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Starter running

03-11-2008, 10:55 AM
I did some searching in this forums but found only one thread that covered this subject, and even then it didn't quite get at what I needed...

The starter on my 1991 Ford Econoline (with the 5.0 motor) is running. Not when I go to start it, when I connect the battery cables! In addition to that, if I do turn the key to the ON position the motor starts but the starter continues to run! Why would it do this?

I recently replaced the ignition switch, the lock switch(keys), and the starter solenoid. It has a new battery also. The starter was tested at the local Autozone and tested good. But what I don't know is if they test for the drive disengaging...Could that be the problem?

This is my work van and the more days it's down the more work and money I lose. Sorry about the long post, but I figure the more info I share, the better. Any and all help would be GREATLY appreciated!

03-11-2008, 12:23 PM
Look for the starter hot lead physically crossing up on the solenoid start input lead- if it test okay on the bench- then it must be in the installation- was it doing this before the solenoid replacement? if not- it is in your installation- or in your solenoid.

03-11-2008, 03:05 PM
In addition to brcidd's question about whether you had the problem prior to installing the new solenoid, can you also tell us if you had the problem prior to replacing the ignition switch and ignition lock cylinder? I'm thinking that if the switch/lock assembly wasn't aligned correctly, then the 'Start' contacts might be receiving current at all times.

As brcidd said - look for a short-circuit between the heavy cable running from battery positive terminal to solenoid, and the smaller diameter solenoid activation wire.

Also, can you let us know if you have access to a multimeter or a 12V test lamp, for testing purposes.

03-11-2008, 05:33 PM
Ok, i took out the lock switch (keys) to test out the circuit without it, no dice. Even in the LOCK or OFF position it still runs. So I had to leave the battery disconnected while I went to class. The heavy cable is brand new, I replaced it when I got a new battery. The little cable, which I assume it the solenoid activation wire, looks a little ratty. But I don't know where it would I test for a short circuit? I hope that's not an obviously retarded question...

I do not have a tester, although I should probably invest in one. I hate wiring, but I need to learn it. The ignition switch comes from the manufacturer in the OFF position and I made sure that the keys were also in that position before installation of the switch.

The lock cylinder has to be installed in the ON position so you can get the cylinder out initially so to the best of my knowledge that worked out. Although messing with it today I think I broke the cylinder, it's possible it was defective or of bad quality. The lockpin that should spring out when the keys are in the OFF position isn't springing back. I need to go get another one. So I'll be working with a new lock cylinder.

The solenoid install was fairly straightforward, it has the two large posts for the battery and the starter sides (I labeled cables before anything was unplugged) and it has two smaller posts for a little cable that looks like a tiny distributor plug(solenoid activation?). Now, it's possible I connected the little cable to the wrong little post(since it has two) but what effect would that have?

Thanks for your prompt replies guys, it's helped me to understand this problem a little more.

03-11-2008, 05:39 PM
Oh, right, prior problems...I replaced the solenoid because it was clicking and not starting. That's when I had the starter tested, and since it tested fine I sprung for a new solenoid (they're fairly inexpensive, like $10) without testing the old one. It worked out but I didn't get to test it too often because something else happened to the van that included a cracked water pump, a sliced serpentine belt, and a bent fan clutch. It's really been loads of fun owning this thing.

03-12-2008, 07:05 AM
I'm still a little unclear on the sequence of events, but I think it started out as a non-cranking problem, at which point the solenoid was replaced. I think the work on the ignition switch followed later and isn't necessarily related. In that case then, I'd concentrate first on the solenoid. That's a four-terminal solenoid (two large posts, two small ones) but it sounds as though only one of the two smaller terminals is in use. The way that works is, when 12V is applied to the correct one of the two smaller terminals, an electro-magnetic field is created, which causes a plunger inside the solenoid to bridge the two larger terminals and thereby pass current to the starter motor.

