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Old 11-28-2023, 11:34 PM   #1
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INTERMITTENT Bus won't start

I'm retired but a former ASE certified mechanic (Electrical & Brakes certs) with formal schooling as well as 4 1/2 years in military vehicle maintenance, several years working as a mechanic in a small transit department running E350 gasser "buses" (cutaways with fiberglass 19 pax bodies), as well as nearly two decades as an aircraft mechanic including electrical systems (and then there's all that farm and personal vehicle maintenance experience). Intermittent problems are some of the most difficult to troubleshoot and this one is no different.


Yes, I pulled a ton of wires but all systems were fully functional when that was complete and the bus does start. It just has times that it won't.


VEHICLE:
1996 AmTran (International chassis) with the DT444E, 40' rear engine.


SYMPTOMS:
Turns over reliably from both front and rear ignition switch but sometimes won't start.
When it starts the "Wait to Start" light functions properly and it fires right up as expected.
Sometimes however, and for long periods of time (days to weeks) the "Wait to Start" light doesn't illuminate. When this happens the engine turns over nicely but it does not start.
The battery gauge on the dash shows low voltage regardless of whether it will start or not and testing at the batteries shows they are fully charged.


WHEN IT DOESN'T START:
"Wait to Start" does not illuminate.
Gauges seem to "bop" around in the same manner as when it does start.
Turns over at normal speed regardless of start/no start condition.
No fuel vapor seen leaving tailpipe.


AND THEN...
Without doing any troubleshooting, wriggling of wires, etc. it will start and continue to run normally.



Can't really troubleshoot when it's working since the only symptom is failure to start and prior checks wriggling wires, relays, etc. did not shut off fuel flow.


My thoughts are that it's a complete failure of fuel injection system being activated when it's not starting. However the "fixing" itself has me at a loss for where to be looking when it is working and I haven't found anything that seems to correct the issue when it is happening.


Any ideas from those that have dealt with these systems and their quirks? Being a 1996 it is the three box system.

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Old 11-29-2023, 12:02 AM   #2
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What makes you think it’s an electrical problem? Sound like fuel to me
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Old 11-29-2023, 12:05 AM   #3
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What’s the temperature like when it doesn’t start?
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Old 11-29-2023, 12:15 AM   #4
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Is this a glow plug issue? Glow plug temp sensor?
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Old 11-29-2023, 12:45 AM   #5
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I would hazard a guess at glow plugs. Might be dying. When they get older they don't heat as quickly. The Wait for Start message is the glow plugs heating up. When the light goes away they should be hot.

It's also getting colder now and glow plugs take a bit longer maybe even past the wait for start message. T444E's are notorious for not starting when it's cold for these reasons. Older T444E's rely on glow plugs functioning well even more to start in cold weather.
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Old 11-29-2023, 12:33 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HamSkoolie View Post

VEHICLE:
1996 AmTran (International chassis) with the DT444E, 40' rear engine.


SYMPTOMS:
Turns over reliably from both front and rear ignition switch but sometimes won't start.


WHEN IT DOESN'T START:
"Wait to Start" does not illuminate.
Gauges seem to "bop" around in the same manner as when it does start.
Turns over at normal speed regardless of start/no start condition.
No fuel vapor seen leaving tailpipe.


AND THEN...
Without doing any troubleshooting, wriggling of wires, etc. it will start and continue to run normally.


I don't have any real "diesel" experience but I do have alot of wiring/electronics experience....

My first thought would be bad/failing connectors/connections.

The fact that when you "Wiggle" your wiring and then it starts is telling you something.

It is a known fact that temperature changes will change the integrity of a solid connection and will serve to "open up" loose or bad connections.
This is one reason why Mil Spec components/wiring have such broader temperature ratings.

Yes it might be failing glow plugs but it also might be associated with loose or failing wiring.

I would begin my troubleshooting by identifying the wiring for the glow plug circuit.Try to follow and inspect each and every wire....I would look for wire bundles that can "flap" freely while driving, wires that are laying across a metal object or going through a "metal hole" cables that are being held/held in place up by a clamp, wires that are going to any relay connections....

You could potentially have a wire broken inside its protective covering, bad crimps inside a connector ( I had this issue with my md3060 wiring) or simply bad glow plugs.

