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Newbie can't start a Seven


jordway
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I’ve been driving my 2004 Zetec for a couple months with no major engine issues (at least none that seemed major to me). I’ve always needed to wait a few seconds after turning the key on for the battery gauge to reach 12V in order to start. I assume that is normal. The car does not have a battery master switch


Last week, seemingly out of nowhere, it wouldn’t start. Jumped it with a portable jumper and it started right up.  Drove it for only about 10min.  Next day, same thing, but this time I wasn’t able to jump it.  I assumed the battery was spent and I replaced it with the same NAPA lawn and garden  300/370 battery that was on it, and I ordered a trickle charger. First crank after connecting the new battery, it started right up. I drove it about 20 min. Battery gauge got up to 14V while driving. Later that day, I tried again and it wouldn’t start. It would turn over but then chug a few times and die. I could get it started if I really revved it up immediately after turning over. Again, started fine with the jumper.  But it required the jumper to be attached for ~5 min with the key on before it would start.

Yesterday, I hooked up a CTEK smart charger, and I added the recommended amount of Seafoam injection cleaner to the gas and motor treatment to the oil.  Charger was immediately at 4 (ready) and got to 7 (fully charged) after about an hour.  But, I still had to jump it.  And again the jumper needed to be attached 5 min with the key on in order to start. Again, up to 14V while driving.  It seems to start fine if I jump it, shut it off and then start again without a jump.  But if I wait half an hour or so, it won’t start without the jump again. 

It runs normally once started (well, normal meaning the same as before the starting problems). Maybe a tiny loss in power, but so tiny that it may be in my head.  It has always backfired (not misfired) a bit while driving. This happens when it’s in gear with no acceleration. Just a couple pops from the exhaust, then fine.  Happens when the engine is cold or warmed, no difference as far as I can tell.  Another thing that might be important, the starting problem began during a week when I was driving the Seven to work every day, which is only about 5 miles there and back. And that short trip was all it was getting on those days.  The car had 4400 miles (17 years old) when I got it, and I have added 350 miles since March.   So, it’s clearly seeing more use than it had been. 

Alternator?  Seems obvious, but it does seem to be adding charge back to the battery according to the gauge. Fuel filter or injectors?  We’ll see if Seafoam helps. Running rich?  I guess that would be consistent with the popping and might be signaling a timing problem (ugh).  I see similarities with Vovchdr's thread below (
Backfire and stalling at idle when hot, followed by no start conditions), but I'm not stalling in idle and if it were the same thing, why would a jump make any difference?   


Any advice is greatly appreciated. I’m pretty green, so you may have to dumb it down.  Regardless of any issues, I am totally in love and awe with this wonderful machine.  Each problem that needs sorting is another opportunity to learn. I sound like I’m pep-talking my kids. 

 

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I'm obviously not the best source to a solution as I still have my own problems, but one thing that jumps out at me is the needing to jump a healthy battery. That in my experience means a bad ground somewhere. Either at the terminal or elsewhere like a starter or a corroded wire. Throwing extra juice at the problem can help bypass a bad ground. Once started the bad ground should be an issue for the rest of the operation.

 

Your backfire is likely unrelated to the battery issues but is likely timing related. I don't have enough knowledge to know whether a mildly bad timing will allow it to run but have it struggle to start?

 

Are you ITB's and aftermarket ECU or regular intake manifold and stock ECU?

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It sounds like the new problem is a battery drain with the key off or the key is being left on in accessory or the run position.

A drain can be crudely checked by disconnecting the negative cable of a fully charged battery. With the key off, lightly brush the negative cable end against the neg batt terminal. If there is anything more than an almost imperceptible spark/arc, it should be investigated further by someone with electrical knowledge and repair experience.

If the car has some type of gps locating device such as lojac or dealer installed kill switch, it can pull a lot of amps for no reason long after the car is sold.

If you are seeing 14vdc, then the alternator is working to some extent.

The best way to test a battery is with a load test on a full charged battery. I don't believe you have a battery problem.

A minimal capacity battery does not tolerate much of a drain for very long, poor connections, corrosion, or other problems.

Re-seating fuses, relay, connectors, and removing-reinstalling battery cables can make a difference.

I don't have your wiring schematic, but the battery negative terminal, frame, and engine/transmission should all be connected through cables. Use a terminal brush on new battery posts to clean the dull grey off so they are shiny and clean before connecting. Clean the terminals too.

I don't recommend seafoam for anything.

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I put a master kill in mine for that exact reason. It's been fine ever since. it's under the dash so it's also a pretty good theft deterrent.

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make voltage reading records with a multi meter on the battery battery after running, charging, starting and failing.

this data should tell you if you have a drain down problem and possibly a charging problem.

All connections to alternator, battery,  starter, etc. need cleanup as a maintenance item.

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Thanks to all for the feedback.  After 24 hours on a trickle charger, starting was fine on Saturday and drove for about 50 miles with no issues other than the backfires I mentioned.  Started fine Monday morning, right off the charger.  Made one stop on the way to the office and it starting dying again after turning over.  Got it started, and then it stalled while driving, a couple minutes later.  Couldn't start or jump at that point.  Towed it home.

 

Fuel filter, ignition timing, alternator ground... all possibilities I guess, and then some.  @MV8 was probably right about advising against Seafoam.  That may have freed up enough gunk to clog the fuel filter and injectors.  I'll do what I can in my own garage, and meanwhile I'm looking for a shop that will work on it.  So far, no takers, but @bball7754 recommended a shop a while back that I'll try to call.

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If you post some pics of the engine bay and firewall, someone may notice something unusual to focus on.

