Author Topic: Mystery Car Problem  (Read 1672 times)

ladycygnus

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Mystery Car Problem
« on: April 26, 2013, 11:31:39 AM »
Dodge Neon - 2004 2.0L. It gets an oil change twice a year each spring and fall which ends up being at about 4,000 miles. Sometimes at a mechanic here, sometimes at my parents' house (100 miles away but they have flat ground and appropriate tools).

19 June 2011 Won't start. Try jumping but end up towing to evil mechanic
20 June 2011 Battery Replacement (with positive battery cables) (~$500 for battery and was going to charge me $200 for sparks and wires and another large sum to "flush the fluids" which needed to be done. Ah the joys of having a towed car in your lot to replair).
1 July 2011 Sparks and wires changed myself for $40 and in a half an hour.
Summer 2011 difficulty starting on occasion and  seems to be correlated with hotter and wetter days. No error codes
1 August 2011 still has problems starting on occasion. Still no error codes.
11 August 2011 Cranksaft Sensor replaced by mechanic #2 (all say he is honest and I'm charged only for parts when this doesn't work)
1 September 2011 Mechanic has the car for a while and it starts beautifully for him every time. Says he changed the camshaft sensor as a trial. I'm not charged since the blasted car still acts up for me.
Winter 2011 works fine all winter
Summer 2012 difficulty starting on hot/warm wet days. No error codes. Bike a LOT during the summer to avoid being stranded by evil car
12 July 2012 check engine light comes on, p0203 (fuel injectors). The car idles hard and jumps when accelerating under a load. With dad's advice I add fuel injector cleaner. Error code clears for a while.
Fall 2012 Error code p0203 again, add in fuel injector cleaner, by the next fill-up it needs more.
23 March 2013 Fuel Injectors replaced by my dad and myself. Error code clears.
March 2013 initially has occasional fuel injector error code and mild jumping, but instances growing further apart (like it's working through something)
April 2013 still has some difficulty starting with warm, wet weather (no error codes) and occasional re-occurrence of check engine light (but turns off before I can stop and check for codes). No jumping during acceleration.
17 April 2013 Check Engine with code p0233. Borrow a multimeter from coworker to check circuit, open hood and see small hose to air filter is not connected. Reconnect and error code is gone.
24 April 2013 Housemate drives car and gets the check engine light along with jumping while accelerating. I don't get a chance to examine car before light turns off.
25 April 2013 Housemate drives an apparently well-bheaved car

Details on the "difficulty starting". It almost acts like you didn't hold the key in the start position long enough. If it doesn't start right away it usually it can be forced to comply by holding the key in the start position and giving it a little gas. Once it "starts" let up slowly on the gas until sure it won't stall out. If it stalls out anyway just curse at it and repeat the process. If that doesn't work I decide it's a good night to stay home. The trick is to force it to start the FIRST time by not allowing it to stall out. Once it stalls out it seems to become harder to start.

I technically "bought" the car for about $1500 from my parents and have been driving it about four years. The car is worth about $3500 in PERFECT condition - this obviously isn't perfect. Although paint and interior in good condition with a mystery problem like this I will probably not be able to sell it for more than the parts are worth. I have another year or so before I can buy a cheap used car. Thus I'm not looking to drop thousands of dollars into this beast. But maybe it's an easy fix...maybe there is something I'm missing and I can make this one last a couple more years and have enough to buy a nicer car (last one I ever buy kind of thing).

Thoughts and suggestions?

pmallory

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Re: Mystery Car Problem
« Reply #1 on: April 26, 2013, 04:51:56 PM »
It sounds like a fuel issue to me, and the code p0233 ("Fuel Pump Secondary Circuit Intermittent") indicates the same.

The code makes it sound like an electrical issue. Testing the fuel pump relay would be a reasonable first step. The relay itself could be dead/dying (it has moving parts that will eventually wear out).

Other things that could induce similar symptoms are:
  • dirty fuel filter
  • dying fuel pump
  • strange electrical gremlins unrelated to the relay (not likely, imho)
  • dead or clogged injectors (also unlikely, you already dealt with them)

Taking it to the honest mechanic and telling him the code is also a good idea. He can do pressure test which would be helpful for diagnosis.
I'm a rambling wreck from Georgia Tech and a helluva engineer computer scientist!

ladycygnus

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Re: Mystery Car Problem
« Reply #2 on: April 26, 2013, 10:30:17 PM »
Sigh, I get to add two more error codes to the mix: p0344 and p0340. (Aside: given the similarity between 233 and 344 I'm wondering if I had a dyslexic moment when writing down the first one. It can't possibly have multiple crazy error codes right?)

