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Anyone knows car engines around here?

OK, my car won’t start. Here is the information that may be relevant:

– It is a 2000 Ford Winstar minivan.

– It never happened before – not even close.

– It is used every day.

– On most days it covers only a couple of miles. Once or twice a week, it may go to Raleigh (28 miles one way) or to my school (16 miles one way).

– It appears to have plenty of electricity, oil and gas.

– When the key is turned, all the lights come on, radio comes on etc.

– Nothing in the engine appears to move when the key is turned – I cannot see any movement or light anywhere.

– When the key is turned it makes a sound like electrical discharge, a sparkle, or even a Christmas sparkler stick. I cannot figure out where in the engine the sound comes from.

– I drove it to the store yesterday (5 miles each way), my wife drove herself to work last night and back home this morning (5 miles each way), with no complaints.

– It’s been quite yucky around here today and yesterday – much rain and thunder.

If you have any idea, let me know in the comments. Is there something I can do with basic tools and no spare parts? If I take it to the garage (and that has to wait until Wednesday as we are entirely broke), what should I expect them to tell me, what will they fix, how much should that cost?


  1. #1 Evil Monkey
    June 25, 2006

    Could be any number of things. If you can find the starter motor, have your wife or kids hit it with a stick while you try starting it. Sometimes they get worn out (true of American cars and especially early 90’s Cavaliers) and they won’t “catch” without a little “help”.

  2. #2 coturnix
    June 25, 2006

    After a string of Oldsmobiles over the years, the engine in this thing look extremely foreign to me (not that I now too much above zero about engines to begin with). I have no idea what a starter motor looks like in this ford, but I can bang at everything that looks solid enough to withstand it!LOL

  3. #3 Epigenetics News
    June 25, 2006

    It may be spark plugs. They’re pretty cheap.

  4. #4 wheatdogg
    June 25, 2006

    There are few possibilities:

    Simple one:
    Check the battery connections to make sure they are clean and tight. A bad conn will have enough resistance to prevent sufficient current from reaching the starter motor. A wire brush, or in a pinch a knife blade, will help clean corrosion off. Disconnect the negative terminal first; connect it last.

    There will be a fat cable running from the positive terminal of the battery down to the starter solenoid. If you can, check the connection there (with the battery disconnected!) to see if it’s clean and tight.

    Harder ones (maybe more expensive, too):
    Solenoid’s going bad. (It’s a can-shaped object, usually attached to the bigger can-shaped object that’s the starter.)

    Starter’s going bad. Likely if your van is several years old, or has a lot of miles on it. The starter is mounted to the engine near where the engine attaches to the transmission. Minivan engine compartments are pretty tight, so you might need to get under the van to check either solenoid or starter. (Or whack at them with a hammer!)

    Bad starter keyswitch. A locksmith or mechanic can fix this with a new keyswitch (+ new key) or install an external pushbutton starter switch. I had a Honda Civic that stranded me once with a bad keyswitch connection. Of course, I discovered that after I paid for a tow home.

    That’s all I can think of right now.

    Good luck.

  5. #5 wheatdogg
    June 25, 2006

    Hey, forgot to mention, damp weather will usually increase the resistivity of poor battery connections, so try that first. You’ll need at least a pair of vicegrips, or pliers or a small wrench to loosen the battery clamps. Rinse the terminals and clamps with a solution of baking soda and water after you scrape them clean.

  6. #6 CFeagans
    June 25, 2006

    You might have enough charge on the battery for accessories (lights, radio) but not to start the engine. If the connections are good, not corroded or loose, you might try getting a jump. If jumper cables work, then its probably the battery. If you’ve never had your battery replaced in a 2000 vehicle, its a safe bet.

  7. #7 coturnix
    June 25, 2006

    Thank you all. It’s night right now, but I’ll check all those things tomorrow morning – and will let you know if anything worked. Unfortunately, my first-door neighbor, who we sometimes carpool with, had his van totalled yesterday. I offred him to use my van in the meantime, and now, my van is out of comission as well.

  8. #8 Mike Dunford
    June 26, 2006

    My first bet would be battery. The many accessories built into modern cars tend to wear them out quicker. The obvious test for that would be to try a jumpstart. You can do this using another car (obviously) or, funds permitting, you can buy what’s basically a battery with a handle and built-in cables. The second is the more expensive route, but I’ve found that it can be good to have one around. If the car starts with the jump, it’s almost certainly battery. In that case, drive to Sears (or garage of choice) and get it replaced.

    If you can’t get it jumped, you can also take the battery out of the car and take it to an auto parts store. Many will test the battery for you, and let you know if it needs replacing. (I know Checker stores definitely do this.)

    If it’s not battery, then I’d strongly encourage you to listen to absolutely none of us, and have the car towed to someone who can diagnose it there. The last thing you need is any of us screwing things up by trying a Bill Frist diagnosis on the thing based on a few sentences in an internet post.

  9. #9 polliwog
    June 26, 2006

    I believe that a bad fuel pump can sometimes mimic the symptoms of a bad starter.

  10. #10 Dave S.
    June 26, 2006

    I agree that a weak or dying battery would be the prime suspect, given these clues. Jumpstarting (maybe combined with cleaning connections) would be the way to check this out. Another possibility not mentioned (especially in conjuction with a weak battery) is that voltage may be dropping in your battery cables, so you may want to get a voltage drop test done on those. If it’s not the battery, then it’s time to start thinking starter or alternator.

    Only your mechanic knows for sure.

  11. #11 coturnix
    June 26, 2006

    Thank you all for advice – I have learned a lot about cars over the past 24 hours. The van is going to the shop in the morning and I’ll let you know what they say after they do their diagnostics.

  12. #12 janinsanfran
    June 27, 2006

    Sounds like a cracked spark plug wire to me. These are murder to diagnose. Get help. :-)

  13. #13 CFeagans
    June 27, 2006

    My money is still on the dead battery hypothesis. :)

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