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Old 11-16-2018, 09:42 PM   #1
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Glow Plugs Ticking - What's Normal?

Buster Lewis, my 1991 F-350 7.3L short bus, was easy to start when I bought it in California in the spring. but now I'm in Massachusetts, in the winter. It's not so easy anymore.

I've mentioned before that, almost as soon as I got here, the local Ford dealership filled Buster with gas instead of diesel and I drove it like that for about 30 miles until it broke down. In the months since that happened, Buster has spent almost all his time in the shop, as one thing after another has gone wrong (none of which can be proven to relate to the gas, but all of which COULD relate to the gas). In their attempt to fix the problem they created, many things have been tweaked and some parts replaced, including the glow plug controller, and all the glow plugs. I found out my buddies at the dealership aren't great with either diesel or vintage vehicles, but I had no choice but to let them do the work since they were doing it for free given that they caused it, and I can't afford to pay someone else. We finally reached a point where they said I needed to find someone who knows the vehicle better. I did, and now things improved tremendously. Buster has managed to stay out of the shop for a month!

I've gotten fairly good at starting up, but it takes longer and longer, which of course coincides with it getting colder and colder here. Though the "wait to start" light goes out fairly quickly, the glow plug controller (I guess that's what it is - I had never even heard of a glow plug before 3 months ago) ticks for probably close to a minute as the brake light flashes in unison.

My current mechanic tells me not to worry about it, to let the ticking cycle through and stop, then turn the key again and let it go through that cycle 3 or 4 times before attempting to start the bus. I do this, and it still ends up taking me 3 tries, usually, to start up, though so far it always does, even in freezing temperatures. I will eventually get a block heater installed but I can't afford that right now.

So my question is this: is it really OK that it's ticking like a clock, or more accurately like a turn signal, for almost a minute over and over again? Is that normal, or even somewhat normal? I can't find anything really specific about this looking around online. it seems weird to me that the parts would be new and this would be happening. But again, this is the first vehicle I've ever had that had glow plugs, so what do I know?

Once Buster starts up, he stays started and runs like a champ. It's just the start that's rough. But I worry that all this cycling and cranking is ultimately shortening his life or something. Please lay some wisdom on me.
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Old 11-16-2018, 10:24 PM   #2
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The ticking probably is, in fact, a timer or clock. I believe the glow plugs cycle instead of heat the entire time (someone correct me if I'm wrong), accounting for the behavior you describe.
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Old 11-16-2018, 11:01 PM   #3
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I agree with Brad that it's probably okay - if its still starting hard, then the glow plugs haven't done their thing yet, and an extra cycle or two shouldn't hurt anything.

I'd also have the batteries checked - the cold, and lots of cranking, can be hard on them. It could be that simple.
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Old 11-16-2018, 11:04 PM   #4
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Thanks! Batteries are both only a month old, though, so I think I'm good there.
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Old 11-17-2018, 12:09 AM   #5
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The ticking is the glow plug relay. It will usually cycle for a minute or two after start up. You may still have a glow plug problem. Make sure the glow plugs are motorcraft or beru. Any other can fail in a hurry. An easy test is to remove all the glow plug connectors, attach a test lite to the positive of the battery. Touch the top of the plug, if it lights, it's most likely good. If not it's bad. Bet half of the plugs are burned out already.
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Old 11-17-2018, 12:19 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bluebird90 View Post
The ticking is the glow plug relay. It will usually cycle for a minute or two after start up. You may still have a glow plug problem.
So you're saying I might still have a problem because it's so hard to start? Or because it ticks again each time I cycle the key?

It would not surprise me if they are the cheapest, crappiest glow plugs on the market, given the way these guys have behaved through all this. I'll try the test.
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Old 11-17-2018, 12:57 AM   #7
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Both IDI,s I had were slow cold starters below 40 F. You can cycle the key to get more glow out of it but it will wear your glow plugs down twice as fast.
Best thing is to get a coolant heater and preheat your engine.


You do not tell what they changed on the engine after gasoline but I would think at least the IP. I would also do a compression test to see what the values are. Then the timing on the IP is pretty critical for cold start.


Good luck, J
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Old 11-17-2018, 01:45 AM   #8
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Fuel filter, fuel pump, injector pump were all replaced in the first round of trying to fix things. Then batteries, not because they were fuel related but because they got so worn out from all the cranking. Next came the glow plug module, then the glow plugs themselves. All separate breakdowns.

They say everything happens for a reason. Still waiting for the revelation on this one.
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Old 11-17-2018, 01:48 AM   #9
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Typically when the 7.3 glow plug system is working perfectly, it goes something like this.