I'd proceed as follows: remove the wire from the smaller terminal and test it (the wire - not the terminal) for 12V. It should only have 12V when the ignition is in the 'Start' position, and the transmission is in Neutral or Park (if automatic) or the clutch pedal is pressed fully down (if manual). If you find that it does indeed only have 12V at those times then there's a good chance that you have simply fitted it on the wrong terminal. Do you still have the original solenoid? If so then the unused terminal will be somewhat dull and oxidised along its full length, but the terminal which was in use will have a clean section where the fixing nut used to be, so you could identify the correct terminal that way.

If on the other hand, it always has 12V regardless of whether the ignition is at 'Start' and whether or not the transmission is in Neutral or Park (automatic) or clutch pedal pressed down (manual) then there's something amiss with the feed for that wire and you'd need to start checking backwards, looking for a short-circuit. You wouldn't be able to do that without the aid of a multimeter.

When you're making the initial check to see if the wire is only receiving 12V under the correct conditions, you can do that with a multimeter or a simple 12V test lamp, or you could even remove one of the little interior light bulbs from the vehicle and apply the solenoid activation wire to one bulb contact and touch the other bulb contact to a good ground point (that's all that a 12V test lamp is anyway - just a little bulb with a couple of wires attached to it).

Could you check out that wire, and let us know what you find.

03-12-2008, 07:36 AM
I just read your last post again and I think I understand it now - the vehicle wouldn't crank, so you fitted a new solenoid. That fixed the problem and all was well until some other, unrelated, problems developed.

If that's correct, then there's no reason to think the wire is on the wrong terminal, but do still proceed to remove that wire and check to see if it has a permanent 12V, which it shouldn't have.

03-12-2008, 04:23 PM
OK, sorry about the delay. I haven't had time to go check it, but I will soon. I'll be updating this as soon as I have the time. Thanks for the reply Selectron, I'll make a test lamp and see. Since I don't have a test lamp or multimeter I tested it this way:

I disconnected the little wire (I'm assuming that nothing should happen because this wire controls the current between the two heavier gauge wires, right?). And as soon as I connect the battery the starter begins to run...even with the little wire disconnected. If i'm correct in my understanding of the solenoid, that would mean it's stuck open...and no longer needs the smaller wire to work the plunger and to make the connection. Therefore the solenoid is faulty.

If this is correct give me a heads up, if not then I need to go get that multimeter.

03-12-2008, 04:41 PM
Also, if I am correct then could I just be unlucky to get a faulty solenoid, or is something probably messing them up? It's the first thing to get power from the battery, so what could possibly short that out?

03-12-2008, 05:10 PM
Yep, that sure sounds like a faulty solenoid. If only three terminals are in use, and you've removed the thin wire, then it absolutely should not crank unless, as you rightly said, the solenoid has failed internally.

You can verify that by leaving the little wire removed and then also removing the heavy cable which runs from the output side of the solenoid down to the starter motor (so the only connection still attached to the solenoid will be the heavy cable from battery positive terminal to solenoid). If you then connect the battery and it does not crank, then it's telling you that you do indeed have a shorted solenoid.

The failure mode of the original solenoid was failing to crank, but the failure mode of the replacement is permanent cranking, so there's nothing to suggest that you have a problem on the vehicle which is causing this. If the replacement is a genuine Ford part then I'd be surprised by its failure, but if it's a cheaper aftermarket part which doesn't carry a known brand name then that wouldn't surprise me too much - there are some poor quality components out there and I think you probably just got unlucky and ended up with one of them.

03-13-2008, 09:06 AM
I got a new solenoid today. Installed it the moment I got home. I got the more expensive one, hoping it would prove fruitful. Once installed, I connected the battery running starter!

Every good turn deserves a bad one though, I guess. Because now the van won't crank at all...I have battery power, but once I turn the ignition to crank I get...nothing, no click, no turning over, just silence. I give up for now. I'm going to go search AF for "non cranking ignition" posts. Meanwhile if any of you have any advice, input, comments please post them here so I can maybe solve this thing and get back to work.

Thanks again Selectron and brcidd for your input and help. It was incredibly informative.

03-13-2008, 01:17 PM
Okay, well the constant cranking is fixed so now we just need to get it to crank on demand eh.

