2001 Ford Windstar won't start occasionally

I have a 2001 Windstar and starting last August the van would occasionally not start. In the beginning it would happen after we take it for a long drive (over 30 min), stop and then tried to restart again. Lately there is no pattern and it seems to happen often.

Then if we wait for about 15-30 min the car starts…the van has become so unreliable now especially when we try to rush out in the morning! Have taken it to the dealer and they have been unable to fix it let alone recreate of figure out the problem. Any help, thoughts, comments appreciated!

What, exactly happens when you turn the key to START? Does the starter work or do you get nothing at all?

It depends upon whether YOU, varuna, are willing to get your hands smudged. Let’s pretend that you said, "Yes."
This problem needs to be made smaller, and more manageable. To do that, the major system, causing the problem, needs to be determined. To do that, get a spray can of Starting Fluid (or, something similar), and a test spark plug with a clamp on it. When the truck doesn’t start, pull a small hose off the big plastic (or, rubber) intake tube. Spray a shot of the starting fluid into the big black plactic tube. Attempt to start the engine. If it starts, and runs a few seconds, the problem is with the fuel system. Tell your mechanic.
But, if it’s not fuel (doesn’t run a few seconds on the starting fluid), disconnect a spark plug wire and connect the test spark plug. Clamp the test spark plug to the engine block. Crank the engine while watching the test spark plug gap. You should see a spark every two, or three, seconds if the spark system is working. If not, tell your mechanic.
After you do these things, and post results, we can go further.

We had a similar problem with an 03, I had the wife stop at the dealership every time she passed by and see if it would start up again. Got lucky as one time it would not start at the dealership.They found the fuel pump needed to be replaced, TG for warrenty. That was after having it towed to the dealership 2 times at their expense and it started fine. It seemed after 45 minutes all was good.

we do hear a horrible cranking noise…

we do hear a horrible cranking noise…

That sounds like a possible flywhee-starter problem. You could have a tooth or two damaged on the flywheel or the starter gear.

The flywheel and starter gears can be inspected manually, usually without too much trouble (cost). It still could be a starter problem if that is not it.

The dealer may or may not have checked for that one.

I think it is time to find an independent mechanic rather than a dealer. Dealers are not better than (or worse than) independent mechanics, but they are usually more expensive.

I also like Hellokit's suggestion, as it is an easy check to identify or rule out some other issues.