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97 Outback cranks but won't start, where to begin troubleshooting?


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15 replies to this topic

#1 outback_97

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Posted 11 November 2013 - 06:52 PM

EDIT - It started and ran, seems like things are back to normal!

 

My 97 Outback cranks but won’t start. Can anyone suggest the most efficient way to proceed with troubleshooting and fixing it? I do not have a lot of experience wrenching but I have done basic maintenance and some replacement of parts.

The battery was low but has been charged. I removed the cover from the fuel pump and I can hear it prime when the key is turned, but I haven’t verified that it is pumping. I cannot smell any unburnt fuel smell from the tailpipe. So, at this point I am pretty confident the fuel pump has power, but that’s about it. I did check for codes with an OBDII scanner and found none.

Link to short video showing crank but no start:


History of the car: This car has been very reliable with no starting issues previously. It is our “third car” so it does sit for a few weeks at a time occasionally. The last time it ran, it started right up for a trip to donate some furniture after sitting for at least two weeks. No problems starting or running at that time. The next time I tried to start it, the battery was low enough that it didn’t start. I charged the battery up, it cranks and tries to start but won’t start and run. I tried jumping it with another running car, same result.


Edited by outback_97, 14 November 2013 - 06:10 PM.


#2 Fairtax4me

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Posted 11 November 2013 - 10:39 PM

Have you checked all the fuses? That's usually the best place to start.
Next would be checking for evidence of mouse or squirrel damage under the hood. Chewed wires, air filter box full of acorns, etc.

Pull a spark plug wire and stick a spare spark plug in it and find a good clean metal spot on top of the engine (not near any wires) for the plug to sit on while you crank the engine and watch for spark.

The quick and dirty way to check for fuel is to remove the pressure hose from the engine, stick it in a bottle (like a 20 oz) and turn the key. Should get a good spurt for the 2-3 seconds that the pump runs. Do this on the engine side of the filter first, and if you don't get much fuel do the same on the inlet hose going to the filter. If you get more fuel (a significant amount) the filter may be clogged.

Can't really tell if the CEL is on if the engine won't start, but if you know someone who has a code scanner hook it up and see if there are any codes stored.

#3 nipper

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Posted 13 November 2013 - 01:05 AM

not many things will keep a subaru from starting. Some of them are a bad crank sensor, a bad engine temp sensor, jumped timing belt.  And of course thats assuming you have spark and fuel and squish. A jumped timing belt will stop the squish.

 

how many miles are on it.



#4 outback_97

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Posted 13 November 2013 - 11:59 AM

Have you checked all the fuses? That's usually the best place to start.
Next would be checking for evidence of mouse or squirrel damage under the hood. Chewed wires, air filter box full of acorns, etc.

Pull a spark plug wire and stick a spare spark plug in it and find a good clean metal spot on top of the engine (not near any wires) for the plug to sit on while you crank the engine and watch for spark.

The quick and dirty way to check for fuel is to remove the pressure hose from the engine, stick it in a bottle (like a 20 oz) and turn the key. Should get a good spurt for the 2-3 seconds that the pump runs. Do this on the engine side of the filter first, and if you don't get much fuel do the same on the inlet hose going to the filter. If you get more fuel (a significant amount) the filter may be clogged.

Can't really tell if the CEL is on if the engine won't start, but if you know someone who has a code scanner hook it up and see if there are any codes stored.

 

Fairtax, thank you for the reply.  Fuses under the hood or under the dash?  I will take a closer look.

 

I got a spark tester and tested the two cylinders on the passenger side (because they were easier to access).  Both showed spark, i.e. the light was pulsing.  To be thorough I guess I should check all cylinders but I'm assuming that if a sensor was preventing spark it would do it on all four cylinders.  But I don't know.

 

I removed the outlet fuel hose from the filter and did get a decent amount of fuel, about 4 ounces, that came out when I cranked the engine for a few seconds.  So it appears that the fuel filter is not clogged, and the fuel pump has power and is functioning.

 

I did check for codes and didn't have any the other day, but will check again to see if that has changed.

 

 

not many things will keep a subaru from starting. Some of them are a bad crank sensor, a bad engine temp sensor, jumped timing belt.  And of course thats assuming you have spark and fuel and squish. A jumped timing belt will stop the squish.

 

how many miles are on it.

 

Thanks Nipper.  Crank sensor is next on my list to check.  I did take off the left and right timing belt covers and the belt is intact but I don't know if I can tell if it's skipped without removing a lot more things to get a better look.

 

It would seem I have spark and fuel... what's "squish"?  Compression?

 

The car has around 170K miles on it.  I need to dig back through my files to see when the timing belt was replaced.  I know it has been done at least once.



#5 nipper

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Posted 13 November 2013 - 12:05 PM

suck squish boom , air, comprssion, fuel and spark. If the timing belt has been done once and everything was replaced then I would remove it from my list. Also make sure there is power to the coil pack. A bad ECU ccan cause a no spark condition while having power to coil packs.



#6 mikec03

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Posted 13 November 2013 - 02:34 PM

You have eliminated the obvious things like a bad fuel pump, which is what kept my 95 from starting.  In addition to what nipper pointed out, I believe a bad MAF will also keep the car from starting.  Not sure and maybe someone else will contribute but I'm absolutely sure that it will stall the car. When it happened to me, I didn't get a check engine light.



#7 Cougar

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Posted 13 November 2013 - 05:49 PM

Spray some starter fluid into the intake air filter and then see if the engine fires. If you don't have any results from that then most likely one of the timing belts has broken. Since you saw spark on one side at least this means the crank sensor is okay so don't waste your time with it.



#8 Fairtax4me

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Posted 13 November 2013 - 06:18 PM

Crank sensor is fine if you have spark.

