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Dead Neon


I drive a 1996 Dodge Neon (which, admittedly, might explain the majority of the problem) that has seemingly spontaneously decided to stop working. My roommate drove it home (< 5 minutes) tonight and called from the driveway to say that it shook and died, and we have not been able to start it since. When I turn the key, the engine cranks and sounds like it might start, but it never quite turns over. The lights, radio, etc. are all working normally, and the gas tank is full. The “check engine” light is on sporadically, as is the oil indicator. I checked the oil and it appears to be fine, but I really know nothing at all about cars and have pretty much exhausted my ability to diagnose the problem.

Two weeks ago, Midas fixed a squeaky belt that had been a recurring problem (and a cause of repeated visits to their shop) since they replaced the majority of the air conditioner in June. Saturday (three days ago) I had my tires replaced at Sears. Prior to the sudden failure in the driveway, we had not noticed any problems with the car. I had work done on the steering column in the spring and had “everything” checked this summer. I doubt it’s relevant, but I’ve had the car since it was new and know that it has had regular maintenance and oil changes, and has never been in an accident. I live in Iowa, where it is currently cold and icy, in case that is relevant.

Does anyone know what might be causing the problem? I am sorely lacking in automotive knowledge and would appreciate any insight you have to offer. Thanks!

Wild guessing without car in hand, I might say a fuel pump has dropped dead or the Automatic Shutdown Relay is inoperative; the latter possibly due to a bad fuse. (hope)

I would suggest getting a cheap test light (Wal Mart sells them in the auto dept.) and probing every single fuse with the tip of the test light. There is more than one fuse involved in the engine controls (which control the fuel pump also) and one blown fuse could be responsible for the whole thing.

If you want to verify if a lack of fuel could be the problem get a can of aerosol carb cleaner and spray a healthy shot of carburetor cleaner into the intake. If it starts and runs for a few seconds then you know the fuel pump has died or the engine controls are not operating the pump properly. (back to fuses)

If you’ve never changed the fuel filter then there’s a good chance this has killed the fuel pump. Hope some of that helps anyway.

Agree with ok4460. Also, check for spark at a spark plug. Do this, by getting a test spark plug from an auto parts store. Disconnect a spark plug wire, connect the test spark plug, and clamp it to the engine. Crank the engine while observing the test spark plug gap. A spark should occur every 2 or 3 seconds. If it doesn’t spark, further checks on the spark system need to be done (like, 12 volts to the ignition coil).

You mentioned that the check engine light is on. You may try to get the code by Turning the ignition key on, off, on, off, and on. Note, on is run position not start position. The check engine light should go on as a bulb test then go off, the following flash that follow are codes, so if you had four quick flashes a short pause two more quick flashes followed by a long pause then five quick flashes a short pause, five more quick flashes. This would indicate two codes. The first code would be 42. Open or shorted fuel pump or ASD relay coil. Second code is 55. Which is end if diagnostic codes. You should always get that at the end.
If you can get the code number, and post back someone should be able to tell you what it is. Code 11 is camshaft and/or crankshaft position sensor signal fault that would leave the engine inoperable because there would be no way to time spark.

                                    Good luck, and post back

Thanks for the suggestions!

I went out and tried to get the codes, but the check engine light is not currently on, and I was unable to get it to flash at all. Surprisngly, the car started when I turned the key, but it is now making an ungodly whirring noise. I am not sure how to describe it, except that it is a rhythmic, angry noise. (Sorry, I know that is not particularly useful.)

I did not have any way to get to the store for a test light or spark today, and was planning to do that tomorrow. Should I assume that, since it starts, fuel is not the problem? I have no idea if that is an accurate assumption or not, and I don’t know anything about how it would drive or how long it would run before dying again, since the noise makes me think driving isn’t a particularly good idea.

Is there something else I should be looking at, or should I still go get the stuff I need to check the fuses, spark plugs, etc? Is there any other information that would be useful? Thanks again for your help!

I think you should have a mechanic check that whirling sound. It may be the starter drive gear is stuck in the engine flywheel ring gear. If this is it, the engine shouldn’t even be run (except a bare minimum for the checking).

It’s two miles to the mechanic…I assume that means I should call a tow truck instead of driving there?

The danger is, if the starter is stuck engaged with the engine, if the engine is run, the starter will be turned many times faster than it should. It can disentergrate, sending shrapnel in every direction. Flying shrapnel can maim, and kill.
Tap on the starter. Then, if you can start the engine without the whirling, you know the problem is with the starter. If the whirling is still there, seek out a mechanic.