1990 Ford Taurus engine quit while driving, won't restart

Tiny
SAMODELKIN
  • MEMBER
  • 1990 FORD TAURUS
  • 6 CYL
  • 2WD
  • AUTOMATIC
  • 173,000 MILES
1990 Taurus GL wagon, with "Vulcan?" 3.0litre V6, not "SHO"

Driving on flat non-bumpy road, suddenly aware had no power steering. I kept coasting, and realized engine was stopped. I shifted into neutral, and a few seconds later the Oil and Check Engine light came on. I could not restart the engine by cranking.

I let the car come to a stop, and started checking "the obvious" such as I could in the boonies without regular tools, etc. Battery good, engine turns over easily, just won't start. When turned to ON, I hear the "buzzt" of fuel pump presumably, and after starting attempts I can smell "raw fuel" at the exhaust pipe.

I checked fuses, all good, noting that #1 is labled as "brakes, turn signals, engine computer". The brake lights DO work, but the turn signals now do NOT! (They worked when the engine was running before this breakdown).

The coil seemed to not be putting out a spark, in the field I could see no spark jumping from the coil wire to ground (when moved away from the distributor connection and a screwdriver stuck in the cord).

DMM/VOM showed resistance (forgot what, it wasn't shorted but it wasn't 20Kohm either) on both primary and secondary windings of the coil. So on a lark I replaced the "Ignition Control Module" below the distributor between shuttling my family home in a friend's car and heading back to where my car died and passing a parts store. With the new module, my car still didn't start, so I had it towed home.

Now I'm sitting here, trying to figure out where to go next. I've had the car for 2 days, and I have NO manuals or infomation on it, etc. (And can't find anything online. Haven't paid for online manuals access yet but could if that would help).

Questions -
How do I read the "check engine light" codes on this? Other cars of this era (1990, but not Fords), I put a jumper in a connection block and could read out by counting the number of flashes. Is there a way to do this on this car? Or must I use a Ford OBD reader. (OBD1? Not OBD2 I assume?) Are there any codes that would be useful to me? (Eg. Coil pickup sensor, crankshaft sensor, ?)

I could replace the "hall effect magnetic pickup sensor" inside the distributor - I don't know how to test that. Can I test it with a DMM or does it need some exciting/bias signal before I can get any readings? It's showing "open" in resitance between all three terminals. It shows no inductance reading, and no capacitance reading.

What next to check? I am confident there was no spark from the coil (I didn't get zapped!) And I can smell fuel in the exhaust pipe, so I assume fuel system is ok and problem is in the "ignition system upstream of the distributor".

I don't like "not getting a spark", but is there some cam pickup sensor that would cause there to be no spark if the timing belt were broke?

I might suspect the internal timing belt broke, but I do smell fuel in the exhaust which seems to me to indicate the valves are operating, right? The engine seems to "crank" with the same zest as before though again I haven't a long time of experience/expectation. If the camshaft(s) were not turning, I'd think I'd hear a different cranking cadence? Wouldn't I be able to check that the valves are operating by pulling spark plugs out and checking compression in a couple of different cylinders. Is it worth doing this or is the gas getting into the exhaust a good enough indication that the timing belt isn't broken?

I think I've located the "computer" pushed into the passenger compartment from the engine side of the firewall, and it has a dangling "EEC Test" connector, but I don't have any resources telling me how to use this or if it can even help with my problem. I don't know how important the computer is -- does it control the ignition or just "emissions" equipment in this car?

The car ran fine and smoothly before the failure - it was quite sudden without any "misfires or rough running or hard to start, etc.". This seems to indicate to me either mechanically something broke (timing belt?) Or an electrical component died. In my limited experience, when a wire or connector goes bad, it tends to cause intermittant problems first. Does this sound right for this car?

