'86 Ford diesal club wagon xl(econoline) turns over but won't start

Hi, hoping for some guidance. I inherited a diesal '86 Ford club wagon (econoline spinoff) and am having trouble getting it to start. Engine turns over and Ive gotten it to start up fully momentarily but then the engine immediately died. Backstory: I was told the car was running like a champ about 3 months ago when it started having this problem. Initially I was told the car would turn over and then start clicking so I immediately thought low battery capacity. The van has dual batteries that run in parallel that both contribute to starting it up. I trickle charged them both back up but I suspect they’ve lost their luster (however I was told the batteries were nearly brand new and they look pretty new) however when I trickle charge them the trickle chargers indicator gets to about 80% charged and then can’t go any higher on one and the other hovers around 85%. The one time I got it to fully start for a brief moment I was holding the button on the left dash panel above the glowplug indicator light which I assume is the fuel primer? I had been pushing this button on and off on all the other attempts as well but not holding it like on the successful attempt which makes me think maybe it’s an issue with the fuel pump. The car has been laying dormant for about 3 months since it started having issues starting. I had given it about 9 or 10 short cranks once I got to the point where it briefly fully started so I’m thinking maybe at that point the battery was shot from all the attempts but maybe it was finally ready to rumble so I’m going to try and trickle charge the batteries again and see if I have any luck. It has gas but that’s about all I know for sure about fluids etc.

If it has gas, that’s your problem.



You obviously have bad batteries. That’s the first step. Find a couple of good batteries and try them. Then you can go to the next level if necessary.

There shouldn’t be a button there.
I’m thinking some one had trouble with the glow plugs and wired a switch in, and pushing that button heats up the glow plugs, giving you your successful start.

That was a brain malfunction on my part. When I say it has has gas I meant the tank has diesal in it…

Just makin’ sure!


It wouldn’t hurt to have a repair manual with the trouble shooting charts. Yeah sure if the glow plugs aren’t working or the relay is shot it will be hard to start but still it should start although with a big puff of exhaust. There should be a fuel shut off solenoid in the injector pump that if that is not being energized to allow fuel to flow, that would prevent a start. It would also prevent the engine from shutting down too if it malfunctions. So that would be electro-mechanical. You should be able to check this with the switch. You’ll have to check for fuel pressure at some point somehow though.

This 34-year-old engine needs its compression checked. But fixing the glow plugs would come first, I guess.

I was able to get it started. I left the batteries on the trickle charge for an entire day each and eventually it got them back to 100% and after some patience and a few good cranks I was able to get her running again. Thanks for all your help. I’m now having an issue getting the oil dipstick back fully into the tube. It goes back in about 90% then feels like it’s hitting a kink. Also curious what the button above the glow plug indicator is if it’s not the fuel primer. Any ideas?