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2003 Ford Escape with mystery intermittent start problem

I have a 2003 Ford Escape, AWD, auto, with 104K on it. On three occasions it has failed start correctly. All three times I had driven the car for about 30 minutes, parked (by pure coincidence the same parking lot every time!), returned to the vehicle to find it wouldn’t start. The engine would turn over ok, but then immediately die. If I gave it some gas I could keep the engine running but as soon as I took my foot off the gas to switch out of park and into drive, the revs would drop and the engine would switch off. The first time it happened, it started again after getting the revs up pretty high. The next two times I had it towed to the dealership down the road where it would start again and they couldn’t find a problem! The first time I got it towed they got it to repeat the problem. They determined it was “faulty wiring” in the ignition and replaced it. Wrong answer! A week later it did the same thing and now it is at the dealership again but they can’t get it to repeat the problem. My inclination would be a issue with the fuel delivery, maybe the pump, but I know nothing about these things.

I am inclined to suspect the idle air bypass valve (IAC) sticking, but I don’t know if the 03 Escape has one. If it is ETC (throttle by wire) then it doesn’t.

It sounds like you don’t have a starting problem, instead you have a idling problem. If it was the fuel pump, then it wouldn’t keep running when you put your foot on the gas.

Thanks Tardis. The 03 does have an IAC. Is there any reason why a bunch of Ford certified mechanics wouldn’t suspect this could be the problem? It’s a cheap fix and easy to replace, right?

I don’t know. There might be, and it might be that my suspicions are wrong. I have seen a slightly sticking IAC give those symptoms before.

Sounds like a fuel pump to me, 2003 ford seems to be notorious in my book for this. We found our problem by having the wife stop by the dealer, after a similar story as yours, every time she went by.

In failure mode the fuel pump was diagnosed as the problem. I would recommend you try the same tactic, also recently

i have a 2001 ford escape with essentially the same issue…finally took it in and mechanic thought it was the throttle body bore and mass air flow sensor, noticed excessive carbon deposits, cleaned out and everything was fine. about three weeks later, it happened again…
waited about 30 minutes, it started, took it back and they kept escape for a day and half couldn’t get to “not start”. so picked it up.

so a cople of days ago, it doesn’t start again…for two days. never starts so
towed to shop…waiting to hear what they say.

Did you ever figure out the issue? I have been having the same problem and two mechanics can’t figure it out!

Is The Problem More Likely In Wet And / Or Cold Weather ? Some 2001 - 2004 Escapes Have Internittent Moisture / Corrosion Related Issues Involving PCM (Powertrain Control Module) Connectors In Either The Driver’s Side A-Pillar Area Or Under The Hood.

It seems that connector C134 under the hood (improper sealing or positioning) or C263 or the central junction box in the drivers-side A-Pillar (water leak in pillar) are sometimes found to be culprits.

They should be checked, blown out and dielectric grease applied if necessary and then if there’s a water leak then it should be located and stopped.

Did Ford mention checking these connectors for evidence of moisture or corrosion ?

As you have found, intermittent problems are tough to deal with. Since the above problems have been known in some Escapes, it wouldn’t hurt to check this out. The Ford dealer should have a 4 page bulletin on it.

Talk about the “Check Engine” Light. Has it been on ? Do you know if the dealer retrieved any diagnostic trouble codes ? Are they written on your Repair Order ?


I also have the same problem. It seems to happen only when I’ve been driving for a while (>30 min) and in warmer weather. Doesn’t happen in the winter at all. I had it looked at at 2 dealerships and they said they didn’t know what it was. It just happened today for the first time this spring. Any suggestions are welcome!

I have had this problem for the entire 4 years that I’ve had my 2003 Ford Escape. Fall and Winter the car runs great; no problems whatsoever. As soon as the weather gets warm, it starts and runs just fine in the night and morning or if it has been parked long enough to cool down, but if I make a short stop somewhere and it has cooled off just a little or if the weather is really hot, the car will start just fine, but it will not run. The idle “speed” seems to be set at zero! Whenever I take my foot off the gas it dies instantaneously and I am stranded until it cools off. Last year when the weather temperature was over 100, it would not run until the sun went down! Every year I have taken it to the Ford dealer and they have claimed to have been stumped, as it does not throw codes, and they have done something expensive every year. Changing manifold gaskets, reprogramming car computer, etc.