I had to drive to my parents house on short notice and these popped up shortly after beginning the trip. No real driving problems apart from one incident an hour in when the cruise control died. I pulled off and rested it for a few minutes and it didn't have any more problems for the rest of the trip. This fits the description on this page: http://forum.2gn.org/viewtopic.php?t=38324&highlight=. (especially given that this is a newly replaced part - in terms of mileage at least)

However, this page doesn't appear to address the starting problem. I like your suggestion of the fuel issues - but the fuel pump itself seems healthy since you can hear it humming when you turn the key. I'll see if we can test the fuel pump relay with the link you sent.

Although, being perfectly honest, I strongly suspect gremlins. Especially given that there are no codes when it doesn't start, it just simply flashes "--- DONE ---" which I always found quite apropos.

Vilx-

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Re: Mystery Car Problem
« Reply #3 on: April 28, 2013, 08:10:59 AM »
OK, this might be a bit silly (I don't know the situation in USA), but a real problem around here where I live (Latvia) sometimes is... bad quality fuel. This is rarely the case when you buy it from a respectable chain of gas stations (like Neste and Statoil here), but if you always go to the cheapest one you can find (or even worse - buy illegally smuggled fuel from private sources) then anything can happen. The worst thing is - a really crappy fuel can indeed damage your car.

Also, an odd thing I've noticed when asking about fuel in a local forum: people who always buy their fuel in Neste say that when they try Statoil fuel, their car has problems. And vice-versa for people who buy Statoil fuel.  It's not as a rule, but there are at least a few people on either side in every such discussion. So my guess is - it's best to stick to the same provider, even if it's not always the cheapest. If you're always going to a different provider, maybe try sticking to the same one for a while (which seems to work)?

Also, no idea if it's related, but here's something to check out: http://www.carbibles.com/engineoil_bible.html.

docah

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Re: Mystery Car Problem
« Reply #4 on: April 29, 2013, 12:45:44 PM »
I know this is going to sound silly... but the best place to go for neon advice and troubleshooting is neons.org .  I've been a member there for years. :)
 
If i'm reading the codes correctly you have the following problems:
p0344 - Cam sensor circuit intermittent.
p0340 - Cam sensor isn't sending pulses while the crank sensor is.
p0233 - Fuel pump circuit intermittent.

So, with multiple circuits returning intermittent I would check grounds first. Find a wiring diagram ( I might have this on my home computer, I'll check later ) clean each ground/body contact point.  Then find the connector for each reported system issue. (Cam sensor is not hard to get to, you'll have to search under the rear passenger side area of the car for the fuel pump.) This and a battery worked for me when I was getting cam sensor and cylinder misfire codes on my 2004 R/T.  Neons can be fickle, but they are cheap to fix if you know the right people.  If you look around the neon forums you will probably find wiring diagrams and pictures of just about everything.  Good Luck!

CptPoo

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Re: Mystery Car Problem
« Reply #5 on: April 29, 2013, 12:54:16 PM »
I have a 2000 Jetta and I have been facing intermittent starting issues since I got it. It also has more problems on hot/wet days.

My problem is with a security feature called the immobilizer that forces the car to stall when the ignition does not recognize the RFID chip inside the key. I think my problem is likely due to either a short in the electrical system due to moisture or the computer malfunctions on hot humid days.

I don't know if this might help with your car, but computer and wiring issues can often be hard to diagnose. I have yet to find a mechanic that knows how to fix my starting issues, and what I know about it has been through my own research. Luckily, I have found methods for starting it that usually get it running within a couple of minutes.

ladycygnus

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Re: Mystery Car Problem
« Reply #6 on: November 11, 2013, 06:53:54 PM »
This is just an update in case anyone else is having a similar problem with their car. The "not starting on hot days, but sometimes starts with a tap of the gas" issue appears to have been the Idle Air Control Valve (a $100 part whose replacement involved removing 2 bolts). It appears to be starting fine now...although practically every other part needs replacing for it to pass inspection.

