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Author Topic: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside  (Read 11695 times)

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Offline Chopchop

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2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« on: January 13, 2014, 08:16:13 AM »
Hi

My name is Dave.  I'm new to this forum and this is my first post.  I'm hoping (praying) that someone here will be able to help me with this because I'm losing what little is left of my mind trying to figure it out.


First, I have a 76 Pinto with the 2.3 and I have a 1981-ish Shay Thunderbird (factory built 1955 T-Bird replica sold new through the Ford dealers) with a 2.3 / 4 speed.

Right now I'm focusing on the 1981  2.3 but the 1976 2.3 appears to have the same problem.

The Problem:

Neither of these engines will start when it's wet / damp outside.  They will fire first time, every time when the weather is hot or cold or anything other than when it's wet.  If the engine's been running for a while and warmed up, both engines will fire up without issue.
Last week it was in the minus temperatures and both cars fired right up.  When the temperatures climbed to the high 30's and the weather turned wet, they would NOT start.  I've consistently had this problem.

- Both cars have new batteries with very good cranking power, new coils and new -ignition modules.
- Both cars run like brand new when the weather isn't wet.
- My '81  2.3 is bone dry under the hood but the '76 has a lot of under-hood condensation (despite being stored in a completely covered car port).

- When running, the spark on #1 cylinder is perfect.

- When cranking, I usually get one good spark on #1 cylinder as soon as I hit the key then after a 1/2 a second the spark turns either very weak or there's no spark at all.  The same is true for #4 cylinder.

- I have electric fuel pumps on both cars and I can see and smell fuel at the carbs.

The weak or no spark problem seems to be ONLY when cranking.

- If I can get the engines to run, my in-line spark plug tester shows a GREAT looking spark on #1 cylinder. 

I fully believe this is a spark/ignition problem and not a fuel problem and I am hoping someone here can help me out with this.

Also, both engines are extremely low mileage.  The '76 has only 15K and the '81 has 25K -- they are both very original engines and in fact, the lowest mileage cars I've ever owned!

Thanks in advance for any help anyone can give me with this problem.

Thank you,

Dave

Offline 74 PintoWagon

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2014, 09:35:03 AM »
Welcome to the site Dave! I had that very same problem before every time it rained or a damp day wouldn't start drove me nuts for a while, come to find out it was moisture in the cap, wiped it down with WD and end of problem, not saying that is your issue just my experience but might want to check for that the next time it don't want to start.
Art
65 Falcon 2DR 200 IL6 with C4.

Offline Chopchop

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2014, 10:07:42 AM »
Oh, I'd love it if it was an easy fix like that.     :)

I'll pull everything apart, clean it and wipe everything down in hopes that your method will work for me.
Thank you very much for taking the time to try to help me out.  I very much appreciate it and will post back here if I find anything interesting or suspect.

One other thing that I failed to mention - because I work alone, I'm using a remote start button to crank the engines and check for spark.  I attach one lead to the starter solenoid and the other to the positive cable of the battery.  I leave the ignition switch in the "run" position and stick my head under the hood before I hit the button.  That's the only way I can check for spark. 
I wonder if there is a circuit that is not completing because my method does not allow the ignition switch to turn to the "start" position?

Thanks again!

Dave

Offline 74 PintoWagon

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2014, 10:45:22 AM »
No, all you do is crank the motor(bypassing key) that won't effect anything else, unless the battery is weak then it takes all the power to crank the motor and not have enough to feed the ignition, but you mentioned new batteries so that shouldn't be an issue. You might check the resistance in your plug wires too?..
Art
65 Falcon 2DR 200 IL6 with C4.

Offline dga57

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2014, 11:35:19 AM »
WELCOME  Chopchop!
Dwayne :)
 
Like Art, my first thought was moisture in the distributor cap.  Had a similar problem years ago.  Hope your fix is that simple!
Pinto Car Club of America - Serving the Ford Pinto enthusiast since 1999.

