94 Geo Tracker won't start still

I’ve posted a few times, but am hoping to get some more info.

1.6 L 16V engine won’t start, but cranks. I have spark, compression is good, fuel (good fuel), new spark plugs, the crankshaft and camshaft are timed, the distributor is timed, there are no error codes but the ECU is fine.

I’ve put in new spark plugs and wires, new fuel injectors, new timing belt, new air filter. All sensors are hooked up and working. It cranks, but doesn’t start. It keeps burning fuel, I can hear it and feel it in the engine, but it won’t start and run.

One thing which I’ve noticed is weird is the crankshaft is very difficult to turn when it hits certain points. I try to turn it and it will go about a third or a turn pretty easily, but then it gets stuck and I have to turn the key to get it past that point. Then I try to turn it by hand again and it has the same problem in a different spot. It hasn’t started in a month at this point, I’m planning on taking the distributor out and realigning it tomorrow, but I’m running out of things to test. Any other ideas?

“compression is good”

Can you provide numbers, please?

Did it quit running while you were driving?

Or one day, out of the blue, without warning, it just wouldn’t start?

“spark is good”

Please let us know why you’re sure

Have you used a spark tester?

Do you have a bright blue spark . . . orange isn’t good enough

About that fuel pressure . . . have you hooked up a fuel pressure gauge?

A crazy thought . . . might have an apple-cored distributor drive gear

DId this problem come on suddenly and has the timing belt or distributor been messed with at all?

Offhand, it sounds like there is too much advance in the ignition timing based on the engine trying to stick at certain points. This can mimic a faulty starter motor.

compression is 125 PSI on all cylinders, I have used a spark tester and has blue spark, I have not hooked up a fuel pressure gauge.

It all started when I tried to tune it up. I replaced the plugs, wires, distributor cap and rotor. From then on it wouldn’t start. I tried putting the old parts back on, still no start. I drove it to a shop, changed the stuff, then nothing.

The timing belt was removed and put back on, that’s the extent of that. The distributor has not been messed with to my knowledge, but I’ve only owned the car for 6 weeks and it looks like someone did a lame job upgrading things. Like the air intake is from a different car, the distributor looked way depressed, it looks like some wiring harnesses have been replaced.

The compression is getting a bit low at 125 but should run on that.
Have you gone back and double checked that the plug wires are routed to the correct cylinders as that can cause a lurching against cranking if a wire is run to the wrong cylinder.


oh yeah, I’m running them at the right cylinders.

If your timing is off significantly , you will get the response you have indicated. If the the distributor shaft pulled and not realigned correctly , the same can happen. I would approach it first from that angle and make sure the timing was where it should be first. @ok4450 I agree !

I also think the timing is off. The !.6 16V engine distributor rotates CCW and the 8V 1.6 rotates CW. Don’t feel bad…some repair manuals also get this wrong. I think that’s your problem.

Quoted from the OP;
One thing which I’ve noticed is weird is the crankshaft is very difficult to turn when it hits certain points. I try to turn it and it will go about a third or a turn pretty easily, but then it gets stuck and I have to turn the key to get it past that point. Then I try to turn it by hand again and it has the same problem in a different spot.

This just sounds like you are at the top of the compression strokes and is normal if you are just trying to turn it over by hand. A wrench on the crank shaft bolt and you should be able to turn it all the way.

I think the other contributors here missed that you were turning it by hand and in that case it would not point to a distributor timing problem.

You stated that you replaced the spark plugs and wires, new fuel injectors, new timing belt,
Are you sure it was the timing belt…or the drive belts. for the alternator and power steering pump and such.
If it was the timing belt, I would go back and recheck the timing marks to be sure you are not off and it was installed properly. Whenever you replace a timing belt always turn the engine over a few revolutions to be sure it still shows the proper timing marks after a few revolutions.


I think it is at least worth a check on the firing order. Here is a diagram.


@Yosemite I didn’t miss that, but I couldn’t think of a way of explaining it without sounding like a smug and condescending _____________ fill in the blank

You might look at the timing adjustment slot on the distributor and note where the clamping bolt is in relation to the slot.
As a general rule of thumb the bolt is usually in the middle of the slot if the timing is anywhere near correct.

If the bolt is at one end of the slot or the other then odds are the timing is way off.
Depending upon which engine and distributor rotation you have, if the bolt is at the end of the slot and going against the direction of rotation the timing will have too much advance in it.

It could be that hand rotation of the engine which leads to those tough spots to overcome could be due to camshaft profile, valve lash, and need for adjustment. A few years back my lawn tractor was acting up by bucking upon starting, rotating a revolution and stopping due to compression, and in general acting like a weak battery or failing starter motor.
The cause was valve lash which was excessively loose by about .005 of an inch. Snugged the valves up to the tight side of the tolerance and no issues since.

