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View Full Version : problem starting 85 s&s NEED HELP!!!


H20skeefreek
08-27-2004, 05:58 PM
got to the lake today and boat wouldn't start. It would turn over but would not fire. in checking things out i discovered that with some strength i could turn the distributor by hand. I turned it clockwise and got it to fire once or twice, but it wouldn't run. Obviously the timing is off. I've never dealt with an engine's timing before, as I've always had cars with distributorless ignition. I need to know how to set the timing starting from scratch....what do i do?? I'm going to buy a timing light tonight. also, while turning the distributor and cranking, i got a mild shock is this normal? do i need to change something?

info: I have a '85 S&S with 351 with electronic ignition. Clip style distributor. I know nothing about timing (did i say that already?).

also, from the time i parked the boat, went in the marina and had a few beers and got home was 2 hours. when i pulled out the key in the garage, i realized that I left the key in "on". Did i fry my ignition? how do i know? if so do i have to buy a whole new electronic ignition?

paulphillipson
08-27-2004, 07:52 PM
H20skeefreek, you have at least 2 problems. You need to find out why the engine didn't start, and since you turned the distributor, you affected the timing.
Problem #1, Fuel or Spark?
Pull offf your spark arrestor, and crank your throttle a few times. Is there fuel squirting into the carb? If so, then the problem is most likley no spark.
Did you happen to mark exactly where the distributor was when you turned it? If so, then return it to that position.
If not, then do the following:
1. Disconnect the primary (middle) lead from your distributor, put the metal end of a long screwdriver in it, and hold the shaft of the screwdriver about 1/16" from an unpainted surface on the engine block. Hold only the plastic handle of the screwdriver! Have someone crank the engine over. If you see a spark grounding out at the engine, then everything is working up to input to the distributor. Semi-darkness helps with this step.
2. If you got a spark in 1. above, replace the primary wire and pull the wire off #1 sparkplug, and test it the same way. If you get a spark, then the distributor is working. If you have the manual from MC, I think they showed which cylinder is #1. I know some of mine did. I can't remember on Fords. Replace the wire.
3. Now remove the distributor cap. Look at the 8 brass tits on the inside, and the rotor. Did you change them recently? If the end of the rotor is burned or pitted, the brass contacts probably are also, and you need to replace them. In the center of the inside of the cap, the black contact is spring loaded, and should move freely. If all this looks good, put it all back.
4. If all the above looks good, get your new timing light and clip it on spark plug wire #1. Get some white chalk and mark your correct timing mark on the pulley. I sometimes chalk the pointer, too. Loosen the distributor hold-down bolt just enough to turn the distributor with some resistance. If you remembered where it was before this nightmare started, then you've already put it back there. If not, have someone crank the engine while you shine the timing light on the timing marks and slowly turn the distributor back toward its original position. If you have spark and fuel (above), at some point the engine will fire and run. Dont worry if it doesnt run well. As it runs, simply turn the distributor until the pointer lines up with the appropriate timing mark. The engine should smooth out, so then tighten the distributor lockdown bolt Tight. You would have of course hooked up your fake-a-lake prior to cranking??!!
Man, if that doesn't do it, bring it over to my garage, and we'll find the problem. Might be a long drive, but the beer's cold at my shop.

paulphillipson
08-27-2004, 07:54 PM
Oh, yeah, you probably did no harm to your ignition by leaving it on. Ran the battery down some, though.

H20skeefreek
08-27-2004, 07:59 PM
H20skeefreek, you have at least 2 problems. You need to find out why the engine didn't start, and since you turned the distributor, you affected the timing.
Problem #1, Fuel or Spark?
Pull offf your spark arrestor, and crank your throttle a few times. Is there fuel squirting into the carb? If so, then the problem is most likley no spark.
Did you happen to mark exactly where the distributor was when you turned it? If so, then return it to that position.
If not, then do the following:
1. Disconnect the primary (middle) lead from your distributor, put the metal end of a long screwdriver in it, and hold the shaft of the screwdriver about 1/16" from an unpainted surface on the engine block. Hold only the plastic handle of the screwdriver! Have someone crank the engine over. If you see a spark grounding out at the engine, then everything is working up to input to the distributor. Semi-darkness helps with this step.
2. If you got a spark in 1. above, replace the primary wire and pull the wire off #1 sparkplug, and test it the same way. If you get a spark, then the distributor is working. If you have the manual from MC, I think they showed which cylinder is #1. I know some of mine did. I can't remember on Fords. Replace the wire.
3. Now remove the distributor cap. Look at the 8 brass tits on the inside, and the rotor. Did you change them recently? If the end of the rotor is burned or pitted, the brass contacts probably are also, and you need to replace them. In the center of the inside of the cap, the black contact is spring loaded, and should move freely. If all this looks good, put it all back.
4. If all the above looks good, get your new timing light and clip it on spark plug wire #1. Get some white chalk and mark your correct timing mark on the pulley. I sometimes chalk the pointer, too. Loosen the distributor hold-down bolt just enough to turn the distributor with some resistance. If you remembered where it was before this nightmare started, then you've already put it back there. If not, have someone crank the engine while you shine the timing light on the timing marks and slowly turn the distributor back toward its original position. If you have spark and fuel (above), at some point the engine will fire and run. Dont worry if it doesnt run well. As it runs, simply turn the distributor until the pointer lines up with the appropriate timing mark. The engine should smooth out, so then tighten the distributor lockdown bolt Tight. You would have of course hooked up your fake-a-lake prior to cranking??!!
Man, if that doesn't do it, bring it over to my garage, and we'll find the problem. Might be a long drive, but the beer's cold at my shop.