Offline slowride

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #5 on: January 13, 2014, 02:42:17 PM »
I had a similar issue with mine. What happened was, as the temp dropped the PC board inside the ignition module would contract. There was a break in the board that would make contact when warmer (expanded), but would become an open circuit as the temp dropped. Replaced the module and life has been good......

Offline jtowndown

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #6 on: January 13, 2014, 05:46:23 PM »
If the wd-40 does not work, check for spark at ignition coil  if you have strong spark i would change the wires/rotor button/distributor cap.

Offline dick1172762

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #7 on: January 13, 2014, 07:46:48 PM »
Look at the color of the spark when your cranking it over. If its more white than blue your coil it bad even though you get spark. The stock ignition is a very good one and needs nothing aftermarket added on to it. Stay Ford and you'll stay ok.
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Offline amc49

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #8 on: January 15, 2014, 05:43:28 PM »
Most likely ignition. Condensation in cap or humidity alone, you may not see it. Bad wires that jump outside thru insulation in humidity, they are old even if no mileage. Possible coil spark jumping at top tower.

Make sure dist rotor is bent up to positively contact the carbon in cap, make sure that carbon point is there and not broken. Clean rotor outside tip off of carbon to bare like new. Look for ANY cracks in cap or giveaway carbon tracking inside it. Pull plugs and look for tracking around the outsides of the porcelain, common to jump there and not internally like supposed to. Check for corrosion inside any plug wire snap-ons.

Coil if only slightly shorted internally can be slightly weak and just not start in your conditions but would be odd for two cars to do that exactly the same. Would be odd to be module as well but not impossible as noted here already. Pull module connector and check for corrosion there as well.

Battery connections can come in to play as well, humidity can sap power going across substandard connections. Will seem to start fine but the slight loss saps the amount the electronic ignition needs since the starter sucks up most of the current.

Offline Chopchop

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #9 on: January 16, 2014, 11:39:22 PM »
Awesome, thanks for the great tips!

It was 20* outside, I went out and both cars fired right up like nobody's business.
I pulled the cap on the '81 - oddly, written on the outside of the cap in black magic marker was, "Must be grey in color."

Okay....
The cap looked fine and the inside was bone dry with no bad-looking stuff anywhere.  I cleaned the contacts with a small wire brush, sprayed it down with WD-40, wiped it off and cleaned the rotor as well (it looked just fine). 

I put the cap back on and it started with no issues which was no surprise because it's always started after it's warmed up.

I checked voltage at the coil and when running it was 8.94-ish.

I turned the car off, turned the ignition on and connected my remote start switch to the solenoid and the positive cable of the battery, hit the button and......no start.  It'd crank just fine but it wouldn't start.

I hit the key and it fired right up.
I did this a few times and the engine won't start unless I use the key - except for one time. 
Just when I let off the remote start button, it caught and fired up but somehow, somewhere, there's got to be a circuit that's completed when you crank the engine with the key that's NOT completed when you just put power to the solenoid.

So, at least I know that trying to start it with the remote start button connected the way it's connected isn't going to work for me.

Next question - where do I connect the remote start button's leads to allow me to start the car with the ignition switch in the "Run" position?

I think this will lead me to the problem.  I think that whatever circuit is completed via the ignition switch being turned to the "Start/Crank" position isn't being completed when it's damp.  I dunno why, I dunno how but I'm thinking that's where the issue lies.....

Also, I don't know if I mentioned it but the coils and ignition modules are new as well.  I cleaned all leads and connectors before connecting them.

Thanks again for everybody's ideas here!


Dave

Offline amc49

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #10 on: January 17, 2014, 01:59:05 AM »
Remote connects same way key on as not. I'd be looking at your remote switch or solenoid. Do you have TWO small wires coming off solenoid? One off each of two smaller terminals not counting the main battery ones. One you connect to with remote, that one powers the solenoid on, if remote not passing enough power because of internal resistance then solenoid may not be fully powered to carry 100% power ergo no spark. No burglar or alarm wiring on it is there?

