1997 Explorer won't start

1997 Ford Explorer 4.0L the engine just died while idling. The engine will not turn over at all. Battery and cables are good. Able to get engine to turn over with screw driver on starter relay but still won’t start. Checked spark when bypassing relay with screw driver and spark is OK.

I know this may sound funny however… I shall proceed.

IF this Ford has a fender mounted starter solenoid…which i think it does… REPLACE IT…

I have discovered…painfully… that when those solenoids die…they can cut ignition power to the engine…

Here is how the last one I replaced failed…

The starter solenoid was turning the starter on…HOWEVER…when the solenoid was running the starter motor…it was at the same time starving the ignition system of 12VDC… It was the strangest thing.

The part is cheap… REPLACE THE STARTER SOLENOID…and let us know what happens. If I hadnt seen it with my own eyes I would have NEVER believed anyone who told me that my solenoid was what was causing my truck not to Fire up and run. It turned the starter just fine, but when it was doing so…it was also starving my iginition system of power…and thus…my vehicle would not run. It would turn over like a champ…but it would NOT run.

This is of course ASSUMING that all other items needed to start and run the vehicle are present…Such as Fuel, etc…Make sure the fuel pump Breaker Switch has not been triggered! If all other factors are in good shape and you still cant figure it out…replace that solenoid. Ive been working on all things mechanical for almost 30 years now…and I would have NEVER thought my starter solenoid was the culprit in my scenario. I checked everything and couldnt figure it out… I forget what was the last clue that made me replace the solenoid…It was something but I cannot recall at the moment. Like I said…the part is cheap…replace it and see what you get. I would have never ever thought the solenoid was cutting power to my ECM and fuel pump etc while it was cranking the engine…I didnt know it was able to do so. But I DO NOW…

See what you get.


Engine died while idling and now won’t start?

Check the 60 amp maxi fuse located in the fuse box under the hood.

If this fuse blows, the engine will shut off, and you’ll get no starter operation.


Let’s restart the story timeline:
This is my son’s very under maintained vehicle.
1997 Ford Explorer 4.0L, four wheel drive, 200,000 miles
Order of issues:

  1. Vehicle died while idling at fast food drive through.
  2. Vehicle was pushed off to the side.
  3. I drove over to look at vehicle, no start, no turnover, but had battery power.
  4. Did some basic field checking but needed to get it out of there.
  5. Towed vehicle to my house.
  6. Found engine oil low, needed two quarts of oil just to bring it to the add mark.
  7. Found coolant very low, radiator and overflow tank basically both where empty.
  8. Found thermostat gasket leaking, replaced seal gasket.
  9. Filled radiator and recovery tank.
  10. Checked battery, is was good but charged it up anyway.
  11. Cables looked good.
  12. Engine would not turn over.
  13. Used screwdriver across starter relay terminals and engine turned over.
  14. Now engine will turn over with ignition key but won’t start.
  15. Check for spark and it has spark.
  16. Check fuses, they are OK.
  17. Check fuel shutoff and it’s OK.
  18. Even tried a battery from another vehicle, but still no start.
  19. Tried spraying either into intake, but still won’t start.
  20. Replaced starter solenoid (relay), but still won’t start.
  21. Looking for help…

Fuel pump or clogged fuel filter failure is a thought. How about a fuel pressure test? I had an o3 blazer one am no start. Tried starter fluid and still no go. A can of heat and repeated starting attempts over hours slowly going from a little rough run to full ok run fixed it, just noting anecdotal evidence that failure to start with starting fluid may not rule out a fuel issue. Not sure what went wrong 2 years ago at 16 below, been fine ever since.

Did you read my first suggestion? The new Starter Solenoid is like 18 bucks…

My explorer did the same thing…It would crank but not start… Till I changed the starter solenoid…

For some reason when the solenoid failed…it actuated the starter…and at the same time starved the dash or ignition system of power ONLY while in the crank position.

Never seen anything like it.

Of course check all other items like the fuel pump etc… you should hear the pump prime when you turn key all the way on. This can also be a funky ignition switch as well…
Check all the basics but…just thought Id offer what i did to fix mine…

Does this vehicle have the Roll over Circuit breaker on the pass side kick panel? That could have tripped and needs reset?


Yes, replaced starter solenoid (relay) on fender fire wall, but still won’t start.

You can hear the fuel pump when you turn to key on. Checked fuel pressure, 37 psi with ignition on and 36 to 39 psi when cranking engine.