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Thanks, @IamScotticus.  Will get these checked out.  @MV8, thanks for the suggestion to post photos.  If anyone wants a closer look at something (or better resolution), let me know.

 

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Nothing jumps out at me in the visual insp. I see the battery was produced last month so that is good. Terminals are a little busy with the trickle charger leads that could create a small voltage drop. I would load test the battery. You can get a tester at harbor freight tools or take it to an auto parts store or napa to have them load test it. The labeI cca is determined by the mfg and may not be accurate. I'd want a lot more cca for this application.

It sounds like your trips are not long enough to recharge the drain from starting. A battery with more cca would help the issue as it would have more capacity leftover to cope but I see your space is limited.

When the car won't start, check the battery gauge voltage for a few seconds with the key in the RUN position. What does the gauge show while the starter is engaged trying to start? When it doesn't start, does it turn over noticeably slower/lower pitched than normal or does it turn over normal but just doesn't start? If it turns over at the same rate but doesn't start, the problem is not the battery or starter.

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Hey, I know I'm coming in late.  14v @ load seems kinda low -- wouldn't you expect the alternator to run closer to 15v when charging, and ~ 13.5-ish when it thinks the batt is full?  I would definitely leave the battery on a trickle charger in the garage.  If you're able to start normally on a full battery, and hard-to-start when it's been sitting, then this really does sound more like "phantom drain" / dark current, and less like "engine problem."  If the battery is sufficiently low it can soak up a lot of your jump current, which would give some of the issues you've described about "hard to jump". 

 

hard-running when cold could be a lot of things.  I don't know that zetec motor but an SC has some parasitic load at idle (where the SC probably isn't contributing any boost), and if your alternator is also trying REALLY HARD to charge a battery, it could be that your idle just isn't high enough to deal with both.  If you're in the mood to tinker (and I don't know the rest of your build, so ... grain of salt) pop the belt off that charger during your garage testing, just to eliminate that load from your troubleshooting.  This may help you decide something's not right with your charging system (faulty ground, bad regulator, bad alternator etc) without confounding issues like "also the idle is rough".  

 

To follow up on MV8's suggestion -- all tests with an independent voltage read (not your dash gauge).  A $10-20 meter is your friend here.

- test voltage right after a nice long run: engine on, ignition off, ignition on (3 separate readings)

- test the cold voltage (ignition off, ignition on) the next morning

 

keep track of those.  If it's a new battery, the off/on readings shouldn't change much after a run or overnight, and definitely not day-to-day.  For my car (yours is very, very different so YMMV) 12.8-ish is right after a nice hot run, battery is fully charged, ignition off.  The ignition load will induce a drop to like 12.5v or so, and this is more than enough to start the car.  If you're seeing a LOT of drop (like 12.0v on a freshly-charged battery) or a significant change after sitting overnight, you could have a short or some sort of parasitic drain in the system.

 

On 5/15/2022 at 10:16 AM, jordway said:

I’ve always needed to wait a few seconds after turning the key on for the battery gauge to reach 12V in order to start.

... every car is different, especially since they're hand-built AND british (double-whammy).  I would love to know if you have a slow-to-react gauge or if there's something else happening.  MV8's proposed testing is a good place to start.

 

PS I love that zetec + SC.  Looks like a J&R kit for a Zetec, I think they used an Eaton unit?  I bet it's a blast, nothing sounds quite like a good roots blower spinning up.

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Thanks again.  I'm away for work, but I will test these things when I get back/when it's running again.  I've given up on finding my volt meter.  Likely lost in a move.  I'll just pick up a new one.

 

I agree that my 5 minute drives to the office and home are not enough to fully recharge.  It was okay for a few weeks, but not now.  Walking into the garage on a sunny morning with the option of a Seven or a Subaru Outback... it's really damn hard to get into that Outback.  But, these short trips are pretty ridiculous and not good for the car, so I need to suck it up.

 

4 hours ago, MV8 said:

When the car won't start, check the battery gauge voltage for a few seconds with the key in the RUN position. What does the gauge show while the starter is engaged trying to start?

 

With key ON, the gauge reaches just a hair above 12V within 2-3 seconds.  During these couple seconds, I've always heard a slight buzz as the gauge rises.  I thought that was normal, but perhaps it's because some power is getting to the starter, but not enough to engage with the flywheel?  But, that would be odd since it's always done that even when I had no problems starting it.  It's the same whether it starts or not.  If on a charger or jump, it gets up to maybe 12.3-12.5.  But that doesn't necessarily mean it's going to start.  Sometimes does, sometimes doesn't.  I've never seen it get above 14 while driving.  While starting, I think it drops to maybe 10 or so, but I'd need to confirm that (and get all of these numbers from a meter, as you all have pointed out).     

 

4 hours ago, MV8 said:

When it doesn't start, does it turn over noticeably slower/lower pitched than normal or does it turn over normal but just doesn't start? If it turns over at the same rate but doesn't start, the problem is not the battery or starter.

 

It turns over at the same rate and either starts normally and then dies within a few seconds or doesn't start at all.  I could usually get it past the dying if I really rev it just after starting, but that's not something I want to keep doing.  Of course, this was all before the stall while driving on Monday.  Now, it wont start at all (regardless of charging, revving, anything).  It really seems to me like it's getting no fuel.  When the stall happened, I first lost all acceleration and then the engine stalled out a few seconds later.  No chugging or shudder or anything... just stopped.  I think I may have both an electrical problem and a fuel system problem.  Maybe related to each other, maybe totally independent.  Before the stall on Monday, once it was started it idled smoothly.

 

Yeah, @Austin David, I'd really hate to lose the SC.  Boy is it a blast!

 

 

 

 

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