The only reason I turned the distributor was because it wasn't firing. I'm getting fuel, and if i keep turning the dis clockwise, it starts to fire, i just didn't keep turning it b/c i wasn't going to be able to go out anyway, for fear of being stranded.

part of my concern is that while i was cranking/turning the dis, i got shocked (mildly), so i should be able to turn it and crank at the same time??

unfortunatly Reno, is a bit far for me to drive, but the beer does sound good.

JimN
08-27-2004, 08:24 PM
You got shocked because you passed the point where the ignition closed and caused the coil to discharge. That being said, how old are your plugs and wires? Old wires don't insulate as well as they should and even if it does start, it may crossfire from one cylinder to another at the wrong time. Plug wires are good for only a few years, so if they're a lot older than that you will be better off replacing them. Get good ones.

If you get a timing light, try to get one that's adjustable. Then, you just dial it to the advance you want and look at the 0 mark on the crank at 0 degrees advance. The timing mark shouldn't jump around. If the key was left on, the ignition system may not like that. Hopefully, you didn't burn it out. If you keep getting shocked(and decide that you don't actually like it), you can grab the base of the distributor with a Channel Lock pliers to rotate it.

The #1 cylinder is the one farthest forward on the motor. Right side facing the pulleys on the front of the motor is #1 on a Ford. If you pull the wires and plugs all at once, the firing oprder is cast into the intake manifold and the bank of cylinders with #1 go: 1-2-3-4 with the other bank going 5-6-7-8. They don't alternate like a GM motor.

You may be able to go back to the original distributor position by looking at the ring where the hold-down clamp is unless you moved it both ways from the starting point. If you have a good idea where it was, bump the key so the timing mark on the crank is at 0BTDC(with the timing light advanced to the correct spark timing and the pickup on the #1 plug wire). Turn the key on(without cranking) and rotate the distributor till the timing light flashes. If it doesn't flash after about +/- 30-45 degrees of rotation, put it back to the original position and rotate the crank 1 full turn. Repeat the spark test at 0 degrees. You should be able to see the timing mark clearly at 0 degrees this way since it's not rotating.

H20skeefreek
08-28-2004, 10:34 AM
age of plugs and wires, don't know, but i'm changing them today.

Distributor cap is ok, but if i don't get the boat running today, i'll order on monday.

I didn't move the distributor far, so i can get it back to somewhere near its starting point, but i believe that it was wrong anyway (had a couple of backfires a few weeks ago) I hope the timing being off IS my reason for it not starting.

Jim, what do you think about the screwdriver/coil wire test mentioned by Paul? I'm a little hesitant to do that if there is a chance i'll get a shock.

what should my advance be? I believe my owners manual says 6btdc, but retard it if you are using lower grade gas. I'm using 89octane. also, i believe you are supposed to advance if you've got Electronic ignition. I do, so where do i need to be? also, do i go with factory suggested plug gap or change it b/c of other factors?

JimN
08-28-2004, 10:53 AM
If you use 89 octane, 6 degrees is fine. If you don't want to use a screwdriver, you can use a spark plug, too. Since you're getting a timing light anyway, clamp the pickup on the coil wire. If the flashes are evenly spaced, you may be ok, but you'll see a flash for all cylinders, instead of just one. I have seen a lot of bad coil wires so don't be surprised if yours needs to be replaced. There's no reason to gap the plugs different from factory spec, either.

H20skeefreek
08-28-2004, 08:28 PM
well, i changed the plugs/wires and reset the timing to 6 deg btc and, at least in the driveway, she's runnin' like a top. Thanks guys!! Now anyone want to come and rebuild my carb???

H20skeefreek
08-30-2004, 08:59 PM
well, i changed the plugs/wires and reset the timing to 6 deg btc and, at least in the driveway, she's runnin' like a top. Thanks guys!! Now anyone want to come and rebuild my carb???


