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Old 08-19-2015, 06:30 PM   #1
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97 Saf-T-Liner No Start, No Crank

I recently purchased my second bus, a 1997 Thomas Saf-T-Liner RE with a Cat 3116T and MD3060. The bus has driven well since purchased. About three weeks ago, out of the blue, I had a no start, no crank problem...

HERE'S THE STORY:

A week before my no start problem, I had a heavy truck mechanic come to diagnose a separate problem I knew I needed to have work done on (an air leak in the pressure switch and some other items that needed replacement or overhauled in the air brake system). However, I had to wait a week until he had time and space to bring my bus to have work done.

My bus is parked on the street. After the mechanic left my house that day, I drove the bus around the block to my "allowed curb side bus residence" and waiting the week until I could take my bus in to get worked on. This was the last time my bus started. I had no issues driving it... no warning lights or anything out of normal had occurred.

The day came to bring the bus to the mechanic. I jumped in, put the key in and turned the bus ignition to "ON". Everything came on; buzzers, lights, typical dash lights, etc. When I tried to start the bus... nothing. Just a click coming from a solenoid in the engine electrical compartment (outside driver's side panel).

I called the mechanic to inform him that I was having a problem starting the bus, and he said he'd be over to take a look and get the bus into his shop. Two weeks went by without hearing from him. At about the third day of waiting, I decided to clean my battery posts and inspect the battery cables for wear, etc.

After the two weeks of empty promises from this mechanic to come by and get the bus going I eventually called another mechanic. He said he'd be over in the morning. Within 45 minutes I finally got a call from my original mechanic. He said "Sorry. I didn't forget about you, I'll be there in the morning".

The next morning they both showed up at about the same time.

They spent about 30-45 minutes checking things out together. They started at the battery, moved back to the "black box" in the engine compartment (where it can be started from), they checked fuses and relays and connection all over the engine compartment and found nothing suspicious.

They went into the cab, tried to start the bus... nothing. BUT... this time my shifter display was not lit up. They tore apart the dash and found the VIM and ECU. Once they saw the shifter panel without a display they assumed my ECU was fried. They both quoted that it would cost $4000 to replace the ECU and shifter panel. I was bummed... I just bought the bus back in June. This wasn't what I wanted to hear.

I immediately went online and did a lot of research on my ECU. I found a lot of information, and a lot of references to this gentleman John Kopalek (owner of Transmission Instruments) who refurbishes my style of ECU. I'm glad I called this guy!!!

So... I've been working with this guy through emails and telephone calls (he's Czech and hard to understand). He gave me a troubleshooting guide to use before we assumed my ECU was fried. After his troubleshooting guide checking connections in the wiring harness, I found out that my ECU is in fact operational and getting power.

It seems that I simply have a problem somewhere at my VIM (which the previous mechanics did not check). I have exhausted my funds having paid these guys to essentially find nothing out. So, I am now at the mercy of doing my own diagnosis... and why I am making this thread.

I have had some help from another member here from a Facebook Skoolie group. He helped me understand how to run the troubleshooting that John provides on his website. Between him and talking with John, I have found my problem to be somewhere between the VIM and the ignition circuit... but I have not a clue where to start.

What I am looking for is possibly information I am missing or should know before diagnosing my problem alone. I'd like to chase the circuit and find where it goes to crap. However, I'm not finding much information here, nor am I getting solid information (at least what I think I need) on how to start.

ANY TAKERS?? I seriously appreciate any help I can get. Before I poke around my bus, I'd like to get some info/feedback/etc from others who may have better information than the mechanics gave me.

NOTE* I've checked the obvious warning issues. I've removed any problem I could have had with emergency doors, etc almost as soon as I bought the bus. I am positive it isn't an unlocked door, open window, etc.

Cheers,

Beau
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Old 08-19-2015, 07:01 PM   #2
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Did the starter solenoid engage? Also, did you check to be sure the bus is in neutral? Sometimes the neutral safety switch (after sitting for quite a while in storage) gets temperamental. 20 minutes away from home I stopped to get a bite to eat, left the tranny in drive, shut the bus off, by accident. I was tired and needed to eat. Came back, couldn't start her. Shifted the tranny back into neutral. However it took about three hours of playing with the shifter and the connections at the tranny to "persuade" the tranny to "see" neutral. FINALLY she fired up. I was VERY thankful! My '89 still has a mind of her own when first starting up. But, she does start up reliably and drives like a dream! As I use her more she's getting better at everything.
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Old 08-19-2015, 07:43 PM   #3
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My bus wouldn't start with the exits LOCKED not unlocked. What about the starter itself? Is your engine mechanical? Whats the voltage on your batteries?
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Old 08-19-2015, 08:20 PM   #4
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Voltage at the batteries is at 12.6V. Bus is in neutral. This tranny doesn't have a neutral safety switch, but instead a relay (in the VIM) that checks out as functional.

