Please NOTE: Click on the various images in this article to ZOOM them to a much larger size.
Allow me to give you a little history so that you may realize what a TRULY bizarre, hard to diagnose problem this REALLY is !!
I have now owned the car for about six years. For the first four it started faithfully within 1 or 2 seconds of turning on the ignition key.
One day I was parked at the beach all day (about 8 hours), and when I went to start the car the engine would crank and spin but wouldn't start. I tried for about 5 minutes and it finally started. All was well for about a week (started as always) and I was parked at the beach (same spot) all day again. Lo-and-Behold -- SAME problem. This was repeated again about two weeks later.
I put in a new battery because the old one didn't have much cranking capacity left (it was almost dead by the time the engine finally started during the last session) even though I put it on a charger when I got home after each of these incidents.
I went to the InterNet and Googled on "2002 Grand AM cranks but won't start". I found PLENTY of forums and sites from people complaining about this and similar problems. The solutions generally fell into three categories:
1. -- Fuel System problems
Let me start by clarifying an issue that may come to the mind of some reading this journal -- at NO point during this ENTIRE procedure were ANY failure codes posted by the car computer. This is ONE of the things (along with the erratic failure rate) that is making troubleshooting of this problem SO perplexing !!
My first attempt at troubleshooting was to check out the fuel system. Many of the sites said to verify that you can hear the fuel pump run for a few seconds when you turn the ignition switch to the "ON" position BEFORE actually starting to crank the engine. This verifies that all of the electrical conditions needed to actuate the fuel pump (fuses, relay, PCM, computer) are met and that the pump WILL actually run. This checked out OK, as did a test on the actual fuel pump with a fuel pressure gauge.
One other area of potential failure relating to fuel would be if the actual fuel pump delivery system is OK, but the computer is NOT allowing the fuel injectors to fire (more on this later). I had no way to verify this. A couple of sites also mentioned contaminated fuel as being a potential problem, ESPECIALLY California's "ethanol garbage". They suggested an additive called, Fuel Medics - 37366, "Ethanol Medic", which can be purchased at Shop.FuelMedics.com and at Amazon.com. It was a relatively cheap and easy solution, so I gave it a try !!
I was elated because this SEEMED to solve the problem. I went for about six months with NO further trouble. Then one day I was parked at the same place at the same beach and, Lo-and-Behold -- the car won't start. This time, however, it was worse -- it NOW took me about 15 minutes of cranking before it started. The engine would just SPIN, giving NO indication whatever that it was attempting to fire (either NO fuel, NO spark, or none of either).
It finally started, and I drove for about 5 minutes and stopped at an ocean overlook (I figured that I would be safe since previously, once the car started, it was fine). I was stopped for maybe 20 minutes, and THIS time it wouldn't start again -- about another 15 minutes of cranking before it would finally start.
To shorten the story, it ran fine for another month or so and THIS time it failed outside of my home and NOT at the beach. I could see that the problem was escalating, so I went back to the WEB.
This is a very simple "Theft Deterrent System" built into the ignition switch assembly and feeding into the PCM ("Power Control Module"). It functions by sending a signal to the PCM when the ignition key is turned to "ON". If the PCM fails to get this signal, it prevents the fuel injectors from firing -- hence, NO fuel is delivered to the cylinders even though the fuel pump IS delivering fuel to the rails. It supposedly prevents "hot wiring" the car to start it since "NO key - NO Passlock Signal - NO start".
A LARGE number of hits on my Google search turned this item up as being a source of trouble. There was only one problem as pertaining to MY particular situation. When the "Passlock System" fails, there is a red "Security" light on the instrument cluster that should be flashing, indicating the lockout condition. Mine wasn't flashing -- it came on with the lamp test when the ignition key was first turned, and then it went out again like ALL of the lights are supposed to do.
I was getting rather desperate now -- the condition (whatever it was) was deteriorating and I DID NOT want to take the car into the garage (ESPECIALLY not the dealer garage). As far as I am concerned, auto service garages (and ESPECIALLY the dealership ones) are nothing more than legalized centers for theft and price gouging -- and the "technicians" are technically incompetent extortionists. Besides, with a problem THIS intermittent, ANY garage would be hard pressed to diagnose it and be sure that they were actually replacing the CORRECT component. The problem was that after the failure, once the car started, it was fine until the next failure, which might be weeks away !!
I found a site with instructions on how to bypass the "Passlock System" very simply, so I thought, "What the heck. Let's give it a try. I don't know what else to do." I ordered some resistors on eBay and promptly forgot about the problem again since I went for another couple months without any more trouble. Then it happened !!!
