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Thread: When It won't Start, Where to Start on a 83.5,1.9L Vanagon?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Portland, OR

    Cool When It won't Start, Where to Start on a 83.5,1.9L Vanagon?

    I just been through 6 months of Hell.
    I have a 83.5 1.9L Camper with a new 2.2L GVW GoWesty engine and most of the bolt and equipment is new.
    This included going over all the grounds in the engine compartment, redoing the ends. (Most Important!)

    After a couple years of great starts my Van started starting real hard when it was in the 30 degree range, then it got worse.
    It now won't start unless its 50 degrees out.
    Otherwise it runs great when warm.

    My mechanic said basically it has to have 3 things to start and run an engine; fuel, spark, air.

    I started by doing a complete tune up, plugs, cap, rotor, plug wires...nothing.
    Replaced some more stuff like a brand new ECU from Van Cafe, another air flow meter but this time brand new Bosch from Bus Depot.

    Then I started going over the fuel delivery.
    I pulled a few plugs and they looked dry.
    There is a T fitting that has access to the fuel line for fuel pressure readings.
    I undid the nut and bled some fuel out into a cup, nothing.
    Eureka! its the fuel pump!
    So I replaced it with a new stock Bosch unit with a new fuel filter.
    By the way I installed the GoWesty big fuel filter kit when I did the engine.
    The new pump sounds snappy, We got gas.
    I also replaced the auxiliary air valve for cold starts as I had a new one sitting around.
    I did the freezer to heat test on the old one, it worked but didn't open and close all the way.
    Wow it really helped rev up the cold engine when it caught.
    I also replaced both Relays in the little box above the coil and the Fuel Pressure Regulator in the return fuel line, what the heck do it all I say!
    I will complete this by replacing all the fuel lines ASAP.

    Now I know the fuel is out of the equation.
    Still no start when cold but now its different.
    I get a strong smell of gas that wasn't there before.
    My tank had been resealed by the previous owner, good god I don't want to drop the tank!
    It wants to start but dies.

    On to the spark.
    Like I said I installed a new Digijet ECU so we know thats not it.
    I replace the water temp sensor #2 in the water inlet, the wires looked good.
    I had installed a rebuilt distributor 10K ago so I would think it was still good.
    I had a rebuilt air flow meter but grabbed the new Bosch as it was a rare find, so its not the air intake.
    The air flow meter has an air temp sensor #1, so now both engine temp sensors have been replaced, the ECU should be getting accurate info.

    I 1st took the Idle Stabilizer out of the mix by unplugging it from the box and push the 2 ends together.
    I have a new 1 so it will get replaced (Again)
    The mechanic said when your engine is turning over the red alt light should stay on.
    If no then replace the Electronic Ignition Control unit.
    Mine stayed lit but I had a spare so in it went.
    Now it seems like it wants to catch a little better but not on the cold mornings.
    It was probably getting tired.

    My mechanic said that the tach needle should bounce everytime it fires a plug before it starts on an working ignition system.
    I noticed this to be true.
    In the morning it would fire, bounce, then nothing, no bouncing tach meter.
    I got instructions to test the leads into the distributor, checking for good positive and negative terminals.
    Finally I got to the source of the electrical problem, old wires in the harness coming to the distributor.
    The 3 prong plug wires were barbecued.
    I could see some small breaks in a couple of the wires.
    Dang! only shorting out when cold?
    I got some tape out and covered the wires.

    Booom! we have spark!
    I installed the new Idle Stabilizer and reset the idle with the idle adjustment screw found on the Throttle Valve body.

    I probably was getting enough fuel but the fuel pump was getting tired, I could have done a volume flow test on it but why? just replace it.
    I knew that my engine wire harness is getting brittle. No cure for this... Junk Yard?
    The strong gas smell has now gone away with the engine starting with the turn of the key, YEAH!

    The thing that i'm getting to is for me it was a couple of things.
    You have to go through each system till you find the problem.
    Had I know the little tricks about the alt light ICU test and the bouncing tach I could have saved some money, new ECU's and Air Low Meters aren't cheap.

    I hope this helps someone.
    Last edited by tailu66; 04-05-2014 at 10:38 PM.

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2011
    SE PA


    Um, a few thoughts on troubleshooting "won't start". Reiterating what's probably the obvious, every engine needs three things to run.
    • Air
    • Fuel
    • Spark

    Without these three, no engine runs. Ever. With them, the engine should almost always run. It may run poorly, but it will run. Of course, if the distributor is twisted to death but otherwise delivers spark, the fuel system has adjusted wildly out of whack but something is squirted into the engine, etc., running isn't likely. But then I'd say it's back to one of the three isn't there.

    In troubleshooting, KISS is your friend. Always. In the above story, the plugs would have told everything needed to fix the problem. Are the plugs soaking wet after cranking for a while? If yes, no spark. Take out a plug or connect a fresh plug to a wire off the distributor. Put the plug against the block, and crank. Dollars to donuts, there (will be or was) little or no spark. OK, walk back from the plugs. It can't hurt to replace the wires, cap, and rotor. And the plugs, of course, are shot from being soaking wet (wet plugs = dead plugs - yes, they can be dried; yes, they will never be quite the same). This won't fix this problem, of course, but you're halfway through a tune up (go ahead, change the filters while you're at it). There's no spark. The plugs, wires, cap, and rotor are good. Walk back another step, to the coil. Can you pull a spark from the coil/distributor wire (get the wire close to the block - do not use metal tools to hold the wire in place OUCH!)? In this case, the answer would be "no".

    At this point there are two choices: replace the coil (can't hurt, but isn't cheap) or check the coil for obvious damage (damaged wire tower, dent in the case, signs of water intrusion). Coil windings can fail for any number of reasons. The failure mode can even be temperature related. Stuff expands as it warms up, contracts when it's cold. So maybe an open or short is responding to being warm or cold. But that's sure going to long extremes to explain the problem. Do the easy thing first: check the low voltage wiring going to the coil (a common voltmeter is safe here). In the above case, checking the wiring discovered the villain, and the fix was simple. (BTW, remember the newest of our vehicles is 22 years old and many are older - long enough for stuff to just plain wear out)

    Note the following: the process I described was done with no special test equipment. It was done methodically, starting from basics, and walking back along the route from what should be working (no spark, no run). There was no jumping around (Why mess with the fuel side when the plugs are soaking wet? Why mess with air until "have fuel but no spark" is sorted out?) When confronted with a complicated possible cause (e.g., temp-sensitive coil windings, wonky ECU) and a simple cause (crappy wiring), the simple cause was checked first. And there was no need to resort to outside advice (which, IMHO, was a serious detriment to fixing the problem - some of the advice was, at best, irrelevant and closer to flat out wrong, and insanely expensive).

    Again, start from the "holy trinity" of spark, fuel, air. KISS. Walk the road to repair in a straight line. This saves time, money, and frustration. Honest.
    Last edited by RBEmerson; 04-12-2014 at 12:57 PM. Reason: Correct typos

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