In the case of my lawn tractor this looseness affected valve opening which acts as a compression release while starting. Not being too familiar with the Tracker I’m not sure if that line of thinking applies or not. Either way, valve lash inspection/adjustment is critical.

I’m over 90% certain that valve adjustment on this engine involves shims

If anything, I’m guessing the valves are tight, not loose

I agree totally that tight lash is a concern as compared to loose. My point was that I wondered if loose lash could be contributing to the engine randomly not wanting to rotate through either with the starter motor or by hand.

If it was excessively advanced timing that would affect it during starter motor operation but the balking through hand rotation would not involve distributor timing and could be normal (odd for a 125 PSI compression though…) or due to excessive lash which could be acting as a lack of compression release.

Simply change the cap, wires, rotor, and plugs should not cause an immediate no-start condition unless the plug wires are crossed and the OP states those are correct.
I have no idea what the cause of this problem is but odds are it’s going to be something very simple.

I don’t see how my question is condescending @db4690. Just another question, just like all the others that have been asked. I have no idea of how experienced the OP is in working on cars?


@Yosemite Please look at my post again

perhaps I wasn’t clear enough . . . sorry

I’m not criticizing you . . . far from it

I’m actually complementing you . . . and criticizing myself . . . !

I stated that you answered OP’s question . . . about turning the engine over by hand, and it was difficult at times, because of the pistons and valves moving . . . and were able to explain why it wasn’t easy WITHOUT sounding condescending

And I also stated that I myself wasn’t able to answer it WITHOUT sounding condescending. Therefore I didn’t even try. In other words, I wouldn’t have been able to word it the way you did. If I had answered, it would just have come off rather badly

I’m afraid you’re seeing criticism of yourself, where none was intended

Like I said before, I’m sometimes not too good at wording things well and getting my meaning across

I’m sorry if you thought I was criticizing you.

I like your attitude, and I don’t recall you jumping down my throat, as some others have done. Although when it happens, I know I often . . . but not always . . . deserved it

Sorry I took it wrong @db4690. We’re good!!!

Just goes to show you how easy it is to take something wrong when you are not face to face…reading someones eyes, their gestures, and the inflection in their voice.

But the if we were face to face you’d be thinking " that Yosemite guy should be in the movies".


Sorry you are having this difficulty OP. All good comments above. If the sensation you are having is when turning the crank by placing a wrench on the CS bolt, that’s normal, and is due to the compression. You can verify that by removing all the spark plugs. You’ll notice it won’t do that w/the plugs out.

The physics are pretty simple. If you have a roughly 13 to 1 mixture of air and fuel entering the cylinder, compression, and spark occurring somewhere near the correct point in the cycle it pretty much has to fire up. So your assessment that you have this I expect is wrong at some point or another. Making the assessment is complicated b/c the engine works like a controlled chain reaction, one event causing the next. So one missing item in the chain of events can bring the whole process to a halt.

I think if I had this problem, based on what you’ve done, I’d remove the spark plugs and make sure the spark is occurring on the compression stroke and not on the exhaust stroke. The ignition timing can appear to be correct, but it is occurring on the exhaust stroke rather than the compression. If you put something like a ping pong ball over the spark plug hole you watch it move up during the compression stroke, that’s how you tell.

Another experiment, remove the cap and make sure the distributor rotor is pointing to the number one spark plug when the number one spark plug is at the top of the compression stroke.

Best of luck.

edit: One more thing, your cylinders may be so flooded w/gasoline at this point it won’t start just cause of that. Remove the spark plugs and let the gas in there evaporate.

Thank you for all of your help, It started today! the distributor was timed wrong, someone had set it weird and when I took it off it was apparently set 180 degrees off. Once I adjusted the distributor it started after a few tries and a fully open throttle. This is an odd engine, when the timing marks on the crankshaft and camshaft are at the top cylinder number 4 is TDC. The distributor was messed with by a previous owner, and they made it work by adjusting it but when I threw off that adjustment when replacing the distributor cap and rotor it wouldn’t fire properly.

There’s a new issue though, it kind of hesitates when accelerating. Like if I floor it, it will go from 800 RPM to around 1400, and hover between that and 1200. However, if I slowly accelerate it will jump right up and reach 5000 RPM. It started up immediately while warm, then it cooled off and wouldn’t start again. I’ll be trying to make it more consistent tomorrow, I heard that the weird acceleration could be a weird TPS.

@wiiman3893 Congratulations on your progress!

Now you have to set the ignition timing with the timing light, I believe

Do you have a multimeter? It would be pretty easy to test the TPS operation. I don’t have the specs for your engine, but should be close to 0V closed and close to 5V wide open throttle. Watch closely. As you slowly open the throttle, the voltage should increase smoothly

I wold also clean the throttle body and idle air control valve. It’s a stretch, but it might be a contributing factor to the hard starting