2001 Saab 9-3 ignition problem
February 9, 2009 5:09 PM   Subscribe

My car won't start up on the first and sometimes second try, after a cold night.

I have a 2001 Saab 9-3 that has difficulty starting on the first try, after sitting overnight.

I will turn the ignition and hold the key. After about five cycles, the engine ignition process stops and I just get the full set of lights on the dashboard.

I will turn the key off and try again. The engine usually starts up on the second try, sometimes the third. If it takes a third try, the second attempt has the same symptom as the first attempt.

It seems to run fine once the engine is started. Once the engine is warmed up, I have no problems re-starting it after a short break. It will start up again and run fine.

However, if I leave the car overnight, on a cold night, I get the same ignition problem the following morning.

I replaced the battery two years ago. I don't think the headlights are any dimmer, and the cabin electronics seem to work okay.

Any ideas on what might cause this? It will take a while to get it to the shop — am I damaging the car by trying to start it in this condition?
posted by Blazecock Pileon to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
My 2001 Peugeot recently developed the same fault. Had it serviced at the Peugeot shop - couldn't find a fault. He did say my oil was really dirty (only changed 10,000K ago) and that the previous idiots I took it to didn't use the correct grade of oil, so could be worth a check. Maybe dirty oil gets sludgy in the cold?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:13 PM on February 9, 2009

>Maybe dirty oil gets sludgy in the cold?

Yes, it does. I recently changed the oil in my car to fix a similar problem (I also used a lighter oil).
posted by pompomtom at 5:17 PM on February 9, 2009

I'm pretty sure you run the risk of draining your battery when you try to start your car up and it won't. It happens a lot in cold weather. I've seen a lot of people on my street needing jumps this winter (thanks, Chicago).
posted by phunniemee at 5:17 PM on February 9, 2009

If your battery is good but the starter is intermittent, a likely problem is the starter motor or the starter motor solenoid. The contacts in the solenoid turn on and off very high amperages which eventually burn the contacts so that they don't work very well anymore. When the engine is cold it is harder to turn and requires more current to the starter. When the engine is warm the starter has an easier job and works okay.
posted by JackFlash at 5:20 PM on February 9, 2009

Where do you live? How cold does it get? I have the same symptom with my 2007 Civic (but not my 2001 Accord) when the weather gets below 10F. I do not consider this a problem since it starts up within seconds and has never even considered stranded me. If your winter continues into May, consider gettting a bad-ass battery. Otherwise chill. (you know, no pun and all...)
posted by stubby phillips at 5:20 PM on February 9, 2009

10,000K is how many miles? No matter what anyone says you should change your oil every 3000 miles. Sounds like either you are badly in need of a tune up or your choke is not working correctly (won't start cold but starts when warm). You are killing your battery & your starter as it is now. Cheap fixes could include new air and/or fuel filters, simple choke adjustment or a set of sparkplugs.

posted by patnok at 5:20 PM on February 9, 2009

stranding, not stranded.
posted by stubby phillips at 5:22 PM on February 9, 2009

I recently had a not starting problem (BMW). No starting on the Nth try, it just wouldn't start, though the starter ground away.

Turned out to be dirty spark plugs which I then flooded by continuing to try to start it. Got the plugs and an air filter replaced for $300.
posted by orthogonality at 5:22 PM on February 9, 2009

Have you tried turning the car to "On" (so the fan is running) for several seconds before starting? This is a folk remedy in my parts that I am sure will be disproved by the metafilter truth squad.
posted by selfnoise at 5:24 PM on February 9, 2009

Is it a diesel? That's a whole different diagnosis.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:02 PM on February 9, 2009

For now you can put a light bulb on an extension cord under the hood, that's what we did in Montreal, at least until it got cold enough for the block heater (which is a heated dipstick that goes where the regular dipstick came from).
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:03 PM on February 9, 2009

On Selfnoise's suggestion, place the key in "run" without cranking for a few seconds. Maybe turn it back off and to "run" again before cranking...that will prime your fuel pump.

However, the other suggestion I would make is your battery terminals. Gt a battery terminal brush and scour both the female part (on the wire) and the male part (on the battery). Also make sure the wire end is *all* the way on the post.
posted by notsnot at 6:22 PM on February 9, 2009

It does sound like this is a cold weather issue, assuming you do live somewhere relatively cold now. Oil is thicker when cold, making more work for your engine to turn. Compounding that lead acid batteries are also less efficient when very cold, producing fewer amps with which to turn the starter.

If that's the case you aren't really going to critically hurt anything beyond some accelerated wear and tear on the engine and starter, and maybe needing a new battery sooner than normal. If you still have your manual it should state what oil to use at what temperatures. If they specify a lighter weight for winter you could have that done during your next oil change. Next year make sure to have the right oil put in maybe at the end of October or November.
posted by 6550 at 7:48 PM on February 9, 2009

I'm with JackFlash; I recently had to replace the starter on my 2001 Jetta during a cold snap (~-20°C/0°F). The engine turned over fine, many many times, but it just wouldn't catch. I pushed it into the garage overnight and it warmed up enough to start the next day and I got it to a mechanic.
posted by cardboard at 5:16 AM on February 10, 2009

What is the specs on the battery. IF the battery is not rated for cold weather it would not start the car in cold weather. I have had a 2 year old car battery die on me so dont rule out the battery.
posted by majortom1981 at 7:31 AM on February 10, 2009

I had a similar problem with my 2001 Volvo S40. When it was cold out the car wouldn't start properly (cranking but not turning over) the first time I tried. Usually started up the next attempt. Then it would run fine and restart fine for the rest of the day. Turns out it was a problem with the fuel pressure regulation. I have no clue if this is your problem, but it took a really long time for the mechanics to diagnose and they ended up replacing many sensors and all of my fuel injectors before figuring out this was the problem. Good luck!
posted by kms at 2:25 PM on February 11, 2009

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