Well you can guess, today it happened again and the weather is only in the 70s. I made a long shopping trip of about an hour and it started up OK because it had time to cool down. Then I made a short stop of about 5 minutes to get some lunch and no go.

I waited and waited but the engine temp gauge wasn’t going down much and the idle speed was absolute zero. I could very gently let off the accelerator and as long as I didn’t let it go below 1000 it would run, so I finally decided to try shifting it with left foot on the brake and my right foot keeping the tach at 1000, and I managed to get out of the parking lot and drive home in a very roundabout way to avoid traffic. Normally it would have been 7 miles home, but I went down all the country lanes at in second gear and slow speed in about a 20 mile loop and restarted in neutral while moving whenever it died. When I got about 10 miles I was going along at 2000 rpm and suddenly it felt like it shifted gears on its own but the rpms did not change. The car suddenly felt way more powerful and sure enough something in the control system had shifted and the idle speed when I took my foot off the gas was back to its normal 1200-1500 rpm. It ran perfectly from that point on.

From my searching this evening I have found that the problem almost certainly must be in either the idle air control valve (IAC) or the mass air flow sensor (MAF) (or both). I am tired of getting stranded so I am going to have those parts and their gaskets replaced and I am willing to bet it’s going to work and I am not a gambler.

So, my 2001 Escape has just started doing similar - though not outside temp related. And is only a problem first start after being parked overnight, or for more than 4 hours. If I can actually get it driving, it starts fine the 2nd and 3rd time. Mechanic can’t replicate the problem - keeps telling me no engine codes. Is so distressing, not to know whether the car will start each time is hard with little kids

There may be problem with the fuel flowing back into the tank. Normally there is a check valve in the fuel pump to keep fuel from the engine area from flowing back into the tank. The check valve may be leaking. Try spraying some starter fluid into the air intake of the engine to see if that gets the engine going. You could also try turning the key on and off a few times before going to the START mode. This may prime the fuel line if the fuel is back flowing.

thanks for thoughts. The bit that doesn’t make sense to me is that it appears to be only the first start after a long sit. Yesterday, engine starts, have to do much revving to keep it going and engine dies after trying to move into gear, etc. Took about 6 goes, but when it finally did start, drove 10 mins to the local hardware, parked for 20 minutes - car started first go. Drove 5 mins to mechanic - parked for 10 minutes. Car started first go. (mechanic still completely mystified as to what could be causing - been there 4 times this week ) This morning - starting, but not able to shift into gear - engine dies as soon as try to move out of park. I don’t understand how the fuel line can be a problem when it will run fine in all subsequent starts after the first one.

If the trouble is with the check valve as I stated earlier then reason it won’t start after being parked for overnight is because the leak is slow. It needs a long time for the fuel to leak back into the tank. The fuel pump would need to be replaced if that really is the cause of the trouble. The running problem may be due to a weak fuel pump or something else.

thanks cougar for taking the time - is so hard when the mechanics are also stumped.

You’re welcome. To see if that is the case turn the key to RUN or ON for a few seconds and then OFF. Repeat this action about four times and then try to START it. If that really is the trouble then the previous step should prime the fuel line, get fuel back to the injectors and allow the engine to start.

yes - have tried what you suggested - and appears to be the right answer. Others were suggesting to replace the IAC - but doing what you said gets the engine to go. Off to the mechanic now to get the bad news about what a fuel pump replacement will cost - thanks again for your help

well appears not the answer after all. New fuel pump installed. Car still struggling to cold start. Turning key to on a few times still appears to be the ‘fix’ if you will - but taking 4-5 cranks to get the engine going. Once started, will run fine and start again from parking - but after 4 hrs of sitting - back to hard to start. Anyone have other theories about what’s going on?

Is there an answer to this intermittent problem. Manyminis my 2003 ford escape does the same thing…And now that the weather is nice out it started up again. Did you get this resolved yet?

The intermittent problem with the warm weather and the idle cenario is the idle air control valve. I changed
mine ($75) in 5 minutes and this fixed the eratic problem. Good luck to others experiencing the same.