First thing to check is whether the thin wire to the solenoid receives 12V when the ignition key is switched to the Start position. It isn't just as simple as that though, because for that to happen, the transmission must be in Park or Neutral (for an automatic) or the clutch pedal fully depressed (for a manual) - then when you turn the key to Start, that wire should be at 12V.

If you don't get 12V then there's something open-circuit along the path from fuse - to ignition switch Start contacts - to transmission safety switch - to solenoid. That would ideally require a multimeter to trace the fault, but it should also be possible using a 12V test lamp.

If on the other hand you do get 12V then I'd suspect you're hooked on to the wrong one of the two small terminals on the solenoid.

You said it's a work van so you're keen to get it back on the road - well there are a couple of ways of starting the engine as it stands right now, so I'll describe those but I'll put them in a separate post, to avoid confusing the issue.

03-13-2008, 01:51 PM
So then, if you want to be able to start the engine, and do the fault-finding on the starter circuit at a more convenient moment, then you have two options. Note that in both cases you would be bypassing the transmission safety circuit, so you must pay attention whilst doing this.

Option 1: If it's failing to crank because you aren't getting 12V to the thin wire on the solenoid, then get another length of wire of the same gauge, or heavier, and connect one end to the small terminal on the solenoid (that's the same terminal that the existing small wire is already on). Then route the other end so it sits in the battery area - strip a quarter inch of insulation from the end of it, and tie it to something. Note that you're not connecting that end to anything - just have it sitting there ready to use. Then put the vehicle into Neutral or Park (automatic) or Neutral (manual) with the parking brake applied. Switch the ignition to the Run position, then go to the battery and touch the bare end of that wire to the battery positive terminal - the engine will then crank - as soon as it fires, remove the wire from the terminal and tuck the end safely out of the way.

Option 2: If you have a set of jumper leads, or a short length of cable of similar heavy gauge, then you can start the engine by bridging the two large terminals at the starter solenoid. Again, you would need to be in Neutral or Park (automatic) or Neutral (manual), with the parking brake applied and the ignition switch set to the Run position. Bridge the two large solenoid terminals and the engine will crank - as soon as it fires, remove the jumper cable.

If you're going to use either of those, then option one is the better choice.

03-13-2008, 07:00 PM
Ok, i tried the first alternative and that started it up immediately. If that's the case then it's safe to say the terminal the little wire is hooked up to IS the correct one. With that clear it only leaves the open circuit issue to worry about, because now there's no question there is one, am I correct?

Here's a side question, where is the fuse for the ignition? Maybe that's the problem and I'll feel like a jackass for not checking it first...

03-13-2008, 09:00 PM
Engine cranked and fired? That's great news. Yes, that does mean you're hooked onto the correct terminal at the solenoid, and yes, that does tell us that you have an open-circuit somewhere which is causing the 12V not to arrive at the solenoid.

That little wire you've been taking on and off the solenoid - is it coloured red, with a light green stripe? If so then I think I've found a wiring diagram, which will be helpful when tracing the fault. Unfortunately, I can't give you a direct link to the diagram because the site requires you to login first, but here's how to find it.

Oh, I'll just answer your question about the fuse first - the ignition switch Start contacts don't appear to be fed from one of the many smaller fuses on the vehicle - they're fed directly from a high-amperage fusible link, and if that was open-circuit then your engine never would have started, so you can assume that is good, and your fault lies further along the path.

So to find the wiring diagram (and an online manual for the vehicle), go to this thread:

... follow the instructions in the first post and login to the site. Select your year, make and model, then click on Repair Procedures - then Chassis Electrical - then Wiring Diagrams. Then I clicked on '1989-91 Chassis Gasoline Schematic' - the starter circuit is the one on the left of the page.

Is that an E150, E250 or E350 by the way, just so we end up looking at the same diagram, if you need asistance. Thanks.

03-14-2008, 08:09 AM
Well, it's never been really clear which model it is...I was under the impression that it was an E350, it has the 5.0 302 in it. But most of what the guy who sold me the van told me was either incorrect or not true. It is extended and it has the dual fuel tanks, so I do believe it's the 350.