1. You turn the key on. The "Wait to Start" light comes on. The glow plug relay does its thing and makes the glow plugs warm up. Typically this takes just a couple seconds or so. Many have a temperature sensor that determines how long the initial cycle should be (colder = more time) then it cycles the plugs on/off to keep things warm where they are supposed to.
2. Once the "Wait to Start" light goes off, you turn the key to start. On a new/perfectly working engine, it should fire up fairly quickly. The glow plug relay should deactivate now that the engine is running.


On these engines (and others such as the Cummins 5.9 which uses a heater grid instead of glow plugs, but otherwise works on the same principle) you need a couple things to start. Diesel fuel is not ignited by spark plugs the way gasoline is. It is ignited by spraying vaporized fuel into really hot air. So to make a diesel start, you need hot air in the cylinders, and diesel that will burn at that temperature. The hot air is a combination of heat-of-compression, and whatever preheating method an engine employs (not all diesels have preheating systems). As the engines age and wear, they don't have as much compression so the compressed air isn't as hot. The glow plugs maybe don't heat as much as they used to ... you get the idea. The other side of the equation is the temperature at which your fuel will ignite. Get this ignition point lower (measured as a "Cetane" rating, higher rating = lower ignition temp) and it will make for easier wintertime starts. Many fuel treatments provide this (along with anti-gelling), which is one reason truckstops sell so much of it during winter months.
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Old 11-17-2018, 01:53 AM   #10
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Thank you! Any specifics on the fuel treatment to look for, brand name or anything? I will for sure look into that. Though it seems a block heater is in my near future.

The process you describe is how things started back in California. Wait to start light goes out, I turn the key, it starts. That's it! Not here, though.
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Old 11-17-2018, 02:04 AM   #11
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I have the 7.3 in my bus (the IH T444 version, very similar, but not identical to the Ford version). Mine usually needs 2 tries even in warm weather. A block heater keeps the oil or coolant warm, *NOT* the intake system. The oil will not be as thick, so it makes the engine easier for the starter to spin. It does not necessarily make the intake temps any warmer.


There's several good brands of fuel treatment. Howes, Power Service, and I forget what else. Read some labels, you want (1) Anti-gelling (Absolutely critical in very cold weather. I cannot stress this enough!), (2) Cetane boost, (3) fuel treatment/fuel stabilizer/anti-microbial properties (you'll want this if parked for any length of time).
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Old 11-17-2018, 03:55 AM   #12
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Thanks, I will look for that.
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Old 11-17-2018, 07:49 AM   #13
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Gas in a diesel is really bad and 30 miles? Yikes ,must have been knocking like crazy. I would insist on a compression test and be sure to get the numbers they find.
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Old 11-17-2018, 08:03 AM   #14
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After you start cranking do you see any smoke from the exhaust? Does it smell like diesel ? If it does then you are injecting diesel but not enough cranking speed( wiring, starter motor, batteries), .. not all working glow plugs,.. poor adjusted timing of IP ,.. bad injectors( spray pattern, pop pressure) .. bad compression (worn out rings or bad valves)


If you do not have some smoke and no smell then check if you have fuel at the IP. Sometimes fuel drains back overnight because of leaking fuel lines or leaking return lines. It takes the IP some time to suck fuel up and by that time your batteries might be already on the edge.
Read up on leaking O-ring fuel injector return lines.


Welcome to the cold weather starting, in the west they start but complain about the emissions, in the east the don't start but and complain about anything else.





Regarding my question about the replacement of the IP. Be sure you got a new one or a professional overhauled one with a new head. If you shop just went to the junkyard and got a "new IP" then I would be unhappy with that because they do wear out over time... ( 150000- 250000) miles.


Get on an for diesel IDI forum and see if there is someone with real idi knowledge in you area and that is likely not the ford steeler.




Good luck, J
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Old 11-17-2018, 08:19 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ronnie View Post
Gas in a diesel is really bad and 30 miles? Yikes ,must have been knocking like crazy. I would insist on a compression test and be sure to get the numbers they find.

I'm told that on the 7.3 engines, running gas in them will "burn the injector tips", which will necessitate replacement. I'm not sure about the OP's engine (different year than mine), but for my 2001 7.3/T444 (I believe they use the same/similar injectors), they run about $200 each, and there's 8 of them. The dealership that put gas in should very well be on the hook for this cost! When this work is done, since the valve covers have to come off, the glow plug wiring harness is often replaced, since it's sort of integral with the valve cover gasket, they "wear out" (the wires and connections get hot and melt the connections) and they're not very expensive.