Although I did borrow a circuit tester from a coworker, I never got around to checking the wires. Instead, I gave the car to my sister who is more motivated (and has a flat driveway with access to almost a full mechanics shop). I bought a used Honda that has been well taken care of by its one owner and plan on continuing the level of upkeep.

aglassman

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Re: Mystery Car Problem
« Reply #7 on: November 12, 2013, 12:55:47 PM »
~$500 for a BATTERY!?  My jaw has hit the keyboard.

ladycygnus

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Re: Mystery Car Problem
« Reply #8 on: November 12, 2013, 01:21:21 PM »
$535 to be exact. If I remember correctly the breakdown was as follows:

150 - battery ($80 MAX at Sears)
130 - positive battery cables
80 - Diagnostic of the "problem"
120 - the hours of extensive labor to change those two parts
50 - tow to get there (I believe they owned the tow trunk and it went about 2 miles down the road).

When I asked if the battery was made of gold the guy snapped that I had agreed to the price. Yup, I had, fool that I was. It's amazing what you can get someone to agree to if they are in a state of shock and are feeling helpless. I've never been back. The next mechanic I went to was completely honest and didn't charge me for things they tried that didn't fix the problem. He's received at least 5 new customers by my recommendation alone.

thurston howell iv

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Re: Mystery Car Problem
« Reply #9 on: November 13, 2013, 07:24:36 AM »
1. Get AAA membership (plus program has several FREE 100 mile tows)- This membership is invaluable
2. Did anyone check the ignition coils on the Neon?  The symptoms you describe sound like the coils. (I've replaced many with this issue- very easy to test)

worms

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Re: Mystery Car Problem
« Reply #10 on: November 13, 2013, 02:13:56 PM »
Interesting about the air control valve, i once had a vehicle with similar problems starting in hot weather - turned out that the rubber lift gasket in the carburettor went soft in extreme heat and the answer was to manually lift the pot while turning the key, which was just doable, with long arms and a long screwdriver, but tended to draw incredulous looks from passers-by!

My other experience of intermittent ignition problems that were initially diagnosed as electrical, was eventually traced to changes in fuel formulation and a bio-alcohol blend which gummed up a nylon mesh pre-filter on the fuel pump.  Again I wonder if the blend changes with the seasons where you are, giving rise to the seasonal nature of your problems?

All in all, though, the Honda sounds like the solution!

Ashcons

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Re: Mystery Car Problem
« Reply #11 on: November 14, 2013, 08:20:08 AM »
$535 to be exact. If I remember correctly the breakdown was as follows:

150 - battery ($80 MAX at Sears)
130 - positive battery cables
80 - Diagnostic of the "problem"
120 - the hours of extensive labor to change those two parts
50 - tow to get there (I believe they owned the tow trunk and it went about 2 miles down the road).

When I asked if the battery was made of gold the guy snapped that I had agreed to the price. Yup, I had, fool that I was. It's amazing what you can get someone to agree to if they are in a state of shock and are feeling helpless. I've never been back. The next mechanic I went to was completely honest and didn't charge me for things they tried that didn't fix the problem. He's received at least 5 new customers by my recommendation alone.


Holy cow...he must be billing at $250/hr and factored in a smoke break!

I could have diagnosed your problem over the Internet. You owned a Chrysler ;) My 02' Town and Country has so many electrical component problems that I'm bald from pulling my hair out trying to chase down every quirk with the dumb thing. I would sell it, but I'd feel bad saddling someone else with the stupid lemon before I get it into a condition where I would not feel guilty unloading it (fix AC electrical issues / blower motor, starter problems on cold days, had to have a car electrical systems guy come rewire some fuses to clear a parasitic drain...lots of other stuff).
« Last Edit: November 14, 2013, 08:22:28 AM by DebtStubble »

aglassman

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Re: Mystery Car Problem
« Reply #12 on: November 14, 2013, 08:31:10 AM »
Man, what a jerk mechanic!  I hope you thoroughly trash his reputation as a mechanic around town, and on Google reviews / Yelp.  Bad word of mouth does do damage to scumbags like this!  I like to think of these experiences as expensive life lessons.  The trick is to not repeat them!  Good luck with your next repair.