::edit:: Upon looking at all the models and engine types it seems that only the 250 is available with the 5.0 302 motor, although I'm pretty sure you could have gotten a 350 with that 302 in it...who knows. As long as the motor is correct I'm pretty sure the diagram will be correct.

03-14-2008, 10:33 AM
In that case, I reckon I was looking at the correct diagram - when you get to the Wiring Diagrams section, it's listed as '1989-91 Chassis Gasoline Schematic'. At the bottom of the diagram it says 'Diagram 21', and it's five different circuits on one page - the starter circuit is at the top left, and just ignore the other stuff.

You'll need to trace through that circuit using either a multimeter or a 12V test lamp, choosing whichever points are reasonably accessible, to find out at which point you are losing the 12V. That's easier said than done though, because the ignition switch needs to be held at the 'Start' position for the 12V to appear, so it would be a case of hooking your test gear into the circuit and then turning the switch to 'Start' and seeing if you have the 12V, and then doing that repeatedly as you test different points in the circuit.

That's an awkward way to do it, so my choice would be to disconnect the battery negative terminal and then test for continuity between different points along the path - that requires either a multimeter (set to the resistance range), or something called a 'self-powered test lamp'. That way, you don't need for the ignition switch to be held at the Start position, except for if you were testing the actual switch contacts.

Before diving in with test gear though, I'd follow that small solenoid wire back to the wiring harness and make a visual inspection as far back as possible, just in case there's an inline connector which is loose, or dirty or corroded, or has detached itself.

Just in case it isn't immediately apparent to you, the electrical path through the circuit is as follows:

At the top left of the diagram, Fuse Link D supplies current to the ignition switch 'Start' contacts - current then emerges from there on a White/Pink wire which leads to the Transmission Range Sensor (automatic) or the Park/Neutral position switch (manual), emerging from there on a Red/Blue wire, which goes to an unspecified connector, emerging from there on a Red/Light Green wire, which connects to the small terminal on the firewall solenoid (shown on the diagram as 'Starter Relay'). The open-circuit is somewhere along that path.

You're familiar with the small wire which connects to the solenoid, so I'd make that the starting point, and work backwards from there.

Unfortunately, I can't help with component locations because I'm not familiar with the Econoline, but if you have any questions on the test procedures, then just let me know.

03-15-2008, 08:32 AM
I'm going to check the wiring sometime in the near future. Thank you so much for the tips on how to start it, I used it today for work and it ran ok. I have this problem where the transmission doesn't want to shift into gears and the engine almost stalls when I hit the gas and the engine is cold.

I think I have a vaccum leak or it might be the throttle positioning sensor...I'm guessing that both engine and transmission are affected by this part and if the engine doesn't think I'm giving it air it won't give it gas and the transmission won't know it's time to work. Hopefully I'm right and it doesn't mean my transmission is going...

03-15-2008, 06:27 PM
That's good that you're able to use the van again - just post again in this thread if you need assistance when you get around to fault-finding on the solenoid circuit.

I can't help with the engine / transmission problem, unfortunately; I've been driving diesels exclusively for many years now so I'm out-of-touch with the finer points of modern gasoline-engined control systems. It would be worth starting a new thread for that fault though, and see if anybody else can shed some light on it - it would be a shame to be putting unnecessary strain on the transmission if it's maybe something as simple as a vacuum leak, or similar.

03-16-2008, 04:42 PM
Ok, problem solved...but i cheated. I spent the better part of the day with a borrowed multimeter practicing contortion techniques in and around the van(I'm 6'1 225lbs, just don't fit in tight spaces). After a couple of hours I gave up, went to Autozone and set myself up with a push button start. Same idea as the wire trick but with a button in the cabin. I put in a 15 fuse in between the connections that has a weatherproof seal around it just in case something should happen I won't fry anything, just that fuse. Key in ON position, push the button, voila! I don't know why I didn't think of this before, I was running a push button ignition on my Civic for years...
Once again, thank you so much Selectron. I don't think I would have been able to troubleshoot this without you!

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