At an event where she won't start, "wiggle" one wire section at a time and try to start, maybe you can find where the affected area would be?

I would also not rule out cold/broken solder joints in your 3 box system.

Troubleshooting tip...

One effective way for troubleshooting while it is in "yes it starts" mode would be to use a can of "Freeze".

Once you identify all the wire bundles/connectors for your glow plug circuit, shut bus off, "freeze" one connector at a time and try to start engine. The freezing will "shrink" with suspect wire at it's connection point and hopefully you can reproduce the "no start" event.

Freeze was used quite a bit back in the early digital days...
Still used today when trying to fit bearings/bushings....

Freeze spray-amazon
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Old 11-29-2023, 02:45 PM   #7
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He doesn't wiggle any wiring, except for the key switch..
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Old 11-29-2023, 04:06 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by BamaBus View Post
He doesn't wiggle any wiring, except for the key switch..
oops, I read it as he did....
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Old 11-29-2023, 04:15 PM   #9
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No "wait to start" and it won't start then next time you have the "wait to start" and it will. Something is not connecting some of the time. I would check wiring harness and plugs, could be a loose connection or corroded connection where they pass through the firewall or such. If that looks good then I would start checking grounds and positives from starter to the front of the bus. Could be glow plug system losing ground or hot and that would time out computer plus the gauges are wacky to that could tie in with the glow plug power draw.
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Old 11-29-2023, 04:27 PM   #10
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I think it has to do with the glow plugs. We haven’t heard back about temperature diffences, so this is just a guess: when “wait to start” isn’t illuminated it’s warm enough and it starts because the glow aren’t needed. When “wait to start” is illuminated, the glow plugs are needed but are not heating up.
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Old 11-30-2023, 05:35 AM   #11
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Real dumb test to check glow plug circuit. Put voltmeter on battery, cycle key on, look for huge voltage drop at key on upto 2 volt drop, then allow it to sit for 60 seconds. If voltage jumps back up to battery voltage the glow plugs are generally working.

Wait to start light works independent of the glow plugs. The wait to start light is controlled by the ECM. After the light goes out the glow plugs may continue to stay on and stay on while engine is running.

You really want to know what the glow plugs are doing, you can install an indicator light on the glow plug selinoid wired into the cab.

As for intermittent no starts. The bus is 25 years old. First thing I look at.....all relays. Contacts start failing, magnetic windings become weaker inside the little black boxes
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Old 11-30-2023, 06:28 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Danjo View Post
What makes you think it’s an electrical problem? Sound like fuel to me
It is a fuel issue. However, because it starts and runs normally sometimes and not at others, the fuel system itself (tank, pump, filters, HPOP, injectors, etc.) aren't suspected.
It seems that it is a computer control (computer, wiring, sensors) issue inhibiting the injectors from firing. In addition, that the Wait to Start (WTS) light doesn't illuminate when the issue is present seems to confirm this. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find anything in the schematics that shows how that would happen.



Quote:
Originally Posted by Danjo View Post
What’s the temperature like when it doesn’t start?
It does this regardless of temperature and is an all seasons issue.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Danjo View Post
Is this a glow plug issue? Glow plug temp sensor?
I'm not aware of any glow plug temp sensor in the DT444E or the 3 box control system. In addition, while more difficult, a diesel will start without any glow plugs, particularly in warm seasons.


Quote:
Originally Posted by nikitis View Post
I would hazard a guess at glow plugs. Might be dying. When they get older they don't heat as quickly. The Wait for Start message is the glow plugs heating up. When the light goes away they should be hot.

It's also getting colder now and glow plugs take a bit longer maybe even past the wait for start message. T444E's are notorious for not starting when it's cold for these reasons. Older T444E's rely on glow plugs functioning well even more to start in cold weather.
Less efficient glow plug heating could account for more difficult starting but would not account for the complete lack of a WTS light when not starting and totally normal operation when the WTS light does illuminate. It would be a more uniform condition of harder starting.
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Old 11-30-2023, 06:32 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Danjo View Post
I think it has to do with the glow plugs. We haven’t heard back about temperature diffences, so this is just a guess: when “wait to start” isn’t illuminated it’s warm enough and it starts because the glow aren’t needed. When “wait to start” is illuminated, the glow plugs are needed but are not heating up.
It's an all seasons issue that has been driving me nuts for over a year.
Right now it is starting just fine again and in temps as low as 30F.
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Old 11-30-2023, 06:46 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Omnibot2000 View Post
Real dumb test to check glow plug circuit. Put voltmeter on battery, cycle key on, look for huge voltage drop at key on upto 2 volt drop, then allow it to sit for 60 seconds. If voltage jumps back up to battery voltage the glow plugs are generally working.
Haven't done that and don't think it's necessary but.... having skipped over things as a young mechanic because they "couldn't be that"..... I will conduct that test.