I was at the beach again and went to start my car, and THIS time I hit the jackpot -- NO START. I attempted to start it on-and-off for about an hour with no luck. I was REALLY getting concerned that I was going to damage the starter motor with ALL of the cranking I was doing. It WOULD NOT start, so I decided to leave it overnight and called a friend for a ride home. I figured that I would have no choice this time but to call a tow truck in the morning and have them take it to a garage. I lacked the equipment and expertise to troubleshoot THIS problem !!
In the morning, before calling the tow truck, I figured that I might as well try and see if it would start. Lo-and-Behold, it whined for about 5 seconds, sputtered and coughed a few times, and then fired into life.
This time I decided that the time had come to take it home, park it, and NOT move it again until I found out what was wrong. First off, I ordered an ignition switch on eBay [ Here ] for about $30 since that seemed like a good place to start -- it was fairly easy to replace and the price was cheap !! The ignition switch comes in two modules which are purchased separately -- the actual switch assembly and an inner key-lock assembly. It is the key-lock assembly that contains the "Passlock" mechanism.
I found a good video on YouTube with instructions. Incidentally, had I opted to have the car towed into the dealership garage and have the ignition switch replaced there, the price would have been about $450-550 -- $150 towing, about 1 hour diagnostic fee ($100), 1 hour labor to replace switch ($100) and $100-200 for the actual switch.
However, while I was waiting for the switch to arrive, I decided to do the "Passlock System" bypass modification since I already had the resistors that I had ordered, and certainly had nothing to loose.
As the MOD page states, the downside is that you no longer have a functioning "Theft Lock System", but the upside is that you DO have a car that will start reliably !!
So, the bottom line here is simply this --- If you are having weird starting problems similar to what is described in this article, whether or not your "Security" light is flashing, the FIRST, cheapest and easiest thing to do is to bypass the "Passlock System" !!
The WEB page is [ HERE ] [ www.bergerweb.net/grandamsecurityfix.htm ].
There are two methods to perform this modification. By ALL means use the one that involves removing the radio. It is the method that I used and it is VERY easy and simple to do.
If you are interested, the YouTube video with instructions on replacing the actual ignition switch are [ Here ] [ www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIXmd8SCGzI ].
After doing the aforementioned bypass, I decided to leave the car parked for a week and merely start it twice a day (in the morning and again in the evening). I didn't want to risk becoming stranded again. For the entire week the car started flawlessly, so I thought -- SUCCESS !!
So I decided to give it the acid test and take it to the beach for the day again. I went to my usual location and parked the car in my "infamous" spot. Unbelievable as it may sound, at the end of the day, the car would NOT start again -- SAME old problem. The engine would crank freely but make NO effort at all to fire (start). I was a LITTLE more fortunate this time. After playing with it on-and off for about 15 minutes, I finally got it to start.
The following day I replaced the ignition switch which I had ordered. A valued word of instruction concerning replacing the ignition switch. There is VERY little available space to navigate the switch around to get at the wiring connectors.
The BIG problem is the "Shifter Lockout" cable that runs from the switch housing to the transmission shift lever. It is a heavy metal cable that extends from the rear of the switch assembly near the wire connectors. It does NOT bend easily nor allow for much freedom of movement. Watch the YouTube video to locate the cable and see how to detach it. It WILL be necessary to twist and pull the switch assembly around until you can access the cable. Once it is detached, it is an easy matter to unplug the two wiring connectors.
It was at this point that I found this EXCELLENT troubleshooting guide [ Here ] [ http://troubleshootmyvehicle.com/gm/3.1L-3.4L/how-to-test-a-no-start-condition-1 ] on "How to Troubleshoot a No Start"
One of the items that it mentions to check is the "Crank Position Sensor". Since I didn't have one, what I DID do was to remove the three cable plugs at the ignition coil assembly and spray each of them with a good contact cleaner.
This is the status of the problem at the moment. If it fails again, I will replace the sensor and then the ECM.
Well, the car wouldn't start AGAIN today -- and guess WHERE it was parked ?? You guessed it -- the USUAL fateful spot at the beach (something SPOOKY about this, don't you think?) !!
This time I tried another tip that I had run across browsing the InterNet for "no-start" solutions. The tip stated that sometimes the fuel pump would fail to prime itself with fuel and would therefore be unable to pump it to the engine. The tip suggested banging on the bottom of the fuel tank with a hammer or some-such related object. I did this and LO, the engine started. Now pay attention !! I KNOW that the fuel pump DOES run because I can hear it running for a few seconds when I initially turn the key to the "ignition" position.
If replacing the computer and the crank sensor that I have already purchased don't do any good, I guess that the fuel pump will be my next target. I located one on eBay for under $40.00 [ Here ]. ALL-in-all, I am still WAY under the cost of a garage visit -- and I trust that, considering the sparodic nature of the failure, that THEY would not fare ANY better than I am at tracking it down !!!!