Solenoid gets power through one small wire, the main contacts close to power starter through the big terminals, at same time the other smaller wire is powered up too to provide straight 12 volts to coil for starting only, it disconnects just like starter as soon as solenoid goes off. 12 volts at the coil starting only helps make up for the extra load of the starter dragging power down. Then it goes back to your 9 volts or so.

Check for solenoid grounded well to mounting point if that type, some have a third small wire that grounds elsewhere rather than through the solenoid case. When remote starting you ground that wire.

Your issue just described seems to point at the remote switch not passing full power. How many wires on solenoid not counting the two big ones? Look at the snap on clip interface with the remote, commonly too small to carry good power. Cheap $10 battery cables have the same problem, often they will not start a car even when new. Cable big enough but not enough 'bite' at the clamp-on to carry power.

Offline Chopchop

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #11 on: January 17, 2014, 07:32:27 AM »
DING DING DING!!   ;D

No sir, I do NOT have two small wires coming off the solenoid.  {Kinda..}

I have two white/beige colored wires coming off the SAME terminal of the solenoid - they go into a wiring loom.  That's the terminal I attach the remote start to.
The other wire from the remote start goes directly to the positive cable of the battery.  When I hit the button, the engine cranks over like nobody's business.

That other small terminal on the solenoid has nothing going to it but a long time ago I noticed a single, unconnected wire sitting under the carb.  I'll bet it would reach that other terminal....
 I don't know where that wire goes - I assumed it had something to do with the choke or something on the carb --- there are a LOT of unconnected wires on this car!

Do you think I should stick that single wire on the solenoid and see what happens?

I'll take a picture today and post it so you can see.  Thank you for this value tidbit of information!!

Offline 74 PintoWagon

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #12 on: January 17, 2014, 07:41:32 AM »
This should explain the solenoid.

Art
65 Falcon 2DR 200 IL6 with C4.

Offline Chopchop

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #13 on: January 17, 2014, 11:37:58 AM »
Ah!  It certainly does - thank you.  I always wondered what that other terminal was for!

The '81 fired right up this morning (29 degrees outside).

Here are some pictures I just took of that engine :



Here's that wire I mentioned earlier :


And here's another angle (kind of hard to see in there):



I checked with a test light and that second terminal does light up when the ignition is cranking.
That loose wire has no voltage coming from it.  I wish I could trace it but that would require cutting into the loom and I'd like to stay away from that if possible. 

What do you fellas think of me putting 12 volts to the wire and seeing if there's a change at the coil?


Thanks again!
Dave

RSM

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #14 on: January 17, 2014, 12:03:30 PM »
I would try routing the wire to the solenoid and see if it reaches. If it doesn't then you know it doesn't belong there.The problem with shooting 12 volts into that wire is you could burn something out not knowing what it's for. You don't have a sending unit anywhere close to that wire that doesn't have anything connected to it do you? Reading your post again I noticed you said there are a lot of loose wires hanging around. Is there an electric choke and does it have anything connected to it? If not that wire might be for the choke. You said there is no power coming from the wire, start the engine and see if you get any voltage from it.

Offline 74 PintoWagon

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #15 on: January 17, 2014, 12:38:16 PM »
Could peel that tape back a bit and see what color the wire is and maybe trace it on a diagram, could for a sending unit or something????..
Art
65 Falcon 2DR 200 IL6 with C4.

Offline Chopchop

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #16 on: January 17, 2014, 01:46:53 PM »
I believe the wire will easily reach.

The automatic choke works very well so I don't think the wire goes there but I will dig in tomorrow and see if the wire reaches anywhere else.

I never got any voltage through the wire when I was checking yesterday and I had my neighbor use the key to crank the car today - that's how I was able to check the second terminal on the solenoid ; As it was cranking, the test light did come on nice and bright.

The loose wire showed no voltage while the engine was running or when the engine was off.

At no time have I seen voltage through the loose wire.
I'll check tomorrow for other places it might go to.

Thank you.

