What happens when a car won’t start sometimes.

A female customer with a 1996 Saturn was referred to us by another shop with an intermittent no start problem or as she put it “my car won’t start sometimes.” The starter always turned over fine so the starting and charging system were not the problem. The check engine light was on but none of the codes stored were the kind that would cause a no start. She had brought it into other shops for the same problem but it would not act up for the other shops auto mechanic so they had given up on the Saturn. When talking to her on the phone it was obvious she was upset about the normally dependable Saturn turning into a gamble every time she went somewhere. The tow truck driver told us when he picked the car up she was a little “hot under the collar.” To use her words “she was traumatized by the car.”
I’m sure all the other mechanics that had looked at the car had spent plenty of time with the check engine light assuming it had something to do with the no start condition and a couple of the trouble codes actually were related but only indirectly. Putting in new oxygen sensors was not going to clear the code for the oxygen sensor. Our mechanic didn’t bother looking to see how many auto parts other repair shops had sold her in an attempt to repair the problem but by her frustration I can only assume quite a few.
Rather than dive back into computer codes, like all the other shops, we have found that an old school attitude works better when we run into problems like this. Yes we checked and recorded the Saturn’s trouble codes but started by looking at the spark plugs, to give us a clue to what was going on inside the engine and checking the ignition system. We discovered the spark plugs where coated with carbon and wet, which means that the fuel system was feeding too much fuel to allow the car to start. After tracing down the fuel system operation our mechanic found a temperature sensor for the computer was defective. We replaced it, the Saturn started, we cleared all the trouble codes, rechecked the no start a number of times and the codes didn’t come back. The part that caused all the trauma cost less than $15.00.
Jack Carrick

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