Since I already have the computer that I ordered from eBay, I guess that IT will be my next replacement item. The ACTUAL replacment seems pretty easy. I WILL have to do the "PassLock Retraining" procedure (see your user's manual or the "Passlock Bypass" for instructions). I am trusting that apart from this, the flashed parameters of the computer should be close enough to my car for it at least to start and run (even if NOT at peak efficiency).
I replaced the computer today !! Other than the "PassLock Retraining" procedure, it installed and the car started with NO problems. Now it will be a matter of driving the car and being at the beach long enough to see if the problem recurs (probably up to two month as erratic as it is).
Well, it has been a few weeks, and so far the car is starting without problem. The ONLY peculiarity with the running that I notice is that, whereas previously the transmission shifted smoothly in-and-out of gear, there is now a decided "CLUNK" when it does either. No big concern for testing purposes, though.
Stand by for further updates !!!!
It seems to be failing less frequently, however. I have had this computer in for about 6 months, and the car has given me "starting problems" less than a dozen times. Also, it takes MUCH less time and effort to finally get it to start. Maybe I am "learning the technique".
I am reinstalling the original computer.
I am STILL left with the dilemma of discerning whether it is a FUEL problem or an ELECTRICAL problem. If it is a FUEL problem, it acts like the engine is not getting ANY fuel at all !! While it is cranking, the engine spins totally free, meaning that it is not making ANY attempt to fire -- AT ALL. This sounds like an IGNITION problem (no spark). I checked the fuel pressure with a gauge again, and it reads around 50 psi during priming (prior to starting the engine), while it is running, and also during cranking (I pulled the ignition fuse #41 out).
The REAL problem is that after the failure -- once the car finally starts -- it runs just fine, and the next failure could be weeks or even months away. There is no sense in taking it into a garage since they would have NO way of troubleshooting the problem. ALL that they would do is to charge me a LOT of money for labor charges and replacing something that probably WAS NOT defective -- and tell me that "the problem is fixed" -- until the NEXT failure !!!
I guess that it is time to get down to some SYSTEMATIC troubleshooting. I have ordered a "GlowShift Tinted 100 PSI Fuel Pressure Gauge" from Amazon.com for $57 using this link [ Here ], that I can install permanently in the dash to monitor fuel pressure at the fuel injector rails. This way, I can see what is happening right at the time of failure.
It can be easily connected to the fuel pressure test connector at the injector rail. You can use a tire valve removal tool for a bicycle to remove the one-way valve in the test connector.
I have installed the Fuel Pressure Gauge. It reads 55-60 psi - while the fuel system is initially pressurizing immediately upon turning the ignition switch to on, while the engine is cranking and during normal running.
It failed again yesterday -- you guessed it -- At the beach !!. At least the gauge served its purpose. The fuel pressure was maintained at 55-60 psi during the whole "trying to get started" episode. Fortunately, this time it DID start after playing with it for about 5 minutes. The previous time I tried for about 1/2 hour to start it with NO success. Finally - I had to leave it overnight. Guess what ?? When I went back the next morning (to the beach also), it started RIGHT up !!
I also noticed a VERY interesting thing. I pulled out the "fuel pump relay" (#18) just to test the gauge and make sure that it wasn't reading 55-60 psi ALL the time. Even with the relay OUT (and no fuel being pumped from the tank), the engine would STILL start and run for a few seconds on the residual fuel in the system.
Now I guess it is time to move my troubleshooting efforts to the ELECTRICAL (ignition) area. I went to eBay and found out that the "ignition coil pack" actually comes as FOUR separate parts -- 3 coils and a base mounting unit with the electronics in it. I had originally thought that it was all ONE piece. I ordered JUST the base unit from eBay for under $35 - BRAND NEW. You may find the item [ Here ].
It is HIGHLY unlikely that one of the coils would be bad since the car (when it fails) won't start at all. With one coil failing, it SHOULD at least attempt to start and maybe run erratically. IF the failure is in this area, the base unit is FAR the more likely choice.
I replaced the ignition coil housing (base) today. Had I known MUCH earlier how easy to replace it was (and how relatively CHEAP), I would have made this one of the FIRST items to replace.
During the replacement process, I discovered a VERY interesting item -- one of the spark plug wires going to the front of the block had a LARGE hole worn into it where it has been rubbing on top of the engine (see the red circled area in the two photos). I am not sure about the significance of this discovery, but I replaced the three wires going to the front plugs. A second wire also had a much smaller worn area into it. Another word of financial advise -- when I checked on eBay, Delco wires (the brand on the car) were around $18 PER wire. I found a set of SIX off brand for $15.
As far as I can tell, the quality of the replacement wires is AT LEAST as good as the quailty of the originals (Delco). The wires can be ordered [ Here ].