Offline amc49

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #17 on: January 17, 2014, 06:36:09 PM »
If it goes to coil you will find the opposite end on the + side of coil. Wire color should be the same IIRC. If other end was at coil + you'd have volts in it at running engine. Could be some temp or emission switch. The double wire on one side is nothing and common, I've never looked it up to see what it does. If enough amp through wire, that second one could be a bypass to coil but better to use the provided one as more volt available there at the crucial voltage sucking time of cranking starter.

Regardless, I would listen to others and not simply assume that is the bypass wire to coil. Could burn something up. You can easily run your own bypass by picking large enough wire and simply run it from the solenoid 'I' post to + of coil while leaving all other wires on coil in same place.

Some solenoids (AMC at least) were funky and did not ground through the case as the pic says, rather a separate wire off BACK of solenoid to ground through another switch somewhere. Solenoid works exactly the same other than how it grounds though.

Solenoids as they get older erode the main big contacts inside from all the arcing going on. After a point the contacts have eroded to where not as much contact area and volts then begin to drop off. Solution is new solenoid...... ...........

Offline Chopchop

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #18 on: January 17, 2014, 10:26:15 PM »
That's a really good point.
If that loose wire did lead to the coil, then there would be about 9 volts at the wire when the car's running.

That's another confusing thing :

If there's supposed to be a wire from the "I" terminal to the coil and that "I" terminal gives a shot of 12 volts to the coil when cranking, when the car is running, the coil (which already has 8.9 volts) would send that 8.9 volts BACK to the "I" terminal.
I wonder if that would screw something up at the solenoid?

For me to put 12 V to the coil, do I just run a jumper wire from the positive terminal of the battery to the side of the coil that has 8.9 volts when running?

Should I put the 12v to the coil, start the car, then take the 12V wire off the coil?
Would this give me a stronger spark while the engine is cranking?

RSM

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #19 on: January 18, 2014, 12:59:41 AM »
On the solenoid, the "I" terminal is a normally open switch. Internally it closes when the ignition switch is turned to the start position and the starter cranks. You then get voltage at that terminal. If you had a wire going from the + of the coil back to that, no power will run "backwards", once the ignition switch is released the switch becomes open again. If you had a wiring diagram of the vehicle you could figure out what it goes to. I think we're all curious now.

Offline amc49

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #20 on: January 18, 2014, 01:07:40 AM »
'You can easily run your own bypass by picking large enough wire and simply run it from the solenoid 'I' post to + side of coil while leaving all other wires on coil or solenoid in same place.'

And what Ford does. Forget wiring off battery, you have exact same volts at solenoid if cables and connections are good and clean.

Running 9 volts backwards into the solenoid does nothing since once the forward circuit opens (contacts snap back apart) the post on solenoid is as far as the power can go, open circuit there, or as RSM states. Again, how factory Fords are wired. AMCs were exactly the same.

'Should I put the 12v to the coil, start the car, then take the 12V wire off the coil?
Would this give me a stronger spark while the engine is cranking?'

No, do as first sentence says and you don't have to, solenoid then does it for you. Yes, you have stronger spark, but cannot do it all the time, coil or points will overheat and burn up. For the short period it takes to start car only. ALL 12 volt car old school coils are 6 volt ones modified to take slightly more power, they toast if you give them 12 volts all the time, why they don't have it. The extra wiring off solenoid specifically to give a starting ignition 'booster'.


Offline amc49

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #21 on: January 18, 2014, 01:15:11 AM »
You can color code the loose wire by stripping the plastic back a bit and if in the big city go to public library and commonly in reference section you can find factory service and wiring manuals that are very expensive to us normal folk. I've used that resource in Dallas here more than once. Like as not you'll find wiring diagram for normal 'Bird to work on that specialty one as long as you reference the correct year/type motor.

If you have a wire plugged into choke then see if it matches the loose plug in's color code. Choke should have say 6 volts at the plug-in when engine is running, does it? Maybe loose lead goes to alt stator........ .............. .don't plug it in there without good reason though.

