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Old 12-23-2015, 09:59 PM   #1
fizzyl
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Default Project FXT won't start, checked all common causes

My buddy and I recently bought a 2004 Forester XT that won’t start as a “why the heck not?” project. The price was right.

I’ve owned a 2006 STI since new, my buddy owned a 2005 WRX until he upgraded to his current 2014 WRX, so we are fairly familiar with the platform. The one key difference is that the FXT is an automatic.
The report from the previous owner was about as you’d expect “it ran fine a week ago, then it just didn’t start and I want it gone.” We gave him the benefit of the doubt and have taken that into consideration with our troubleshooting. The car has over 200k miles and it looks like the timing belt was changed at least once though there are no records and the previous owner knew nothing.

When we got the car:
1. It was OVER filled one quart of oil
2. It had oil leaking out of numerous places
3. The radiator overflow tank had mostly water in it with very little sign of coolant
4. There was a fair amount of oil in the intake system (although hard to say if it was too much for 200k miles)
5. The turbo was allegedly replaced recently
6. The shocks, brakes and tires were allegedly replaced recently

So far we have:
1. Charged battery, engine turns over fine, no crazy sounds, nothing seized
2. Checked fuses, everything seems fine.
3. Checked fuel pump for sound at start up and we feel pressure in the lines
4. Checked crank sensor was about 1.9kohm
5. Pulled all 4 plugs, found previous owner used .040 gap plugs instead of .030 plugs specified for the turbo Foresters. This is interesting but we still believe it ran for a while at least, although probably not optimally. We don’t believe this is the cause.
6. Verified spark by cranking with coil on plug
7. Smelled fuel while cranking with plugs out (after pulling ignition fuse, before pulling pump relay)
8. Put a bore scope into each cylinder and didn’t see any obvious valve or piston damage
9. Checked compression and got 20-30psi on all four cylinders (if we believe the results)
10. Checked timing marks on cams all line up (not sure about crank mark yet)

We are not completely confident in the compression tester because it’s tough to see what’s going on in there and something just didn’t feel right. However, this seems like it could be a big clue… Obviously on these engines the head gasket and ring lands are the first thing that comes to mind. But if every cylinder is reading similarly low, it seems highly unlikely that BOTH head gaskets went or that every ring land went at the same time.

So one line of thinking now is that maybe the engine overheated and warped the block or heads. One clue supporting this theory is that the coolant level came to us pretty empty, there was a leak around the plastic top piece of the radiator, and what little fluid that was in there was mostly water (very little coolant). We think maybe the radiator was leaking, the guy kept topping it off with water, and then one day it wasn’t enough and the engine over heated.

The second theory is that somehow timing is off slightly, the valves are open during part of the compression cycle and all that is built up is 20-30psi after the valves finally close. To test this theory we took off the two side timing belt covers and checked that the cam timing marks line up. They all seem OK, the only missing piece now is whether or not the crank is lined up with the cams. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to get the crank pulley off in order to take a look. This has been tricky because this is an automatic and we’ve been having a hard time jamming the flex plate while trying to break the bolt free. The one big question with this theory is “how could timing have skipped on an automatic?”

We have a few things we need to check still such as removing the crank pulley and verifying timing, but the big question to you all is, what do you think? Are our theories silly? Did we miss something obvious? What do we try next?

Thanks for any insight and advice you can share!
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Old 12-23-2015, 10:08 PM   #2
monkeyposeur
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Put a breaker bar on the crank pulley and blip the starter. That will break the bolt loose lickety split. Or jam a flathead screwdriver in one of the access holes on the side of the bellhousing.

What do you mean "you feel pressure in the" fuel lines?
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Old 12-23-2015, 10:27 PM   #3
fizzyl
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Quote:
Originally Posted by monkeyposeur View Post
Put a breaker bar on the crank pulley and blip the starter. That will break the bolt loose lickety split. Or jam a flathead screwdriver in one of the access holes on the side of the bellhousing.

What do you mean "you feel pressure in the" fuel lines?
Hey, thanks for the response. We have been avoiding the starter method so far, it may come to that.