As for the compression test, I have no way to know if that would have affected the compression or not, but I wouldn't fault you for wanting to have that tested all the same. But it's not so easy to say that low compression is related to putting gas in it.
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Old 11-17-2018, 08:40 AM   #16
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Wow, I wish you guys had all been on the original thread where I mentioned the gas problem. It seems to me at the time I got only responses from people telling me it was not a big deal. I really had no idea what specifically to ask for and it’s kind of too late now to go back and do all these things. I’ve settled my business with the perpetrators and walked away, so it would be hard to reopen all this without a major fight. I had no idea what the specifics of potential damage were, so I was kind of shooting in the dark. Now of course with all this input from all of you, I am feeling is if the whole thing is pretty much a lost cause because I don’t know that everything was done and done properly to account for the gas problem, and I really can’t afford to have a third party delve into this. I’m not someone who knows enough to take all this on herself - my mechanical knowledge is severely limited. Initially I did not calculate the mileage I drove and thought I had driven far less, maybe like 10 miles, but even 10 miles apparently would have been enough. Thanks for all the input but I kind of feel more doomed than ever now.
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Old 11-17-2018, 08:43 AM   #17
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Oh, as far as smoke goes, I don’t really see smoke on start up, but then again it’s hard to say for sure since I am in the driver seat and not behind the bus. Before I knew to wait for the glow plugs to finish tickingI did see one giant puff of white smoke on that one start up. But since I have been waiting for the ticking to stop I have not seen noticeable smoke from Where I am sitting.
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Old 11-17-2018, 10:49 AM   #18
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I just want to thank everyone for this thread. I've got nothing to add,I'm new to bus life and have learned a lot about how my IDI is suppose to work.
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Old 11-17-2018, 10:52 AM   #19
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This is just from my own experience. Most diesels can go up to 20% gas without damage. Beyond that it will knock and smoke so bad that you will know somethings wrong. If the engine still runs ok when running it's unlikely there is bad engine damage. Also, the glow plugs should stay on for 8 or more seconds when it's cold. Less than that can indicate some glow plugs out.
One thing I have found is many cheap glow plugs start to glow from the center to tip. These are still bad. It should go from tip-up. Only way to tell is to remove and test. BTW, depending on age and condition, Some IDIs will take 1 or 2 tries and several seconds of cranking when cold. Mine does.
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Old 11-17-2018, 11:19 AM   #20
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Firebuild, sorry to hear of your predicament. I agree gas cannot have been good for your engine and how extensive the damage can befrrom driving it like that. From now on thought fuel your own vehicle so you know diesel is going in.


The ticking is new to me also especially when it flashes the brake lights. That shouldn't be happening unless the 4 way flashers happen to be switched on.


So, in my mind , yes the glow plug controller will cycle on and off until a certain temp in the cylinders is reached. That should shut the controller off, might take a while depending on how cold it was at startup.
This can be verified by watching your amp guage and possibly voltage guage. They should show a deflection of their needles when power is surging to the glowplugs. Again when well warmed up they will sit at a more normal position, meaning your bus should be running smoothly by that time. Just let it find its own idle when cold rather than giving it more fuel by adding with your foot throttle. Cold coughs and sputters soon go away when things warm up and oil presure comes up on its own.
Don't be in a hurry to drive away till these guages are acting in the manner I described.


I let my bus go through maybe 3 or 4 heating cycles depending on the ambient temp here, before I turn the key over to start position. Mine has no glow plugs but rather a grid heater which works pretty much the same as glowplugs. Mine will smoke white smoke for a few minutes till it warms up. And I mean a cloud of it Usually it has its block heater plugged in a couple hours at least before I go to start. All temp dependent.. at -30 or 40 here

I am not going anywhere but can if I have too with the bus.
Yes, a block heater will destress you and the startups. You haven't mentioned driving habits here, short trips, a few hours, all day etc.

It is best to let the engine run if you are going into a store etc, just lock it up good and get back asap. Cold starts sure are hard on everything so let it stay warm on its own. If it is running you have at least heat inside which shortens defrosting times and may save your life if it happened to not start for any reason.
As others mentioned fuel additives for gelling do help you keep running in the cold.
Have the block heater installed properly, low down on the engine yet accessible.
Some have a pilot light on them so you can look out from the house and see if it is working. That I would suggest strongly.


So not sure you have a problem like you think but the brake lights flashing is a problem that should not be.
Are you sure your signal light lever is not making its flasher sound and blink. Just asking because it is rather easy to get rattled and overlook the simple things first.
Any chance you could make a video of your unique situation? basically, we are all guessing at this point.


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