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Old 09-28-2014, 02:51 PM   #1
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Help: Van starting issues, ignition switch replace, etc.

Some words of wisdom from the group would be most appreciated:

This weekend when I was on a trip up to New Hampshire I had some issues with my van not starting. There were no warning signs: it just wouldn't start. It made a sort of thumping/clunking noise (hard to explain it) when I turned the key, not your standard dead battery clicking noise. I popped the hood and cleaned the battery terminals, which had a small bit of corrosion on them, and when I tried again it started right up. Because the battery was a few years old, I went directly across the street to Walmart and bought a new group 65 battery and installed it. After this, everything seemed to be working fine, and I drove it back to my camping place with no issues. The next day I drove it around a good bit, including restarting it many times. No problems, and I thought it was fixed.

Later in the day I was getting gas, and when I went to restart it was dead again. I put my digital voltmeter into the 12v outlet and saw that the battery was showing 12.5v or so and seemed ok. When I turned on the ignition key the voltmeter dropped to around 6v, but still a dead van.

Knowing I had a new battery, my thoughts turned to the ignition switch, or possibly the starter or starter solenoid. I popped the ignition switch out of the column, cleaned off the contacts, etc., as best as I could, and inspected it for obvious problems. Not seeing any, I reinstalled it. Still no luck.

I asked a guy at the gas island if he'd give me a jumpstart. I didn't expect it to work. Surprisingly, the van started right up. Whew. I decided not to tempt fate anymore and to cut my trip short by a day and drive straight home without turning off the van (10 hours).

Monitoring my plug-in dashboard digital voltmeter on the way home I saw that I had a good charging reading of 14+ volts all the way home, even with the headlights on, so it seems obvious my alternator is putting out charging current.

So, any ideas as to obvious things I should check? I have a 1998 E250, 5.4l, with 87,000 miles.

I know the ignition switch is a common thing to fail, and is easy to replace, so I think I'll do that regardless (question: how do you get the new switch module keyed to match the van? Can a locksmith do it?). Is the Motorcraft part the best to use, or is an aftermarket part better?

As my van is a 1998 SMB build, I still have the old-style battery isolator. That's been on the replacement list for a while. But I can't see how that would impact starting?

Thanks!
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Old 09-28-2014, 05:34 PM   #2
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Re: Help: Van starting issues, ignition switch replace, etc.

I think it can affect starting. It seems like I remember reading this somewhere, but I don't know how or why it would. Also, I would check your connections and cable condition at the starter, and if it's not cost preventative, just replace the starter, which I'm pretty sure will include the solenoid. The only other thing that comes to mind is that you could have corrosion inside your cables somewhere. I don't think this is all that uncommon. I have had it a few inches back on a car or two, but usually a tug or two.....or three or four on the cables would get the juice flowing.

Looks like less than $100 for a starter at Rock Auto.

http://www.rockauto.com/catalog/x,ca...,parttype,4152

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Old 09-29-2014, 04:08 AM   #3
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Re: Help: Van starting issues, ignition switch replace, etc.

You do want to check the alternator's output, make sure you have about 14.3 volts at slightly above idle RPM's. Double and triple check the alternator connecting wires, making sure they're all clean without any corrosion---clean whatever even looks a bit sketchy.

This is very symptomatic of the starter solenoid beginning to fail. The biggest clue---for me anyway---is when the van is "cold" it'll start but when "hot" and shut down for a few minutes this condition pops back up. That says heat soak is causing enough internal resistance in the solenoid to stop current flow to the starter. Jump starting works because the cranking amps is dramatically increased to the point that heat-induced high resistance is over come.

While this is most likely the problem be sure to thoroughly go over your entire starting electrical system, cleaning and/or replacing any connector or wiring that might be problematic. Using a good voltmeter check the alternator's output at the battery terminal AND the output wire on the alternator itself.

Another pre-emptive consideration is running a dedicated ground wire from the alternator case to the body or frame--this is just insurance your ground connections are plentiful and solidly fixed to a solid mass.

Anyway hope you made your Monday morning meeting---hope all this gets resolved quickly, easily and cheaply too.
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Old 09-29-2014, 05:49 AM   #4
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Re: Help: Van starting issues, ignition switch replace, etc.

Thanks JWA and Scotty. I'm thinking starter/solenoid too. Alternator is putting out around 14.3v without a load based on my plugin dashboard voltmeter. With headlights, etc., on it reads a bit over 14v.

How hard is it to do the starter on these vans? Is it really buried?

While I'm at it, any thoughts on replacing the ignition switch? How is the key situation handled?
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Old 09-29-2014, 10:16 AM   #5
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Re: Help: Van starting issues, ignition switch replace, etc.

The drop in voltage make me suspicious it is not a solenoid problem. I basically have to replace my fender mounted solenoid ~100K miles, and I did the starter mounted solenoid around 340K. It always caused a no-start condition, but never caused a drop in voltage, and I could always get it started by either tapping on the solenoid or jumping the terminals with a Leatherman.

I would certainly try disconnecting the isolator, since they can cause parasitic draws when they fail. So can the ignition switch, but that seems to be much less common than a bad isolator. Also, if the ignition switch is faulty, often it will be accompanied by circuits either remaining on after removing the key, or come circuits not turning on when they are supposed to.

The starter is pretty accessible, and the fender solenoid is super easy to get to. It's next to the battery.
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Old 09-29-2014, 10:45 AM   #6
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Re: Help: Van starting issues, ignition switch replace, etc.

Thanks CarringB. I'll look into the fender solenoid. I was confused about whether there are one or two solenoids. I remember you mentioning the fender one in previous posts, but then when I was looking at Ford's parts schematics online it looked like the solenoid was actually on top of the starter itself. (I haven't had time to look at my repair manual yet, just doing some Internet sleuthing.)

So are there two starter solenoids on the 5.4 vans?

In any event, I think I'm going to replace the starter regardless, even if it turns out to be the solenoid. It can't hurt, and one less thing to fail down the road.
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Old 09-30-2014, 11:55 AM   #7
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Re: Help: Van starting issues, ignition switch replace, etc.

I've had tight battery connections just not make a good connection. If you have somebody crank the engine, you can use a voltmeter and test on the cable lug then do the same but test the battery voltage by taking it off the lug or if you have side mount type cables off the bolt or sneak the probe in on the battery post itself. See if there is a difference in voltage. I've had trouble with side mount posts being tight and just not making a good connection. They make new inserts for that type connection. Just seems like if it jump started OK that it would be a connection problem. I always start off with the easy stuff first.
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Old 09-30-2014, 03:19 PM   #8
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Re: Help: Van starting issues, ignition switch replace, etc.

Oops, duh: the RELAY is on the firewall, the SOLENOID is on the starter. I was getting mixed up.
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Old 10-01-2014, 04:37 AM   #9
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Re: Help: Van starting issues, ignition switch replace, etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BrianW
Oops, duh: the RELAY is on the firewall, the SOLENOID is on the starter. I was getting mixed up.
Actually they're both solenoids as far as strict definition of that type device.

Most of us identify them by their location though---that makes finding them a bit easier.
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Old 10-01-2014, 10:46 AM   #10
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Re: Help: Van starting issues, ignition switch replace, etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JWA
Most of us identify them by their location though---that makes finding them a bit easier.
Yup... But when you get into the parts catalogs, you still have to search solenoid for both spots! Places like the dealer or NAPA will figure it out. Ask for a starter relay at AutoZone...who knows what you'll walk out the door with....
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