I haven't checked anything else (starter,solenoid, etc) yet. I do have someone sending me information tommorow on my safety system so I can disconnect it (this is a possible problem). I know it's going to be one of those "duh" moments when I find the issue.

I'm kind of curious why the mechanics didn't check this stuff out. This so is not my expertise, but I'm doing better with time and experience.
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Old 08-19-2015, 08:57 PM   #5
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There have been several threads about someone screwing with the switches on the emergency exits only to find out that they disabled their engine. How do you not start with the starter when you have a starting problem. You didn't say if you engine is electronically controlled.
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Old 08-19-2015, 09:25 PM   #6
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Sorry, yes, mechanical engine. I meant to put that in.

When I get time I'll do some digging around here.
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Old 08-19-2015, 09:47 PM   #7
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Is you starter clicking or no? Maybe check the voltage at the starter. I am not a mechanic but I play one on TV...and I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. I am just throwing out things I would look at.
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Old 08-20-2015, 12:12 AM   #8
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I have someone in another group sending me info on my bus so I can disconnect the safety system. I did mess with my side emergency door the day before I moved the bus last, but it still moved after that.

Tomorrow I'll check that out, and check my starter and solenoid as well. I've watched a couple YouTube videos to familiarize myself with what I need to check.

I hope it's a "duh" moment and not a "empty my wallet" moment.

Thanks again.
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Old 08-20-2015, 12:18 AM   #9
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I went to Texas for this bus. The only electronics are the AM/FM radio. I need to pull a T-handle to kill the motor. Pulling the key out won't do it.
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Old 08-20-2015, 05:02 AM   #10
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You're starting at the wrong end. The first place to diagnose a no crank is at the starter/solenoid. If it does work back the other way.
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Old 08-20-2015, 06:31 AM   #11
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Good day all. first time poster, longtime reader and owner of 95 Bluebird 72 pass capacity now under renovation.
I had the same problem after buying my bus which led me to the decision to go over the whole bus as in an electrical inspection and repair as best I could. This before deciding to convert it to what I had in my mind for an RV.
it turned out to be corrosion on the starter relay terminals which wouldn't allow power to the start solenoid. Cleaned it up and squeezed the wiring connections tighter on the terminals. Tried it and have never had a start issue since involving the starter.
Bus has the same engine, 5 speed standard though and goes like stink in top gear. The most I have seen her doing is 85 mph and climbing but ran out of safe road. She'll do that all day long too and never overheat, touch wood.
I'd like to start blog about my experience but still to busy buildin her but do have pics so if you'd like to see some, just contact me here and I can send.

Cheers, John
Belleville, Ont. Canada
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Old 08-20-2015, 11:01 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by BlackJohn View Post
Bus has the same engine, 5 speed standard though and goes like stink in top gear. The most I have seen her doing is 85 mph and climbing but ran out of safe road. She'll do that all day long too and never overheat, touch wood.
I'd like to start blog about my experience but still to busy buildin her but do have pics so if you'd like to see some, just contact me here and I can send.

Cheers, John
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Old 08-20-2015, 04:29 PM   #13
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You're starting at the wrong end. The first place to diagnose a no crank is at the starter/solenoid. If it does work back the other way.
I was thinking the same thing. Why not try hot wiring it? Put the key in the on position and use a jumper wire, with a fuse in-line if you're feeling conservative, to connect the solenoid control terminal to battery.

You could buy an in-line fuse holder, pop in a fuse like 20 amps maybe, and use it as the jumper between the control terminal and the battery supply terminal right there on the solenoid.