Quote:
Originally Posted by Omnibot2000 View Post
Wait to start light works independent of the glow plugs. The wait to start light is controlled by the ECM. After the light goes out the glow plugs may continue to stay on and stay on while engine is running.
That's my understanding as well. My schematic reading and the symptoms have me leaning towards the ECM not getting some signal or another that is needed before it illuminates the WTS and enables the injectors to fire. It's just figuring out what's not getting there or potentially getting to the ECM and not being output.



Quote:
Originally Posted by Omnibot2000 View Post
You really want to know what the glow plugs are doing, you can install an indicator light on the glow plug selinoid wired into the cab.
I can do the same from the engine bay utilizing the rear starter switch and either a test lamp or multi-meter (test lamp probably superior for this purpose to a digital multi-meter).



Quote:
Originally Posted by Omnibot2000 View Post
As for intermittent no starts. The bus is 25 years old. First thing I look at.....all relays. Contacts start failing, magnetic windings become weaker inside the little black boxes
I've checked all inputs and outputs of the relays in the the engine bay that control systems. Other than the one relay that has been rewired by previous owners and operated fine until this issue started and since, all inputs and outputs are proper.
I initially suspected the rewire but after extensive testing that's working and giving the proper outputs.
The only relays I haven't checked extensively are the large one at the front of the bus and I do intend to check those.
In addition, I've considered replacing all of the old small 5 pin relays in the engine bay as they are old and they've been subjected to a fairly hostile environment (and they're cheap). I'm just reluctant to change out parts I don't individually suspect as that introduces additional possibilities of failure points.









Quote:
Originally Posted by Omnibot2000 View Post
Real dumb test to check glow plug circuit. Put voltmeter on battery, cycle key on, look for huge voltage drop at key on upto 2 volt drop, then allow it to sit for 60 seconds. If voltage jumps back up to battery voltage the glow plugs are generally working.

Wait to start light works independent of the glow plugs. The wait to start light is controlled by the ECM. After the light goes out the glow plugs may continue to stay on and stay on while engine is running.

You really want to know what the glow plugs are doing, you can install an indicator light on the glow plug selinoid wired into the cab.

As for intermittent no starts. The bus is 25 years old. First thing I look at.....all relays. Contacts start failing, magnetic windings become weaker inside the little black boxes





























Quote:
Originally Posted by Omnibot2000 View Post
Real dumb test to check glow plug circuit. Put voltmeter on battery, cycle key on, look for huge voltage drop at key on upto 2 volt drop, then allow it to sit for 60 seconds. If voltage jumps back up to battery voltage the glow plugs are generally working.

Wait to start light works independent of the glow plugs. The wait to start light is controlled by the ECM. After the light goes out the glow plugs may continue to stay on and stay on while engine is running.

You really want to know what the glow plugs are doing, you can install an indicator light on the glow plug selinoid wired into the cab.

As for intermittent no starts. The bus is 25 years old. First thing I look at.....all relays. Contacts start failing, magnetic windings become weaker inside the little black boxes
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Old 11-30-2023, 06:57 PM   #15
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Quote:
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My first thought would be bad/failing connectors/connections.
That or an intermittent sensor/relay is about the only thing it could be. It's the intermittent part that's so frustrating.



So yes, you mis read the wire wriggling. WITHOUT wriggling anything the condition changes. I have gone through and wriggled wires, connectors, etc. suspecting loose or corroded connections or compromised wiring but it did not change the condition. If it was starting it continued to start, if it wasn't it still wouldn't.
It will be starting just fine one day. Go out the next and it won't. Then suddenly it will.
It wasn't starting when I left for Calif earlier this month. I came back a week later with no one touching anything and in colder temps and BOOM started right up (note it does this independent of temp changes). At the moment it starts every time.
Eventually I'll find it. She runs fine when she runs but I can't take a rig on the road when starting is unreliable even if reliable starting requires a switch and bypass circuit when a not start condition occurs. Though that makes me nervous about bypassing any shut down parameters designed to save the engine.
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Old 11-30-2023, 09:04 PM   #16
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So I say again, I'm not a diesel mechanic but by trying to help I am learning quite a bit!