I NEED HELP!!! Ok guys, it ran like a top in the driveway, but i drove all the way to the lake tonight, and guess what....nothing!!! it's turning, and I can look in the carb and see fuel pumping but it won't fire. the timing is at 6* btc and i tried to move the dis around again, it won't move, so I know it's tight. I rechecked all of the plugs (for tightness, did not recheck gap yet, but they were right when i put 'em in) rechecked all of the wires, i'm getting spark at the coil and in at all of the cylinders that I was able to check before the battery went dead from all of the cranking. recharging battery tonight, any suggestions of what i should check???

JimN
08-30-2004, 09:48 PM
Don't crank it so long- you'll need a starter, too. Did you try to start like you're trying to clear a flooded motor? Your carb may be leaky, causing a flood condition.

H20skeefreek
08-30-2004, 09:55 PM
Don't crank it so long- you'll need a starter, too. Did you try to start like you're trying to clear a flooded motor? Your carb may be leaky, causing a flood condition.

Jim, i'm not sure i understand the question about trying to clear a flooded motor. maybe my technique is wrong. I'm afraid i did toast the starter trying so darn hard, it was really aggrevating me, so i just kept trying :cry: ( I know, I know patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to your starter)

tph
08-30-2004, 11:42 PM
My son's car did something similar to this earlier this year. It turned out that the coil was working intermittantly. Replaced it ...and all is well.

JimN
08-30-2004, 11:49 PM
If you flood a motor, you go WOT during crank and it will generally start if flooding is the problem. WOT lets more air into the intake and the mixture is closer to what it should be. When it does start, quickly bring the throttle back down to idle.

tph
08-31-2004, 01:12 AM
I had a similar problem with my son's car. The coil was working intermittantly. A new coil solved the problem.

H20skeefreek
08-31-2004, 07:48 AM
If you flood a motor, you go WOT during crank and it will generally start if flooding is the problem. WOT lets more air into the intake and the mixture is closer to what it should be. When it does start, quickly bring the throttle back down to idle.


oh ok, yeah i tried that, it started to fire a few times, but still wouldn't come to life.

I thought about it being the coil, but i hooked the clamp from my timing light to the coil wire and got light.

the confusing thing is: What would make it start in the driveway, but not at the lake?

Bill336
08-31-2004, 10:35 AM
I've heard that leaving the key in the on position for extended periods (say, more than 5 minutes) can damage the coil.

86Craft
08-31-2004, 11:46 AM
Not sure if this is close, but I had the same sounding problem this spring after a major tune up. Started up in the drive, but not at the launch. Long story short, I thought I had fuel shooting in the carb, and did, but not enough fuel. Turned out when I changed my fuel filter in the tune-up I did not get the gasket on the filter housing on very good and it was sucking air instead of pushing fuel. So after having it run in the drive, it sat for a couple of days, sucked in air (lost prime) and would not start at the launch. Again, it is a 100-1 shot because you did not say you did anything with the fuel filter. I thought would offer it up.

H20skeefreek
08-31-2004, 12:27 PM
Not sure if this is close, but I had the same sounding problem this spring after a major tune up. Started up in the drive, but not at the launch. Long story short, I thought I had fuel shooting in the carb, and did, but not enough fuel. Turned out when I changed my fuel filter in the tune-up I did not get the gasket on the filter housing on very good and it was sucking air instead of pushing fuel. So after having it run in the drive, it sat for a couple of days, sucked in air (lost prime) and would not start at the launch. Again, it is a 100-1 shot because you did not say you did anything with the fuel filter. I thought would offer it up.


I didn't do anything to the filter, but i did notice some condensation on the fuel filter this morning. could that be an indication of air or water in the fuel? I'm going to check that out tonight, but don't know if that'll fix anything or not.

H20skeefreek
09-03-2004, 08:02 PM
It won't start in the driveway or on the ramp now.

Jim, or anyone else for that matter. Haven't been able to completely rule out fuel supply as problem, but i'm getting spark on all cylinders except for cylinder #4. does this make any since? the wire is good, the cap looks good (i've tried to get the cap, but I can't get it from anywhere except skidim) the rotor looks good, but i'm just not getting any spark in that wire. ALSO, shouldn't it still fire? I mean i've heard of stories of old ford motors running on 2or3 cylinders, my engine won't even start. HELP ME!!!

AR Footer
09-03-2004, 09:03 PM
I had a similar problem with my boat not starting and as it turned out there were several contributing factors.
Since it will not start at all I would think that there are more problems than the #4 wire alone though since I know my boat actually ran on 4 cylinders while we were working toward perfection. If you are not getting fire to #4 and the plug is good then you are having a wire, rotor, distributor cap, or points problem. I would start with the wire and either take one off of another cylinder or hook the timing light to the distributor cap where the #4 wire goes. If still no fire then it would be time for a rotor and distributor cap for me since I wouldn't know how to do any further testing. Also, look at your points to make sure they are not pitted or burned up. Either will cause the incorrect amount of or no fire to start the engine. Once you verify the points are good then make absolutley sure that the rotor and cap are in good condition (no chalky, rusty, or burned up places).