Offline Chopchop

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #22 on: January 18, 2014, 03:33:55 PM »
Well, here are today's findings.

For some reason, I now have 9.9 Volts at the battery side of the coil when idling.  When I rev it, it goes up past 10V.

I attached a wire from the "I" terminal and ran it to the battery side of the coil.  When I cranked the engine with the key, I got 12 + Volts at the coil for a very brief second until the engine fired up (it starts very quickly when it's not wet out).

At idle, the voltage at the coil is still just under 10 V.  When I rev, it goes up into the 10's.  I hope that's not too much?

I also checked that loose wire a bunch of times - it has no voltage at any time.  I elected to just leave it where it was.

Thoughts?

Thanks,
Dave


RSM

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #23 on: January 18, 2014, 05:46:58 PM »
Why fix it if it's not broke...ya know?  8)

Offline jtowndown

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #24 on: January 18, 2014, 10:08:15 PM »
That loose wire looks like it goes to the coolant temp sensor or oil pressure switch. I had my whole wiring harness out of my car when i Couldn't find the short to ground on my car. The oil pressure switch and coolant temp sender are on the driver side toward the rear of the engine, about the same height as the intake manifold. The coolant temp sender is about 8 inches below the oil pressure switch. My car is a 79 mercury bobcat

Offline amc49

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #25 on: January 18, 2014, 11:58:06 PM »
Yep, I'd be looking down there in the dark cubby hole. 'Course, if one of those you will not have them working correctly and the giveaway. Idiot light would not be working on pressure switch or temp gauge not working on the sensor for it. Again, if the thing goes to stator for power to choke, you would have no power to the choke coil. Does it?

How many wires go to PLUS side of coil?

Offline Chopchop

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #26 on: January 19, 2014, 02:33:16 PM »
That makes good sense - I installed a SunPro temperature gauge and SunPro temperature sending unit which I ran my own wire to so I may have just disconnected the factory wire and forgot about it!   (I forget a lot these days... :-[  )

Do you guys think that 10V + at the coil is going to be a problem down the line?

Offline amc49

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #27 on: January 19, 2014, 09:17:27 PM »
I personally do not........... ............it 's just gotta be lower than 12............ ....as the ballast resistor in the harness heats up the resistance changes some anyway and calculated to do so. A temperature controller for the coil.

They started out when the switch was made from 6 volt to 12 volt coils way back in the day to use 6 volt coil on 12 volt system. Something about wanting to keep existing coil makers from having to make major changes in equipment. The idea of the starting bypass also fit right in with that and all car makers adopted the idea. Different makers used slightly different resistor values though, doing that can move voltage around a bit. Some used like 1.80 ohm or .5 ohm or so and some like GM and Ford used 1.35 ohm.

Offline Chopchop

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #28 on: February 21, 2014, 11:28:10 AM »
Hi Guys,


I hope everybody's been keeping warm!

It was 36* last night and had been raining all day so I figured it would be a good time to see if the car would start.
It started without issue and ran for 3 or 4 minutes.
I turned it off and tried to start it again and it wouldn't fire.

It cranked without issue and I could smell a lot of gas and a couple of times, it almost fired when I let go of the key but I couldn't get it started.
Eventually I drained the battery so I put a trickle charger on it and tried again this morning (it's dry and windy today, 35*).  It fired right up and ran fine.

So I obviously don't have the wet-weather starting issue fixed yet.

It starts and runs like a bear every time - unless the engine is cold and it's wet out.

A few times when I let off the ignition switch, it almost started....may be there's an issue with the timing? 


Dave

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Re: 2.3 Weak/No Spark While Cranking When Damp Outside
« Reply #29 on: February 24, 2014, 10:59:29 AM »
Smelling gas too quick has too much choke issue all over it if the ignition is hot.

You either know the timing is correct for a fact or you are wasting your time and battery....... .....

If the loose wire goes to choke power then choke not pulling off and a problem there, it has electric pulloff, you STILL need to research and cure that wire.

If plugs are old could just be that.......... ............