Broke down in Berkeley.
May 24, 2007 4:57 PM   Subscribe

My car won't start.

The car is a 1990 Subaru Loyale. Its been sitting around mostly unusued throughout the year because I have been in school. I try to start it up and drive it around every few weeks, but today when I went to give it a go it just wasn't happening.

It makes the "chu-chu-chu-chu" sound alright, the radio works and the fan blows air, but it won't turn over. The battery gauge shows the level somewhere around 1/3 charge. Does it just need a jump, or is it more likely to be something like the starter?
posted by sophist to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you mean to say that it turns over but never starts? If so, it's probably a fuel supply problem or a lack of spark. Generally, if your battery lacks enough charge to turn it over, all you'll hear is a single click from the solenoid when you turn the key.
posted by wierdo at 5:05 PM on May 24, 2007

2 reasons a car won't spark, no gas.

Chu-chu-chu could be the battery not having enough oomph to turn it over and generate the spark. The "click" referred to by wierdo only happens when the battery is teh dead.

I would start by trying to jump it, personally.

Try that, report back, we'll help you from there.
posted by TomMelee at 5:15 PM on May 24, 2007

oops...forgot to say, if it starts, make sure you go drive around for 30-45 mins to recharge the battery!
posted by TomMelee at 5:16 PM on May 24, 2007

A low battery can prevent the engine from turning fast enough to start, or won't give the coil enough juice to make a spark. Since you know your battery is low, if you have a charger (or can borrow one) try charging it up.

preview: yeah, what TomMelee said.
posted by harkin banks at 5:19 PM on May 24, 2007

The fuel may have drained or evaporated - in which case you'd need to pump more back up into the carburettor. This will take a while turning your starter motor over and forcing the fuel pump to bring sufficient fuel up into the engine.

Is it a carburettor? If so, take off the air filter and pour some fuel down the barrel (priming the engine).

You should probably take your battery out and charge it, also.
posted by strawberryviagra at 5:19 PM on May 24, 2007

I'd normally suggest a roll-start, or priming the carby as strawberryviagra says... but given the rest of my morning I bet you it's a fuel-injected auto.
posted by pompomtom at 5:29 PM on May 24, 2007

Jump it. Sounds like an almost dead battery.
posted by Carnage Asada at 5:44 PM on May 24, 2007

Hrm. In all my dead/low battery days (I buy crappy batteries and get them replaced under warranty every year or so) I've never had a battery with enough juice to turn the engine over but not spark. It's always been so dead that nothing works at all, dead enough to get the solenoid click but run the accessories (sometimes that's actually an issue with a loose battery cable, not a dead battery), enough to almost turn the engine over but not quite making it, or enough to actually start the car.

I should have told you to make sure that the battery cables are on firmly and to clean any corrosion from the posts and contacts in my first post. That's important. ;)
posted by wierdo at 5:44 PM on May 24, 2007

The 1990 Loyale was in fact fuel-injected.

Since I see you're in Berkeley, if you can't get it started and need to take it to a professional, an unsolicited recommendation: I've been very happy with Beyond Repair on San Pablo just south of University. They semi-specialize in Subarus, and they've taken good care of our 1995 Legacy wagon. (Y'know, just in case AskMe can't save the day this time.)
posted by harkin banks at 5:48 PM on May 24, 2007

wierdo wrote "In all my dead/low battery days (I buy crappy batteries and get them replaced under warranty every year or so) I've never had a battery with enough juice to turn the engine over but not spark."

I have. Or, rather, my friend did. She got a flat tire at night, and sitting at the side of the road with the headlights & hazards on for ~30 minutes waiting for me to get there to help her change the wheel drained the battery. It made "turning over" noises so I thought "huh, can't be the battery" and she called the breakdown service. Turned out it was the battery, and a jump start got the engine going fine.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:58 PM on May 24, 2007

I haven't been driving my car much either lately, and when I tried to drive it one day, it did what yours is doing: the engine would turn over, but it wouldn't catch. It turned out some moisture had gotten under the distributor cap (which prevents the spark plugs from firing, hence the no starting).