I pinched the fuel lines under the hood while turning on the ignition and priming the fuel pump. I could feel pressure build up in them. I realize it's not a great test but it ruled out a simple lack of fuel. That coupled with some of the other symptoms have lead us to not suspect fuel as the issue... yet...
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Old 12-24-2015, 03:18 PM   #4
Playagbass
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Bad fuel. Fuel filter. Bad fuel pump. Get a fuel pressure tester from harbor freight to see if it gets to the recommended pressure and while cranking as well. Plugged up cat. Sticking injectors. Bad ground. Just a few things off the top of my head.
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Old 12-24-2015, 04:07 PM   #5
dstroy
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What DTC's are set?
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Old 12-24-2015, 04:12 PM   #6
fizzyl
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Playagbass View Post
Bad fuel. Fuel filter. Bad fuel pump. Get a fuel pressure tester from harbor freight to see if it gets to the recommended pressure and while cranking as well. Plugged up cat. Sticking injectors. Bad ground. Just a few things off the top of my head.

All great suggestions, thank you. I kind of doubt the previous owner actually used 91 octane. We're making an HF trip soon, will pick one up.

No DTCs, clean of codes and it doesn't seem to have been wiped recently. So it seems it happened suddenly and never gave the ECU time to realize something was wrong.
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Old 12-26-2015, 09:55 PM   #7
dstroy
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Since you have fuel (assuming pressure is good), spark and compression (20-30psi is very bad, try squirting a little oil in each cylinder as you test) the next thing I would check are grounds (specifically ECU engine ground)/neutral switch on the tranny and then crank/cam sensor signals.
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Old 01-30-2016, 01:22 PM   #8
fizzyl
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Well, we got to a point where we could pressurize each cylinder to about 20psi max with an air compressor in the spark plug hole so we convinced ourselves to pull the engine.

We have since removed the heads and we see some telltale scorch marks that indicate both head gaskets went bad. Interestingly enough both head gaskets were not OEM suggesting that the engine had gone through this before.

My guess is that they did a quick and dirty job and threw in some cheap gaskets without machining anything. Lo and behold both gaskets died again. There are part numbers on the gaskets but we can't find them on Google. No idea what brand they are, maybe eBay?

We are in the process of cleaning the heads, lapping the valves and will take them to the shop to machine next week. Ordered an OEM overhaul gasket set and new timing belt and water pump kit and will reassemble!

Thanks for the help everyone, guess the easy fix wasn't meant to be!
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Old 01-31-2016, 08:22 AM   #9
Matt
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fizzyl View Post
Well, we got to a point where we could pressurize each cylinder to about 20psi max with an air compressor in the spark plug hole so we convinced ourselves to pull the engine.

We have since removed the heads and we see some telltale scorch marks that indicate both head gaskets went bad. Interestingly enough both head gaskets were not OEM suggesting that the engine had gone through this before.

My guess is that they did a quick and dirty job and threw in some cheap gaskets without machining anything. Lo and behold both gaskets died again. There are part numbers on the gaskets but we can't find them on Google. No idea what brand they are, maybe eBay?

We are in the process of cleaning the heads, lapping the valves and will take them to the shop to machine next week. Ordered an OEM overhaul gasket set and new timing belt and water pump kit and will reassemble!

Thanks for the help everyone, guess the easy fix wasn't meant to be!
Interesting...

I thought that the car would start even if these were bad, at least that's what I've seen for years. Granted in your situation, if it did start and run, it would probably sound like a pair of steel toed boots in a dryer.
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Old 01-31-2016, 12:50 PM   #10
fizzyl
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Matt View Post
Interesting...

I thought that the car would start even if these were bad, at least that's what I've seen for years. Granted in your situation, if it did start and run, it would probably sound like a pair of steel toed boots in a dryer.
That was our thought for the longest time. And it seemed unlikely that both gaskets would go at the same time. I guess 20psi is just not enough to sustain combustion?
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Old 01-31-2016, 09:37 PM   #11
Davidbag001
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Just a thought but try spraying some carb cleaner in the intake while cranking to eliminate a fuel issue if it had compression and spark it will start
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