No Start – Feb. 2010

Would not start – Feb. 2010

I arrived in Mazatlan around 1pm after a two hour drive. That morning, indeed for several months, I’ve not had or heard any problems from the engine. Always started right up. But this day, after I stopped for fuel, then drove a few miles and stopped for cash and a meal, I stopped and parked the RV next to the fence of a RV park I’ve stayed at before. Went in and found they did have room for me, paid, picked out a spot and came back to the RV around 45 minutes after parking. This time it wouldn’t turn over. Had no trouble the four other times that day I’d started it up.

There wasn’t a sound I could detect when I turned the start key. No click or anything. Immediately I look at the shift lever…it’s in Park. I check the dash for idiot lights. They look fine. I watch them when I turn the key to start..they dim like they are suppose to.  Hmmm. So I think that the starting motor must have died. Or the starting solenoid. I’m sitting right next to my RV park so I’m hoping that having the rig towed into the park and backed into my assigned spot would be OK, and not too expensive. But I’m not sure the tow company would do that since the park is crowded. I suppose I could spend the night there, along side the road, that happens all the time with tour buses right there where I was parked but I didn’t really want to do that right on a main drag.

Anyway, I grab the shift lever and pull it throughout it’s range and try to start it again. The engine turns right over and starts right up! YEA! So I move into my spot and setup then go talk to the office gal and she calls and makes me an appointment with a mechanic.

Late the next day, the mechanic showed up. He and I discussed my problem with the starting system in the rig and decided to take the starting motor in for a preventative maintenance inspection. At the Cummins shop in town. The motor has 147,000+ miles on it and yet, they said it was fine. Didn’t even need new brushes. That cost me $650 pesos, or $50 US. I was hoping they would find something wrong, so it would be fixed and I wouldn’t have to worry about it. No such luck. Well, maybe jogging it around or removing then reinstalling the wiring did something to make it right. I don’t know, but it’s worked fine since then, more then two months now.

Update: Oct. 2010

This is how not to do this…

So I was needing to move my RV here at the campground in Alaska, there was some snow on the ground, it was cold each night and I was already living in the building but wanted to get the rig moved around a bit to incorporate the anti-gel goop I’d poured into the tank and I wanted to add several gallons of fuel to keep mold or scum from forming.

Moved the rig closer to the building, wash it, dump the gray & black tanks, empty the water tank, and park it over night near the building to make moving some of the rest of my stuff into my apartment easier. Each time it was running, I was getting this howl from the engine compartment. Damn, I’m thinking, some other problem. I went ahead and ignored the noise thinking I could get to it in the spring. All went well and I was able to start & move it a couple more times, even with the noise, until the next morning when the guy with the key to the private diesel fuel tank was to come by. It wouldn’t turn over at all. The guy with the diesel key is an experienced electronics technician just like me and somehow, when I was trying to get the rig to turn over, convinced me (obviously a failure of my ego to recognize I’m just as damn smart as he is) that my two 6V batteries must be the problem. Being an idiot since the dash lights were just dimming slightly, not going dark, I pulled them out, took them to the battery shop he recommended and didn’t even bother to have the old batteries tested (which were not that old). $318 out the door.

Still wouldn’t even turn over, but I still had dash lights that dimmed slightly when I turned the key to start. Hmmm, same problem I’d had in Mexico. So I called my favorite diesel mechanic. He comes over and decides it’s a bad starting motor. That would explain the howling noise I’d gotten the first time I’d started it lately. So, he pulls it out and we take it to a motor shop. They throw it on their motor tester (I’ve never trusted these machines to NOT claim every motor was bad in order to increase the shops income) and declare it bad. I’m hesitant so he shows how the throw out gear does not have the spring strength it should as compared to a new motor. OK, I’m convinced and my mechanic strongly advises against a $175 rebuild in favor of a $275 new motor. Alright, I respect his opinion, new motor it is. For a 1994 rig. With 128,000 miles on it.

Take it back and install it. Starts right up. Purrs, no howl from the engine compartment. Pay the mechanic. So far, I’m $693 into this issue. Drive around to the back of the shop building, get my free diesel fuel & take it back to my parking spot.

Four weeks later, now VERY COLD at night and COLD during the day, I want to start the engine to give it some exercise. Same problem, lights on the dash just dim a little, no turn over of the engine. Damn! I think about it for a week, seething, and then remember I have a built in engine heater. Go out and plug it in and 4 days later, test it and it starts. This doesn’t begin to answer the question of why it doesn’t even try to turn over so I know that there is still something wrong with the ignition system. Probably just a bad connection somewhere. Yes, I agreed it needed a new starting motor after all that howling from the engine compartment, but there’s still something wrong there somewhere. Bad key switch perhaps? I carry a spare so that’ll be my next swap out if it happens again.

What I did wrong: I know from experience that a bad battery will extinguish the idiot lights when you turn the starting key, not just dim them. And I should have had the battery shop do a load test! Then I know that a rebuild of a starting motor for this old of a rig is not only reliable but also more appropriate. But for whatever reason, I didn’t trust my own innate skill in this case, and suffered the consequences. There was the little black bits floating in the liquid in the batteries, I don’t know if that means the batteries would have gone bad soon or not…