Troubleshooting Ford Explorer Starting Problems

by Dan Ferrell

Finding why your Ford Explorer won't start will be much easier if you follow a systematic approach. For example, notice when or how the problem occurs: Does it happen when the engine is cold or hot? Can you hear the engine turning? Is the starter turning or just making a click sound? Below are some typical starting problem conditions and possible systems and components involved.

Engine Fails to Fire Up

Corroded or loose battery cables can interfere with your starting system.

Always start with the obvious. Make sure you have fuel in the tank; maybe the fuel gauge has stopped working. After that, turn on the headlights. They should be bright, a quick and easy way to check for battery power. Then check for faulty components in the fuel and ignition systems. If you have not changed it in the past 12 months or so, the fuel filter might be clogged, obstructing the flow of gas; after years of service, the fuel pump might have failed as well. Examine the ignition system; look for broken, loose or disconnected spark plug wires or a failed ignition coil. Check the timing chain. A worn-out or defective chain will fail to synchronize cylinders and valves, making the engine unable to operate. Finally, check cylinder compression.

Engine Fails to Start When Cold

Faulty spark plugs will fail to ignite the air/fuel mixture in the combustion chamber.

If your engine seems to give you trouble only when cold, there are some specific components to look at. Using a voltmeter, check for battery power. Make sure fuel is reaching the injections and the fuel filter is not clogged. Also, check the condition and gap of the spark plugs--clean and recalibrate the plugs if necessary. Then troubleshoot the engine coolant temperature sensor and engine control system.

Engine Fails to Start When Hot

If the starting system only gives you trouble when the engine is hot. check the fuel filter and make sure the fuel injection system is receiving fuel. In rare cases, the fuel system may be experiencing vapor lock. This is caused by engine heat transferring to the fuel and creating bubbles. You will notice the engine stalls, lacks power or it is hard to start or does not start at all. Inspect the feed and return lines and see if any are touching a hot engine part.

Starter Motor Operates

Sometimes, the starter motor will operate but the engine will not turn. The problem might be in the starter motor itself. The most common problem is a worn or broken starter pinion or drive plate. Remove the motor for inspection.

Starter Motor Will Not Crank the Engine

A bad starter motor needs to be replaced.

Maybe the starter motor itself does not turn. Check that the battery terminals are tight and clean. Then check the battery charge. When attempting to start the engine, make sure the transmission is in Park (P) or Neutral (N). Also, check the starting circuit for broken, loose or disconnected wires and cables from the battery to the starter solenoid, the ignition switch and the starter motor. Next, check components in the starting system like solenoid, ignition switch and starter motor. It is possible the pinion on the motor is jammed. Remove the starter motor. Finally, check the Transmission Range (TR) sensor. The sensor may need adjustment or replacement.

References

About the Author

Since 2003 Dan Ferrell has contributed general and consumer-oriented news to television and the Web. His work has appeared in Texas, New Mexico and Miami and on various websites. Ferrell is a certified automation and control technician from the Advanced Technology Center in El Paso, Texas.