Checking timing with the center cover on is more difficult but doable. On the back edge of the crank pulley is a little notch. It might be difficult to find if the pulley is very rusty.
Point the notch at the 0 mark on the timing scale on the cover. Look at the arrows on the cam sprockets, they should all point straight up. If you could see the crank sprocket it has a small arrow on the face which also points straight up.

This is the only time it is useful to use the arrows, other than for setting valve lash clearance. Do not try to use arrows for re-setting timing. Only for checking.

#9 outback_97

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Posted 14 November 2013 - 06:08 PM

Spray some starter fluid into the intake air filter and then see if the engine fires. If you don't have any results from that then most likely one of the timing belts has broken. Since you saw spark on one side at least this means the crank sensor is okay so don't waste your time with it.

 

Thanks Cougar... I was ten minutes away from driving to the auto parts store when I read this so you saved me time and money.

 

Crank sensor is fine if you have spark.

Checking timing with the center cover on is more difficult but doable. On the back edge of the crank pulley is a little notch. It might be difficult to find if the pulley is very rusty.
Point the notch at the 0 mark on the timing scale on the cover. Look at the arrows on the cam sprockets, they should all point straight up. If you could see the crank sprocket it has a small arrow on the face which also points straight up.

This is the only time it is useful to use the arrows, other than for setting valve lash clearance. Do not try to use arrows for re-setting timing. Only for checking.

 

Thanks!  I was starting to fear the worst, but before I gave up I wanted to take one more look at the fuses under the dash, and also put things back together that I had removed.

I checked the fuses again and didn't find anything that was burned out.  While I was under there, I looked at the unit for the alarm system that came with this car when I bought it 14 years ago.  I have always hated that alarm; I never use it and had disconnected the siren almost as soon as I got the car.  It would always go off when you disconnected and reconnected the battery.  And even with the siren silenced, it still wouldn't let you start the car, it would just flash the hazards and the relay would click until you disarmed it with the key fob I never could seem to find when I needed it.

I decided to just rip the thing out.  I started snipping wires and trying to splice others back to factory wiring.  I reconnected the battery and put the key in to see if I had power.  It was nice not having the stupid alarm clicking at me.  Then just for fun I turned the key... :gasp:

It started right up, ran a little higher idle for a while, then settled down into a normal idle, just like nothing had happened.  I let it run for a while, all sounded normal.  Turned it off for a bit, started it up again, runs great.  Tried this a third time, and all is running fine.  Everything seems to be back to normal.

My wife thinks I'm a genius mechanic. I have no idea why it's working now, but I'm glad it does.  I only regret not taking that alarm out years ago, but I was worried I'd mess something up and it was my primary car for most of that time.

Possible reasons the car started and ran after alarm removal:

*The alarm was somehow allowing the car to crank but not start?

*Something was loose and I jostled it while working on the car?

*Disconnecting the battery longer reset something in the computer?

Cautiously optimistic!  Thanks sincerely for all the advice.  I have learned a bit more about my car(s) and that's always good.



#10 nipper

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Posted 14 November 2013 - 07:08 PM

Ya know, it is always the minor details that people leave out that get us.

 

:banghead:

 

We should have asked as that is a popular reason whay a cra won't start but we haven't seen one of those in a while.

 

 

Glad it worked out



#11 86BRATMAN

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Posted 14 November 2013 - 09:37 PM

Your outback must have had the "security upgrade" package. The standard keyless entry system doesn't affect starting, just flashes the hazards and such. If you didn't damage any wiring in removing the system I'd be interested in purchasing it from you.

#12 outback_97

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Posted 15 November 2013 - 12:39 PM

Ya know, it is always the minor details that people leave out that get us.

 

:banghead:

 

We should have asked as that is a popular reason whay a cra won't start but we haven't seen one of those in a while.

 

 

Glad it worked out

 

Sorry!  I honestly did not consider that the alarm system could cause a crank but no start condition.  In my 14 years of owning the car, when the alarm went off from disconnecting / reconnecting the battery, it would prevent the car from cranking at all. You could put the key in and turn it and it would just flash the hazards, no crank, no click, nothing. The crank but no start was unprecedented.

 

I drove the car last night and it ran like a champ.  Also very glad it's working now though I am hesitant to drive it somewhere I can't easily get a ride back from if it has a similar problem again.

 

Your outback must have had the "security upgrade" package. The standard keyless entry system doesn't affect starting, just flashes the hazards and such. If you didn't damage any wiring in removing the system I'd be interested in purchasing it from you.

 

86BRATMAN, I will give this thing to you, I was just going to smash it like the printer in Office Space.

It's an Auto Mate Model 3... I don't have any documentation and couldn't really find anything online.  I left enough wire that it's still usable, but I don't think I have the siren anymore.  If you want this thing send me a message and I'll get it to you.



#13 Cougar

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Posted 15 November 2013 - 10:12 PM

I suspect that the injector circuit was being disabled.



#14 outback_97

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Posted 17 November 2013 - 10:50 AM

I suspect that the injector circuit was being disabled.

 

That sounds plausible.  Do you know what could disable that?  I don't think the alarm was complex enough to do something like that, it would just completely cut power to the ignition circuit AFAIK.



#15 Cougar

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Posted 18 November 2013 - 10:48 AM

Simply by using a relay possibly in the circuit and cutting the power to them. The injectors share a common power source.



#16 outback_97

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Posted 18 November 2013 - 04:20 PM

Simply by using a relay possibly in the circuit and cutting the power to them. The injectors share a common power source.

 

Thanks.  I shipped the alarm unit and parts off to 86Bratman this morning, so I don't have it here to look at.  In any case, with the alarmdectomy completed the car is running good.  Hauled some stuff the other day, actually drove it to work this morning.






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