Hopefully it'll crank, start, and shut down again when you turn the key off.. It's possible that it might crank but not start, or start and promptly die, if there is some safety switch interfering. In any case, if it cranks at least, you can trace back through the wiring harness from solenoid to ignition key and see what's connected along the way. It's the slow "brute force" method, but in the absence of somebody who knows all the points to check, it's effective.
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Old 08-20-2015, 05:40 PM   #14
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Quote:
You could buy an in-line fuse holder, pop in a fuse like 20 amps maybe, and use it as the jumper between the control terminal and the battery supply terminal right there on the solenoid.
Or do it the way I do, short a screwdriver between big and little terminals on the solenoid.
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Old 08-21-2015, 09:43 AM   #15
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Or do it the way I do, short a screwdriver between big and little terminals on the solenoid.
Works great for glow plugs as well when the relay dies!
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Old 08-21-2015, 11:33 AM   #16
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Works great for glow plugs as well when the relay dies!
Done that a few times... a neighbor has a Bobcat skid loader and asked me to do some work on it. It was a bear to start! The second time he brought it to me I decided to look into the starting aid first. Discovered it uses glow plugs and they weren't energizing, so just went around back to jumper them for several seconds and then climbed into the cab and whaddaya know, the engine started up easy as can be. I told him the glow plug switch wasn't working and he asked how I could tell. So I showed him that pushing the glow plug switch didn't help the engine start, but using the jumper did. I think he still just uses the jumper wire.
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Old 08-21-2015, 02:19 PM   #17
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I've decided not to do anything until I am comfortable with what I'm doing.

However, in the mean time, I have been making calls around trying to focus on where I need to begin.

Yesterday I called the school district the bus came from and spoke to the mechanic in charge of the buses. He says I probably have a simple problem (safety interlock system, bad wiring/ground, etc) keeping the bus from starting. He noted that although the bus is old, that it was one of the best buses he had in his fleet. He gave me some history on it, so I am more comfortable that my issues are minor ones... perhaps just above my level of experience.

He says I must first find out why my shifter panel is blank. He says (as well as other transmission guys and John Kopalek) that my ECU is just fine. He stated that when I removed my battery connections that I must have done something unbeknownst to me that caused the no display problem. John Kopalek stated that my no display problem lies with the VIM and ignition somewhere... pretty much right along with the bus mechanic. Until I get my shifter to respond, I'll be dead in the water... so this is my #1 problem to remedy.

After I remedy my no display problem and get the transmission display back up, I then need to find my no start problem. I have directions on how to disconnect my interlock safety system now as well. He said a no start, no crank problem should be a breeze to figure out. He mentioned that more than likely, based on my scenario, that it's probably most likely just the interlock system. He mentioned that when my no display problem is fixed, to try to start the bus from the rear. He said this would help find out where to start looking depending on if the bus started from the back or not.

I'm lost on how to do any of this hahaha... yeah. I called around to every mechanic in town after talking to the previous bus mechanic, and I just happened to have gone through the only mechanic who does house calls. So, even though I have no idea what I'm doing... I'm sure I can do what needs to be done if I had step by step directions or some reliable, easy to understand resource and a good idea of breaking things down to small diagnoses one by one.
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Old 08-21-2015, 06:00 PM   #18
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Not too sound harsh but if you come here for help to solve a problem, you need to answer questions that are trying to pinpoint the problem. You have called every mechanic and their mother in town and you have come up with what I told you about the door locks. Go figure. Why type long posts and ignore questions.

DOES THE STARTER CLICK WHEN TURNING THE KEY?
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Old 08-21-2015, 06:15 PM   #19
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Understood. No worries... I completely overlooked to add that in.

I wouldn't know, I can't here it from where I'm at up front. I don't have anyone to help with that as someone would have to be at the back of the bus while the key is turned over.

However, I managed to find a local school bus mechanic for the school district to come help and he should be here this evening. I'll take a look when he's here, but I'm being told by the other bus mechanics I've been talking to that it's not very likely to be the starter.

I'll know more later tonight.
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Old 08-21-2015, 06:28 PM   #20
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Make sure one of you tries hot-wiring the starter while he's there..

If you happen to know somebody who does low-voltage wiring (phone, computer network, security, fire alarm, audio/video, etc) maybe ask whether they have a wire tracer they'd help you with. It's a small tone generator box which you clip to one end of a wire, and a hand-held probe which you can use to trace that wire without actually contacting it. The tone box could be attached to the control wire from the starter solenoid or to the start output from the ignition switch, then use the probe to follow along the harness and hopefully be led to the place where there's a switch interfering with the start.

For the tranny controller not powering on (and for the starter, really)... did you check for blown fuses yet?
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