Is it significant that the turn signals don't work? The hazard flashers also don't work now, but I don't know if the hazards worked before or not. (Car new to me). I do know that the hazards were not "faulted" during a "safety inspection" (prior to sale/title transfer) 2 days earlier and I assume they checked the flashers. I do know that the turn signals worked up to 1 minute before the engine failure. I don't know if the turn signals don't work if the engine is not running, but every other car I've had will allow the turn signals to work if ignition is "ON" whether the engine is running or not. If the timing belt broke, how would that stop the turn signals from working! (Unless in this car the turn signals only work if engine is running)

Any help or hints appreciated! I don't want to put $hundreds$ into this old wagon, but the body is in nice shape and the seating (station wagon with 3 rows) is great for my family. It's got to be reliable though! The previous owner never had anything like this happen. (Previous owner is good friend, I can believe her and if car had died suddenly before, I'd probably have been called to help her!)
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Sunday, August 2nd, 2009 AT 9:52 PM

6 Replies

Tiny
JGAROFALO
  • MEMBER
A very long and vivid description of the problem!

First point of information. You do NOT have a timing belt. You have a chain and sprockets. Normally not prone to breakage. Engine cranking cadence is a good indicator of the status of the chain and gears. A normal cranking sound indicates that things are functioning normally as far as cam turning, engine compression, etc.

The real problem appears to be a malfunction in the ignition system. I have seen the following things cause lack of ignition spark:

Coil.
Ignition module.
PIP sensor (the Hall Effect sensor in the distributor)
Distributor driven gear.
Ignition switch/wiring.

You can make a few quick checks to point you in the right direction as follows:

Take off the distributor cap and have a helper crank the engine. The distributor rotor should turn smoothly and evenly with the cranking of the engine.

Test for voltage at the coil + terminal. You should have battery voltage with the ignition switch in the "ON" position. If there is not voltage here, the problem is in the ignition primary wiring.

Check at the coil - terminal for pulsating voltage as the engine is cranked.

Another note. The computer mainly controls the emission system. Any codes that you may obtain will not normally be of much help. If the "check engine" light comes on, the computer has power.

I hope this will be of some help to you.
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Monday, August 3rd, 2009 AT 7:30 AM
Tiny
SAMODELKIN
  • MEMBER
Thanks for the points and information.

I don't "know this car" but was trying to think through/infer what I could. But I'm "talking aloud" just so people can correct me where I got something wrong! Ok, so probably not the timing chain as I suspected.

There is no voltage at the + terminal of the coil (when ignition ON nor when cranking). The coil does have continuity from + to - (pretty low, but not shorted). The coil does have continuity from "spark output" to - (can't remember value, but it wasn't open nor shorted).

That's why I went ahead and bought/replaced the ignition module under the distributor (since it was what gave power to the + and - terminals of the coil and was immediatly upstream of where I couldn't find power). I haven't gone "further upstream" of the ignition module yet. I have no manuals or wiring diagrams, etc.

The PIP sensor inside the distributor - is there any way to test it? I get no readings from it (distributor removed, PIP still attached, ignition module removed) with a DMM. No resistance between any 2 of the 3 terminals, also no current (in uA range), no inductance and no capacitance (when rotor is spun past the magnet/opening). But I don't know this sensor very well other than I think it uses the "Hall effect" and it might need some energizing or bias input before it can "read/detect" anything. I'm a bit puzzled though as to why it reads completey open (>39Mohms) but I don't know what's normal for it.

I will walk up to the car soon and do some more checks.

Thanks for confirming my hunches thus far (computer not involved much, probably valves are working or timing chain not broken, probably ignition system problem)

Any idea why the turn signals aren't working when ignition ON (but engine not running yet)?
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Monday, August 3rd, 2009 AT 8:34 AM
Tiny
SAMODELKIN
  • MEMBER
I got some more info.

I talked to the guy who did the state safety inspection and he said the hazards weren't usually checked so I don't know if they were working or not before this failure. But, if they hadn't been used in a while, engaging the switch will cut out the turn signals and if the switch is old/gummy the turn signals might stay disabled. I think that's what's happening in my case -- I did engage the hazards when the car was being towed, but they didn't work.