Quote:
SYMPTOMS:
Turns over reliably from both front and rear ignition switch but sometimes won't start.
When it starts the "Wait to Start" light functions properly and it fires right up as expected.
Sometimes however, and for long periods of time (days to weeks) the "Wait to Start" light doesn't illuminate. When this happens the engine turns over nicely but it does not start.
The battery gauge on the dash shows low voltage regardless of whether it will start or not and testing at the batteries shows they are fully charged.


WHEN IT DOESN'T START:
"Wait to Start" does not illuminate.
Gauges seem to "bop" around in the same manner as when it does start.
Turns over at normal speed regardless of start/no start condition.
No fuel vapor seen leaving tailpipe.

I was reading the diagnostic manual and on first glance, I was thinking maybe it's a voltage/loose wire connection....ecm...glow plug solenoid....key switch?

The ECM triggers the "Wait to start" so if the ECM fails...crank but no start???

I guess I'll be learning more as you proceed forward.

Don't know if you have it already but I uploaded the glow plug controller diagnostic info.
Maybe others can look at it and have better suggestions.
Attached Files
File Type: pdf '94-'97 T444E glow plug Diagnostic Manual.pdf (37.4 KB, 3 views)
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Old 12-01-2023, 07:03 PM   #17
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Quote:
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So I say again, I'm not a diesel mechanic but by trying to help I am learning quite a bit!
I am, or rather was, but I'm learning as well.



Quote:
Originally Posted by ewo1 View Post
The ECM triggers the "Wait to start" so if the ECM fails...crank but no start???
Since glow plugs aren't absolutely required (well in summer at least, now into winter they likely are) not triggering the WTS (or even the glow plugs) shouldn't keep the engine from starting just make it harder. What has me stumped is the apparent lack of fuel. Which makes me wonder if the ECM isn't getting the input (or hope not, not always providing the output) for the WTS light and also inhibiting fuel injectors as a safety measure.
I'll find it eventually.


Quote:
Originally Posted by ewo1 View Post
Don't know if you have it already but I uploaded the glow plug controller diagnostic info.
Maybe others can look at it and have better suggestions.

I have the manual (Edges 125-1) and it's got those pages. I just don't remember having seen them though they do seem familiar. I suspect that this will be helpful but I still don't see any fuel inhibit discussion so who knows. But next time it fails I'll be doing this trouble shooting.
THANK YOU


And now to wait for the next time it fails to get the WTS lamp. I hate intermittent problems.
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Old 12-02-2023, 03:59 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HamSkoolie View Post
I am, or rather was, but I'm learning as well.




Since glow plugs aren't absolutely required (well in summer at least, now into winter they likely are) not triggering the WTS (or even the glow plugs) shouldn't keep the engine from starting just make it harder. What has me stumped is the apparent lack of fuel. Which makes me wonder if the ECM isn't getting the input (or hope not, not always providing the output) for the WTS light and also inhibiting fuel injectors as a safety measure.
I'll find it eventually.





I have the manual (Edges 125-1) and it's got those pages. I just don't remember having seen them though they do seem familiar. I suspect that this will be helpful but I still don't see any fuel inhibit discussion so who knows. But next time it fails I'll be doing this trouble shooting.
THANK YOU


And now to wait for the next time it fails to get the WTS lamp. I hate intermittent problems.
I really think it's a bad voltage supply to the ECM. The wait to start light should illuminate even briefly while it's warm out. Coulda sworn there was a relay for the power supply to the ECM.

Generally speaking, ECM's usually just fails.....works or not.
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Old 12-02-2023, 04:08 PM   #19
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There’s a relay for the glow plugs too. I thought I read that the WTS light was kind of a dummy light that was independent of the actual operation of glowing the plugs
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Old 12-02-2023, 04:09 PM   #20
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The light is seperate from the relay
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