1997 Buick LeSabre - Flashing Check Engine Light

Pulling into work this morning I noticed my check engine light was flashing. The car (1997 Buick LeSabre, aka The Rolling Couch) was still running and everything seemed normal. I turned off the car and then went back out 3 hours later and tried to start it. It would not start, and the symptom is not one I’ve had any luck Googling. When I turn the key, it makes a sound, but it’s not a click. It’s the normal sound when ignition starts, but the engine does not crank at all or turn over. It just makes a single ignition sound and then nothing. Could this be a belt? The starter? Any help would be greatly appreciated. I have not taken it anywhere or pulled the error code yet.

This could be a number of things. On our car, a Nissan, it turned out to be that the starter would not engage. The shop who replaced it said it had a “flat spot”. That term is normally used when the starter will not engage the engine flywheel due to a flat spot on the armature or a faulty solonid. That usually means a new starter.

On the other hand you could have dirty connections a or a weak battery, in which case there is not enough current to engage a sluggish starter.

You there for need a competent mechainic to check out the starter system and put a load test on the battery.

Good luck!

You are going to have to be a lot clearer here. Normal sounds/does not crank does not make any sense at all. It is either cranking or it is not making the normal sounds.

Here are the possibilities when you turn the key to the start position

  1. No sounds at all

  2. One click, then no sounds

  3. Multiple clicks

  4. The starter starts to turn (grr,grr) but stops suddenly after just a fraction of a second and no more sounds.

  5. The starter starts to turn (grrr, grrr) for a second or more, then followed by a series of clicks.

  6. The starter turns (aka cranks, grrr, grrr) but the engine never starts and runs on its own.

Pick one or come up with a new one.

Number 4. But just one grr :slight_smile:

The sound is less than a second long. There is no clicking and no cranking (i.e. multiple grrs)

That is the sound of an engine that has locked up. One think that fits your symptoms is a broken camshaft. I have heard that some of the engines produced in the 97-98 time frame could have a cam bearing seize. That would cause the start issue. I have not heard of the cam actually breaking, but if it did near the rear cylinders, it would cause the flashing CEL, but it would also cause the engine to run rough and would usually make a knocking sound.

It could also be a broken timing chain and that might be repairable for a relatively low cost. The timing chain used in this engine looks like a cross between tank (Army) treads and a toothed belt. As it begins to fail, some of the teeth begin to break off, the chain jumps a tooth (causing the CEL) but the engine runs till shut down. Then the broken teeth fall into tight spaces and jam.

I’ll cross my fingers for option two. It did run fine even after the light started blinking, but I don’t think it was long before I parked. Would I be able to look under the hood and see if the chain is bad? I’m guessing either way I need to get this to a mechanic. Thanks for your help.

If you turn the key to ignition on, engine not running, does the CEL light up at all? I had a similar problem with an older Lesabre. CEL flashing when I parked, and would not light up afterwards. The engine would not start. ECM was fried.

When I turn the key the dashboard lights all go on normally, the radio starts, etc. I did not check specifically to see if the CEL came on or not.

Try unpluging the MAF. It could be low fuel pressure, bad crank or cam sensor. Reading the code would help. You could give a squirt of starter fluid in the intake. If It starts it’s fuel pump. If it does not it’s spark.

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Look in your coolant reservoir and find out it it is at a normal level. Pull the oil dipstick and oil cap and look for signs of something that looks like chocolate milk - or anything out of the ordinary. If you know where it is & can do it, put a socket or wrench on the crankshaft bolt and try to turn the engine by hand.

I don’t want to be a pessimist, but I’m just saying. You had a flashing check engine light followed by a starter that acts like it is trying to turn a locked up engine. Before I did anything else I’d want to know if one or more of my cylinders was hydrolocked with coolant.

Pull the dipstick and check the oil for coolant.

The major misfire that caused the Check Engine light to flash might have been caused from coolant getting into a cylinder. And now that cylinder has coolant in it causing hydrolock.


I think I’m with Keith except if the timing chain went, most likely it would be turning over very rapidly with a high pitched whine and not sounding normal. If your head lights work, then it would not be a battery or a belt problem. If you have not head lights then maybe just a dead battery. Yep to a mechanic.

I gotta admit, I didn’t think of the hydrolocked possibility, but it could be that.