronic controls used in cars today.)

Yup, the POS did it again today. It was out for 12 hours this time though. Maybe it just can’t handle cold very well.

I dropped it off at 830am and picked it up at 830pm at school. It had the same problem but I noticed if I depressed the brake while pushing the accelerator that it wouldn’t die. I assume this is bad for the car so I won’t do it much but it keeps it from dying. At stoplights if I held the brake down and lightly touched the gas it wouldn’t die. When I just idled it would die.

About a month ago I took the car in for routine work. I got the timing belt, spark plugs and spark plug wires replaced. Could this be related, did they fuck up my truck?

Does anyone think this sounds like my problem?


Description of problem: You try to the start the engine, and it starts fine. However, after a few seconds of running, the engine stops. When you try to start the engine again, it quickly starts and seems to run fine, but then it shuts down again. This type of problem usually happens without warning.

  1. The electric fuel pump shuts down after start-up.

  2. There is a problem in the computerized engine control circuit.

  3. If you have a carburetor, the choke may be out of adjustment or is not working properly.

  4. The ignition switch is bad.

It did happen w/o warning too. It worked fine on Tuesday, this problem didn’t even start until wednesday.

I assume it doesn’t have a carburetor since its fuel injected.

Do you think its the electric fuel pump? Natural i’m going to take it to a mechanic ASAP but since I can keep it going by depressing the gas maybe its fuel pump related.

Fuel pumps typically work fine until the day they don’t, without advance notice. Fuel pump and gas pedal aren’t related the way you think they are.

Your idle setting is governed by either a mechanical stepper, or a vacuum motor. Both react to input from the ECM to set idle based upon temperature, A/C compressor status, altitude, and many other inputs.

It is possible that a vacuum line was inadvertently not reconnected, but if it ran well after the service 30 days ago-that’s a stretch.

The fact that it is starting and running tells me the three ingredients are present: fuel, compression, and spark. That you can keep it running with minor throttle input suggests a positioning solenoid failure, or ECM fault value.

Okey dokey. How much as a ballpark estimate do you think it’ll cost to have it fixed?

Reconnect vacuum hose-$25. Perform full diagnostic analysis, interrogate ECM, replace TPS-$150

Wesley-do you think that even a poster with the wisdom of QtM could tell you how much it will cost to fix a pain in your side that started a few weeks ago but kinda goes away if you bend like this?