The distributor cap is easy to check if you spend a few minutes with google and your owner's manual, so it might be worth it to take a look. Even if you need a new one (i.e. there's a crack or something letting the moisture in), it's a cheap and easy fix.

One other thing I noticed (not related to starting): my brakes seized when my car was sitting for all that time. If you can, drive your car around the block once every couple of days to keep that from happening to you (and so you don't have to replace the pads sooner than you normally would).
posted by AV at 8:39 PM on May 24, 2007

Try to jump it, and if that doesn't work, check the battery's water level. On the top of the battery, pop off the rubber lid (there may be more than one) and check to see if there's water there. It may have evaporated. If not, add some and try again.
posted by zardoz at 3:27 AM on May 25, 2007

I've had the battery go so low it would turn over but not start too. I was even in Berkeley at the time - I mention that bc university towns involve a lot of the kind of driving that drains a battery. Lots of leaving the lights on while you shlep groceries up 2 flights of apartment steps, etc, followed by lots of stop-start driving for intervals too short to recharge the battery.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:26 AM on May 25, 2007

2 reasons a car won't spark, no gas.

Three things, actually: gas, spark, and air. A totally clogged air filter (such as from a squirrel nesting in there) will stop things up pretty well. I've also had more than one fuel-injected vehicle refuse to start when the battery was low -- the engine would crank, but no spark was produced. So my money is on the battery, although there are other possibilities (eg the suggested distributor cap issues).

A repair manual for the car should have a section at the beginning describing the diagnosis process for "my car won't start." Basically, you want to ensure that indeed, the engine is receiving air, gas, and spark. For air, just take a glance at the air filter. For spark, first try a jump start (or one of those portable jump start kits) and see if that solves things; if it doesn't, you need to investigate both the gas and spark issues further. (Are you sure that there is gas in the tank?)

In the future, it is a good idea to, once a week or so, go for a fifteen minute or so freeway trip (a couple of minutes longer wouldn't hurt) -- your battery is not the only part of the car that does not benefit from sitting, and short start/stop trips aren't enough.
posted by Forktine at 6:29 AM on May 25, 2007

If jumping it doesn't work:
I had a similar problem last year in a '93 Subaru Legacy. Very hard to start and keep it running at a level idle, so I bought a new battery. That wasn't it. It was the Camshaft Position Sensor which is expensive but very easy to find and replace. It should be the black button looking thing with the wire sticking out right behind one of the fan belt pulleys. All you will need is a short 10mm socket wrench, and remove/replace. You can also try to bring the car to a Pep Boys or some such place and ask them to read the engine computer codes, but I suspect that your car is too old for that.
Best of luck, ancient Subaru owner!
posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:50 AM on May 25, 2007

1. The weather is wet and there's moisture in your ignition system somewhere (ignition coil, distributor cap, spark plug wires, spark plugs) that is causing a short. Fix: replace these parts, preferably after you've waited for a few days of dry weather and shown that this restores the car's function.

2. You are out of gas.

3. Your engine is flooded with gas. Try putting the gas pedal all the way to the floor while turning the ignition key to purge the engine (if this works, you'll see lots of black smoke come out of the tailpipe, then things will normalize). If this problem recurs, you might have leaky fuel injectors that are filling the engine with gas while the car rests. Fix: use something like Techron to try to clean the injectors, which may be leaky because they are clogged with deposits.

4. Your battery is low. Turn on the headlights and try to start the car. If the lights go out while turning the ignition key, you're out of juice. Try a jump. You probably will want to get a new battery unless you drained the old one by leaving the headlights on or something.

5. Clogged air filter. Fix: replace air filter.

6. More serious (and unusual) problems: parts are out of alignment such as the above-mentioned camshaft position sensor, or distributor rotor. Or your fuel pump is broken. Or your distributor is broken. Or something bad like that.
posted by rxrfrx at 11:03 AM on May 25, 2007

« Older Dancing on the west side of LA   |   Please help me test our water Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.