However, it seems unlikely to me that this damaged wire would cause a COMPLETE lack of starting. I would think a more likely symptom would be engine missing, erratic running, or HARD starting (as opposed to NO starting). But who knows what a DEAD short from one of the coil outputs to ground would cause in the computer system. Maybe there is a fail-safe circuit there to totally shut off spark under such conditions in order to safeguard the ignition system ????
All that I can do for now is to continue to drive the car a see what the future determines.
Money wise -- I am STILL way ahead of the expense of having taken the car into a dealership garage and having entrusted it into THEIR greedy, corrupt hands !!!!
Stand by for more developments as they do (or do NOT) occur ------------
My next SLIGHT possibility is the "Engine Coolant Sensor". A "Google Search" brought up one person indicating that it IS possible (though I suspect rather UNLIKELY) for a failing sensor to cause the engine to flood during starting. The sensor was only $4.50 (free shipping) at eBay.Com.
Contrary to what accepted replacement procedure indicated, it CAN be replaced WITHOUT disassembling ANYTHING with a DEEP 19MM, 1/2" drive socket which I purchased at Harbor Freight for $4.50. If you need one, you can purchase a 3/8" to 1/2" adapter at O'reilly Auto. It WAS necessary to file away a small section of the rim of the plastic throttle actuator, but that was ALL.
Sad to report --- the car failed again today !!
I didn't realize it until today, but there are TWO main computers in my car. There is the PCM/ECM (Power Control Module) that monitors and controls the engine and emission functions and the BCM (Body Control Module) that monitors and controls the general body electrical functions, including the "Passlock Security System".
I pulled out the BCM, inspected it and cleaned the connectors in both the BCM and the cables with "Electrical Connector Cleaner". It is located under the glove box on the passenger side.
I also cleaned with a wire brush the positive and negative battery connectors, the frame and block ground connectors and the positive battery feed to the main engine fuse and relay block. I also sprayed the connectors with "Dielectric Grease".
If it fails again, I found a replacement BCM on eBay for about $30.00 . See [ Here ]
Further research on the InterNet with Google has opened up a possibility that I HADN'T considered before. I have been focusing my thoughts on NO fuel or NO spark. I have NOW noted the possibility that the problem may be FLOODING of the engine during the initial cranking !!
I came to this conclusion upon noting that, if I depress the gas petal (accelerator petal) HALF way down during the engine cranking, the engine seems to start up OK. That would also help to explain why, after failing to start, it often starts RIGHT UP after being left to sit for a number of hours.
A rather PECULIAR symptom which I noted (for whatever it is worth) is that while holding the gas petal 1/2 way down and turning the ignition key to start is this -- the engine will fire for a FRACTION of a second, then sound as if it is going to die, and then all of a sudden accelerate. It sounds like if the gas petal WASN'T being held down, it WOULD die !!
Today I replaced the Fuel Pressure Regulator. The regulator is held to the block with one Torx screw. Due to the throttle cable, there is not much room to work to remove it. However, if you buy one of these, you can do the job using it and a Torx bit WITHOUT removing anything else. Here is a video to assist you. The fuel line nut requires a 24mm open-end wrench.
My LAST resort is to replace the "7x Crankshaft Position Sensor". I ordered this about a year ago, but was reluctant to replace it because its location is the underside of the engine, deep within a narrow gap between the rear of the engine block and the transmission. There is only a VERY small , cramped area to work around it, not to mention almost NO ground clearance. The car has to be either put up on jack stands or on a lift. Removing the front, right tire might also help. See the following photos. The sensor is in the red circle.
This video (starting about time 8:15) shows the removal procedure -- a REAL pain !!
While I was at it, I made a new wiring harness for the sensor and replaced it also. I say that I "made it" in that I purchased a roll of 18 gauge auto wire and a coil of plastic cable sheathing at an auto store for about $13.00. This was MUCH less than the cost of a new harness from the dealer. I suppose you could also get a used one from a "junk yard" cheaply enough.
Let me clarify an issue that may come to the mind of some reading this journal -- at NO point during this ENTIRE procedure were ANY failure codes posted by the car computer. This is ONE of the things (along with the erratic failure rate) that is making troubleshooting of this problem SO perplexing !!
If this DOESN'T fix the problem, I am going to be at a TOTAL LOSS !! I have verified via the fuel pressure gauge that the fuel system is functioning properly, and this is the LAST of the possible replacement items in the ignition circuit.
I also discovered this site [ Here ], which might of been VERY helpful had I found it a LONG time ago !!
Also, if you own a smartphone, I would HIGHLY reccomend that you order this OBDII Scanner for around $11.00 and this Torque Pro software for $5.00. They are WELL worth the price and perform as good as units costing MANY times the price. A visit to a garage to get a scan done on your car will cost you AT LEAST $50.00, resulting in NO more information than you can get using THIS set !!
More results later !!!!