Roll over Circuit breaker ? are you talking about the fuel shut off on the passenger side?
The reset button is down.

Any other ideas? I am at a loss.

Hmmm… You seem to have the basics covered. How about having an assistant turn the engine over while you pull a spark plug wire and insert a screwdriver into the business end of the wire…ground the screwdriver shank to see if you have spark.

I believe this vehicle has a coil pack with all 6 wires emanating from the pack. These burn out and go bad. Test for spark and see what you get.

After that…if you get no spark… Do the electrical tests to check the coil…Its either the coil pack…the sensor that tells the coil to fire…or the ignition switch. I would test for spark…then run thru the coil pack tests…then make sure the coil trigger sensor is working… I believe I would do it in that order…

I forget what triggers the coil pack on this engine… Its either a crank sensor… or a sensor on the flywheel that does the same thing. Either way… if the coil isnt firing…its either the coil pack itself or the trigger mechanism. Finding out if the pack has power also confirms the ignition switch is working.

The problem seems to lie somewhere in what I’ve outlined. The tests are quick and fairly easy to perform. Let us know.


If I understand correctly, the engine is turning over, you have spark, you at least seem to be getting fuel, even tried the starter fluid trick, and still have no fire in the cylinders. If that is correct then you now need to check the valve timing. The timing belt has most likely either slipped or broken. You could check the compression to see how that is.

No timing belt on this engine. I didnt notice you said it has spark. Now you need an injector pulse… Need to figure out if you have injector pulse…which comes from the ECU. Might want to check here…

Looks like you get injector pulse via the cam sensor… this is a common failure item on this engine as well… Ive replaced many… Easy to replace. Sometimes the end of the sensor gets dirty and is unable to magnetically able to recognize the passing cam tab… Ive “repaired” a few with a rag a few times… LOL


Because of the poor maintenance to this Exploder…I mean Explorer…the first thing I’d do is take the oil fill cap off and peer into it with a light as someone turns over the engine. See if the rockers are even moving. If not the timing chain may have broke.

I’d stop repairing all the little problems until the starting issue is resolved.
It may be time to start car shopping.


If the valve timing is off then there is concern if this is, or isn’t, an interference engine. The valves may be damaged if the engine is an interference design and the timing is off.

They arent damaged yet as the difference in timing will be in the retard direction… Hey this was only my theory… Again not meant to be discussed Ad-Nausem…but to simply be checked as a possible cause.

I would have done my Timing check and moved on LONG AGO… Not too hard to check it… Methinks with this engine…IF what I postulated is in affect… its game over. This is pretty much a Bic Lighter type engine. Disposable and plenty of them. Prob difficult and expensive to repair, but dont quote me I actually dont know. These vehicles usually die or wind up in the yards due to a tranny failure far before the engine reaches high miles or old age.


Removed the camshaft sensor and cleaned it, but no change in starting.

The only little repairs as noted are; replaced thermostat seal, added coolant and added engine oil. Everything else has been checking and testing.

When I checked for spark, had spark at the coil pack and at the plugs. Any other ideas?

How do I check for injector pulse?

Looked inside valve cover with oil filler cap off and can see the chain rotation and see valve area movement. But still could have a timing issue?

It’s starting to look like a high dollar repair and the vehicle would not be worth it.

Open to any other ideas that anyone has.

“How do I check for injector pulse?”

noid lite kit . . . not very expensive

Please clarify. Is the current problem that the engine doesn’t crank (that rr rr rr sound) with the key in “start”? Or is it that the engine cranks ok, but doesn’t catch and run?

The reason I ask is b/c it seems from what you say it isn’t cranking, but then later you said as a test you sprayed carb cleaner into the air intake. So that would imply it is cranking, but not firing up like it should.

Currently the engine will turn over “crank” by ignition key in start position but engine won’t start “catch and run”. The same is true when I tried starting fluid. It was early on when nothing happened but had power.

To check that the injectors are pulsing…without buying a noid light set, do the following.

Use a long screwdriver and rest it against one injector at a time, while someone else turns the key. You should feel the vibration (a clicking) of the injector pulsing.
If you have a mechanic’s stethoscope with a long probe that would work even better.

Try this with another working car so you know what it feels like.


If there was a fuel delivery issue then the starter fluid trick should have made the engine fire. Since that didn’t do anything you are most likely going to find out you have a valve timing issue. The cylinder compression isn’t what it should be. The ignition timing could be way out of whack also but that is unlikely.

@Cougar has a point. The starting fluid should have at least made some change.