My problem was a combination of burned up points, a carburetor needing rebuilt, and fouled plugs. Mine did similar to yours in that for a while it would start at home but not at the lake. I put in new plugs, new points, rotor but not a distributor cap because it was new. Still didn't run so I took it to a dealer that ended up putting a power valve and an accelerator pump in the carburetor. They tried to get me to let them do the carburetor rebuild but they wanted $350 when I could do it for less than $100 purchasing my parts through SKIDIM and having a local mechanic do it. Long story short, I tried to run without the carburetor kit but it quit starting and wouldn't run.

HAPPY ENDING: After new points, a set of plugs, new rotor, power valve, accelerator pump, a carburetor rebuild kit and another set of fresh plugs it runs like a champ.

JimN
09-03-2004, 11:35 PM
H20- did you say you checked the compression and changed the wires?

H20skeefreek
09-04-2004, 06:54 AM
H20- did you say you checked the compression and changed the wires?


no, i changed the plugs and wires but i have not checked the compression. I do not have a compression gauge. what would that tell me in this situation?

as far as #4 not firing I'm not getting any spark to that wire. And yes, i've checked the wire. I checked the wire for continuity, then I replaced it with a new one, still no spark to that wire. But i don't see how this would keep it from firing anyway.

I have poured gasoline directly into the carb, would this eliminate the carb as the problem? it still wouldn't fire. I'll get some ether today to try and see if i can get it started.

so much for getting on the water labor day weekend :mad:

JimN
09-04-2004, 10:17 AM
Before trying to get it to run, make sure the battery is fully charged and if you can have a spare in case the main one gets weak, use that instead of cranking till the first one is totally dead. When a battery discharges completely, about 30% of its capacity is lost and will never be as good as it was before.

If you don't get spark on one cylinder and you already checked the wire, it leaves the cap, rotor, coil and ignition module as suspects. If you look at the timing mark, it shouldn't jump around. If it does, the bushing on the distributor shaft is worn, usually.

Check your oil and is it smells of gas, change it. I don't know when you changed it last, but if there's gas in it, that and the filter need to go. When a motor won't start, the gas goes past the rings and into the crankcase, diluting the oil and increasing friction.

If you lose compression, the pistons can't create enough vacuum to draw the gas into the cylinder(s) and it won't start unless you add more manually. There will also be less expansion upon combustion and this will keep it from starting, too. I would avoid ether or other starting fluids since they expand more than gas/air. Did you try the "clear flood" by going WOT and cranking? If you do this and it does start, bring it back to idle ASAP.

How old are the cap/rotor, plugs, wires and oil? If you replace these and time it, do a compression test and have new fuel filters, not only will you have known good parts but it gives you an idea of the health of the motor because of the tests.

H20skeefreek
09-04-2004, 04:45 PM
ok, it's running in the driveway. I supposed i should take it to the lake, see if it works there. going to change oil first, b/c there IS fuel in it.

changed plugs, wires, cap, rotor. timed motor to 6*btc. only thing is it seems to run rough in the driveway. what is the process for adjusting idle? also, where should the choke be set??

JimN
09-04-2004, 05:12 PM
If it's running really rough, verify the firing order(hey- it happens) with 1-2-3-4 on the port side with 5-6-7-8 on the starboard. Also make sure the plug wires are pushed all the way down into the cap and the wires are seated onto the plugs well(with all plugs gapped the same- a slight difference matters). Did you take a fuel sample yet?

H20skeefreek
09-04-2004, 05:22 PM
it's just running a little rough, i pushed all of the plug wires down real well, and I'll recheck all of the spark plug gaps. I haven't taken a fuel sample what should I look for? i know the tank is clean and waterless (drained completely right after i got it) and i always fuel up far away from the lake. is the condensation on the outside of the fuel/water seperator a concern or just a function of living in humid SC?

JimN
09-04-2004, 06:22 PM
As long as the condensation is on the outside, you're OK. If you take a sample, get it after the fuel pump. Less work and you can just let it go into a clear clean, dry bottle(I use clear soda bottles since they don't break). You may want to have someone crank the motor for you while you hold the bottle, so you don't have spillage.

If you see any particles in it, you may have rusty lines. If it's cloudy, you have water in it and need to address this. Let is sit for awhile and you'll eventually see how much settles out. If you have water in the tank, filter it out or dispose of the gas. If the boat sits a lot or if you don't use a lot of gas, add Sta-Bil when the gas is fresh, as recommended. If the gas doesn't flow fairly smoothly, you may have a worn/bent fuel pump lever or the diaphragm may be leaky.