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Motor Age Garage: N.E.W.

Tuesday, June 1, 2004 - 00:00
N.E.W. = Never Ever Worked

"We just did some rear-end body work on this Dodge, and now it won't start."

(All photos: Richard McCuistian)

My friend Steve was driving down the highway on his Nissan Quest a few years ago when a suicidal armadillo managed to waddle out of the weeds and knock the oil filter off his engine. That armadillo cost Steve's insurance company no less than $8,000. Situations like that one are why motorists pay insurance.

Back in 1985, another acquaintance managed to hit a muffler some previous vehicle had jettisoned onto the highway, and while it didn't cost $8,000 to straighten out his Eldorado, the repair bill was considerable. I had to replace his cracked transmission housing and reseal his engine, which called for no small amount of labor on a front-wheel-drive Cadillac, but I failed to beat book time on the job, primarily because I wasn't all that familiar with the product.

Cadillacs, Toyotas and Peugeots regularly wind up at our Ford dealer for major work that would have been better and more efficiently done at their respective dealers, and the reason why the owners brought their vehicles to us has always stumped me. It's not like we have better labor rates; indeed, our labor rates are higher than some of the other dealers.

The Dead Dodge

VEHICLE: 1995 Dodge Ram 
Pickup 4WD
MILEAGE: 94,654 miles
DRIVETRAIN: 5.2L engine with 
automatic transmission
COMPLAINT: Engine cranks 
normally, but won't start.

At any rate, the Eldorado customer tried to claim that the impact of the muffler to his undercarriage also had damaged his power antenna somehow, but I could tell from the dusty connector terminals that it had been unplugged for a while. Based on my report, the adjustor rejected the argument that the power antenna had been working fine before the accident.

The owner's attempt at tying related damage to an existing claim isn't the exception, either. Lots of people want to get all they can for their insurance buck. But let's be honest: Insurance rates are already astronomical, and fleecing the insurance company won't alleviate that concern.

Dead Dodge truck
This month's article is focused on a shiny black Dodge pickup that had been rear-ended and was in the body shop for repairs. When the repairs were complete, the Dodge wouldn't start. The service writer asked if I'd help out.

The body shop manager and I walked out to the service lot behind the dealership. It was a crisp, cold November day, the first real winter weather we'd seen since the previous March. Remember that; it's important. 

After stretching the spark and hearing the engine try to start, I concluded that the spark plugs were fouled. A quick inspection revealed these sooty little darlings. Reading the OE number from the VECI decal, I sold the customer a new set of spark plugs first. The engine still failed to start.

The body shop manager had looked in vain for a fuel pump inertia switch, but Dodge doesn't use one. When we spun the engine, the smell of hydrocarbons permeated the air around the truck. The wet spark plug syndrome is fairly common around body shops and used car lots where vehicles are started, moved only a few feet and then shut off. 

With the idea that the spark plugs may have been fouled, I pulled the ignition coil wire and held it so the spark was forced to jump about one inch. This makes the spark hotter at each plug and can sometimes start a flooded engine. I had the manager spin the engine with the accelerator held to the floor. This maneuver puts the powertrain control module (PCM) in "clear flood" mode, effectively killing the injectors until the accelerator TPS voltage drops below a certain level or engine rpm surpasses about 400 rpm. The incoming air, with no fuel injected, can and will sometimes dry the spark plugs enough. The ignition spark will begin to jump the gap instead of taking the long way around the center electrode to find ground through wet soot, particularly with the increased voltage generated by the stretched spark. 

With the spark stretched and the fuel injectors silent, the engine sputtered and tried to fire on some of the cylinders, something it hadn't done with normal spark while spinning the engine with the accelerator released. Removing the spark plugs, I found Bosch Platinums that were sooty and gas-fouled.

Notice these fuel-trim readings. This baby was really pumping some pulse width through the injectors. Having received an IAT sensor code, I punched my way through to the datastream and found these numbers. An open IAT sensor (notice the 5.0 volt signal) defaults to 104
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