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Old 06-17-2016, 09:43 PM   #1
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Question 1999 Amtran Won't Start

Hey All,

This is my first post, and I am really hoping someone can help!!

I am not a bus person, never have been but I don't know what I am doing wrong or what needs to be replaced. My 99 Amtran won't start, it has been sitting for weeks without running so I thought maybe it was just a dead battery. The bus has two 12v batteries in parallel, so I placed a charger on 1 of the positive terminals and the negative grounded out to one of the bolts, let the batteries charge to 100% all day, then attempted to start the bus and nothing. I even noticed liquid and smoke coming off the battery. I wasn't charging it when I attempted to start the bus.

Does anyone know what might be going wrong? Dead batteries, dead alternator, or something else? The air breaks do pressurize and I can hear relays clicking but the engine won't turn over.

Also, since this is the first diesel in my life, maybe it is a problem with how I am starting it...does anyone have any tricks for starting a diesel?

Thanks,
Andrew
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Old 06-17-2016, 11:30 PM   #2
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Seems like a simple battery problem. The way to test the batteries is to remove 'em and take to autoparts store where they can check 'em.

The smoke is a good indicator one went bad, and in parallel a bad battery will kill the other one, or at least drag it down to its level.

Good luck!
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Old 06-17-2016, 11:58 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Carytowncat View Post
Seems like a simple battery problem. The way to test the batteries is to remove 'em and take to autoparts store where they can check 'em.

The smoke is a good indicator one went bad, and in parallel a bad battery will kill the other one, or at least drag it down to its level.

Good luck!
Thanks for the advice, will pull the batteries and have them tested. Hoping that is all that is needed!!
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Old 06-18-2016, 12:26 AM   #4
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Welcome to the forum, Andrew!

Smoke and liquid.... I'm thinking you ought to recruit a mechanically knowledgeable person to look at that before you do anything else. A shorted battery can explode.

Different diesel engines have different starting rituals. Some start simply by turning the key. Others need you to heat glow-plugs before you crank it (either with the key, or with a separate button). Some may need you to turn on the fuel supply by hand (kind'a like old motorcycles lol).

You might want to start reading -- reading all you can find on diesel engines, school buses, and your particular engine model.

And air brakes. You say your air brakes pressurize. Perhaps there is some pressure left from the last time it ran, but the compressor is driven by the engine, so the engine must run to build pressure. Much to learn here, my friend.

You say you charged the batteries to 100%. How do you know that? Voltmeter? Hydrometer?
It's awful easy to make assumptions, but things can go wrong when we don't actually KNOW what we are doing.

I don't mean to pick on you! I'm trying to educate you, as I needed to be educated on all this Stuff in my day. (I'm 64, and I've been both an auto mechanic and a truck driver. Kept learning the whole way.)

25 cents says you overcharged the batteries by leaving the charger on all day. That could explain liquid and smoke. How old is the charger? Is it a modern one that shuts itself off when the battery is full? If not.... Old style chargers just keep pumping until "the balloon pops".

And yes, and Carytowncat says, one thing you can do now is take the batteries to an auto parts store for inspection and perhaps testing.

Once the battery situation is sorted out, you may or may not have a cranking problem. Let's take one step at the time.

And smile. Always smile. Specially when you are learning New Stuff.
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Old 06-18-2016, 04:01 AM   #5
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Whenever someone says it won't start I always start with the basics.

I can't tell you how many times I got a call that one of my buses wouldn't start. I would ask if there were lights that would turn on. If the lights would turn on I would then ask if the transmission was in neutral. Invariably the next response was it was in neutral now.

Once we got beyond checking the gear selector position I would then go on to ask what it was doing when the starter button was pushed or the key was turned to start position. If there were lights but no action at the starter I would then look to see if there were any other neutral bypass interlocks in play. All school buses that have vandal locks have a bypass that won't let the starter engage until all of the vandal locks have been unlocked.

If the starter still didn't engage I would look to see if there was an additional solenoid in the starter circuit. I had one Ford mini-bus that seemed to always kill that one solenoid, so much so that I kept a jumper wire in the jockey box so that anyone could get the bus started.