PS. I don't know if the hazards switch (on top of steering wheel housing) is supposed to be down or up. Nothing happens in either position!

I didn't have any power at the coil when I first checked (when car was on the side of the road). However, now I do! 12v at the + terminal of the coil, or more accuately on the connector unplugged from the coil, when ON or cranking. On the coil - plug I get 0v if ignition off, 5v if ignition ON not cranking and 2.5-4.5 (variable) DC and 2vAC when cranking.

The coil measures 2 ohms on primary (+ to -) and 1650ohm from spark to -. I don't think that's unreasonable? Is the 2ohm on primary too low (too much current flow burned out the ignition module and coil is partially shorted?)

I'm now suspecting the coil itself, since I can't "shock myself" nor see a spark if I jumper a gap from the coil output to ground and I am getting an apparent "break/interruption" in the coil - connection when cranking. The coil's resistance seems to indicate "good, not open nor shorted", but I'm open to more ideas?

It's been suggested to me by the safey inspector to go ahead and replace the PIP sensor in the distributor, but that I wouldn't be able to test this with my DMM/VOM anyway. I think it's good though as the new replacement one "measures' the same (open on all 3 terminals) and I do seem to be getting a varying/interrupted current flow into the coil primary. If I install the PIP replacement sensor, I can't return it, etc.

I am sure that I didn't get any voltage at the coil before I replaced the Ingition Module (in the field) so I suspect the coil may have burned out the old one? I didn't test the voltage at the coil before now since "in the field" it was getting dark and I just put the modlue in, tried to start it, failed, and called the tow truck.
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Monday, August 3rd, 2009 AT 3:22 PM
Tiny
JGAROFALO
  • MEMBER
Your voltage at the coil is incorrect. I have the Ford EVTM manual in my hand, and the coil is fed directly from the ignition switch to the fuse then to the coil. You should have battery voltage at the coil.

Take the connector off the coil, and test voltage at the RED wire with a LIGHT GREEN stripe on it. You should have battery voltage with the ignition switch in the ON position.

Your problem is looking more like a bad ignition switch at this point.
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Tuesday, August 4th, 2009 AT 8:37 AM
Tiny
SAMODELKIN
  • MEMBER
Getting there I think! I got a new coil from the store and measured it. It's 2ohm on the primary and 7700ohm on the secondary (whereas the one on the car now measured 1650ohm). That's making me feel good that the coil is bad and shorted and not making enough of a spark to start the car, etc.

I really don't like that I can hold the output of the coil directly in my hand (with other hand on ground/frame) while cranking and NOT get shocked!

To jgarofalo, I think you misread my post above. But thanks for looking at the circuit in an actual manual and giving me that information and wire colours to confirm! I'd said that the + (plus) terminal of the coil is getting the full 12v when ignition is ON (that's the one as you described red/green striped wire). That doesn't vary (as measured on the car). The - (negative) terminal (with green and stripe wire) of the coil is the one that's varying and I expect it to as the interruptors (well, the ignition control module) breaks the current flow to induce the spark.

I'm can't wait to walk up there (car was towed to a parking lot since I can't keep "dead" cars here at home) and swap the coil with this new one to see if I can drive home! (Heavy rains here right now though). At the auto parts store I was able to buy a manual for the car too, nice to have those. (86-95 Taurus/Sable manual).
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Tuesday, August 4th, 2009 AT 10:44 AM
Tiny
SAMODELKIN
  • MEMBER
Fixed!

It was the coil indeed. Set the new one alongside, connected it, car started right up (after I jumped the battery).

I will return the (unused) new hall effect (PIP) sensor, but keep the Ignition Module I replaced. I used it, and I know there wasn't any voltage at the coil when the old IgnitionModule was installed.

Thanks for the help/hints and just watching me talk through it.
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Tuesday, August 4th, 2009 AT 9:50 PM

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