If the starter still won't engage I would jump the starter directly to see if the starter itself was bad.

And those are most of the checks I would do if the lights turned on.

If the lights and buzzers don't go on when the key is turned on then I would check to see what is going on with the battery(s). One bad cell in one battery can suck the juice out of a pair of 8D batteries in a matter of hours. Bad connections at dirty battery terminals, loose connections at either end of the battery cables, poor ground (rust and crud build up can make a good ground into a bad ground), or bad cables can make starting difficult.

Short term you should be able to get by with just one Group 31 battery to start your bus. Make sure it has at least 1000 Cold Cranking Amps. If you do decide to purchase two 8D batteries make sure they have the maximum CCA's--not all 8D batteries are built the same. I have seen some with as few as 850 CCA's and as many as 1600 CCA's. The more CCA's you can get the better as long as the $$$ make sense. 20% more cost for half again as many CCA's as the lower cost one is not a bad deal. Double the cost for half again as many CCA's is not such a good deal.

Once you know you have a good fully charged battery(s), all of the connections are clean and good and tight, the gear selector is in neutral, and all of the interlocks are in the run position then your bus should start right up.
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Old 06-19-2016, 07:08 PM   #6
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Got the new batteries installed and it still won't start...when the I put the key in the ignition, I can hear what I am guessing is the glow rod relay click...and the bus tries to start but nothing. Wondering if it is the starter or alternator...will continue researching and am willing to learn from anyone that can offer some advice!

Andrew
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Old 06-19-2016, 07:17 PM   #7
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Is your back door unlocked? Some busses are wired so they will not start if back door is locked. This is to ensure that it can be opened in an emergency.
just my 2 cents
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Old 06-20-2016, 12:26 AM   #8
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Andrew, please try to be very precise with the terminology. "Tries to start" tells us nothing.
Instead, try to say... "the engine cranks, but does not fire". Or "there is one click when I turn the key to the run position, and a different click when I turn the key to the crank position, but no cranking". That sort of thing.

Since you have fresh batteries in it, the alternator has nothing to do with your starting problem. The alternator "refills" the batteries after they have been drained somewhat by cranking, and then keeps them topped off as you drive, supplying electricity for lights and such along the way.

The only way the alternator could keep the engine from cranking is if it has seized (cannot spin), and the belt has enough friction to keep the engine from turning. That would be kind'a like a parking brake on the engine itself. It could happen. But very rare.
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Old 06-20-2016, 01:41 AM   #9
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As Eliot stated, we need you to be much more specific as to what is going on in order to help you.

When you say you turn the key and you can hear the glow plug controller cycling and then it tries to start but won't, does that mean the starter turns but the engine doesn't fire?

If you said I don't think I saw which engine you have. Since you have a 1999 AmTrans I am going to assume you have a T444E engine.

That is a V-8 with eight separate glow plugs that look sort of like a spark plug. If you have more than four of the glow plugs dead you will not start your engine. All the cranking in the world will not get a T444E to start if it doesn't have help. There should be a 110-vac coolant heater (a plug that sticks out of the grille or bumper or side panel). If you plug your bus in for 4 or 5 hours your engine should start right up.

One indication of bad glow plugs is how long it takes for the glow plug controller to cycle. If it takes less than 30 seconds to cycle then you most likely have at least four glow plugs dead.

There are ways in which to test them in place but if the glow plugs have been in more than 50K miles in a school bus then I would say it is time to replace all of them any way.
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Old 06-30-2016, 09:47 PM   #10
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Well, I have an update for the group... I had a mechanic friend of mine take a look at the bus and turns out the issue was with the oil...or lack of oil. The previous owner had no record of the oil changes nor told me anything about the status of the oil (and I didn't check it)...it was completely empty!!! Added 3 gallons and after some start fluid the bus fired up. Still need to add some more oil to fill the engine up more, but the bus is running again on its own. Will be adding another battery to the engine batteries to help it fire up easier so that will be great too.

Thanks guys for all the help!!
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