Impending problem?



My wife’s car is a 2004 Mercury Sable, it’s been a very reliable car for us for several years. This past Christmas holiday we took it on a trip out of state and it started acting up now and then when trying to start the engine. Up till now it has always started easily as soon as the key was turned. During this trip (and now) about every other start the engine turns over several times before catching. It always starts, it’s just taking longer when this happens. Sometimes when it does this it takes long enough that I release the key, then try again, and it will start. Once it does start it works fine. The battery is a few years old but seems fine, it turns the engine over without difficulty. I wondered if water had gotten into the fuel tank on the trip (many fillups in different places during cold weather) so I added some of that Heet alcohol stuff but it didn’t make any difference. When we got back home I didn’t fill up the tank until it was nearly empty, then went to a local station we use all the time without problem and I filled up my pickup and her car the same day. Pickup runs ok, car still has this occasional starting problem. A possible clue: the dashboard warning lights all come on during the startup (correct operation), then they all go out when the car starts right up, like they should. But on those times the car has trouble starting, after it eventually does start and the engine is running there are 3 dashboard warning lights on constantly - the fuel cap light, the airbag light and the brake light. And the small digital readout in the lower center of dash that shows mileage and other info is blank, dark, turned off. If I shut off the engine and restart, it starts right up and the warning lights go out and the digital display works normally. Would the on-board diagnostic have a fault code in memory after a bad start cycle that would give more info about the problem? Has anyone seen this problem before?


Paragraphs, man, paragraphs. Your post is almost impossible to read.

  1. it isn’t bad gas. That gets blamed often, but is really rare.

  2. ignore the warning lights for now. They may be getting tripped during th edifficult starting process and staying tripped until they’re recycled. Solve the operating problem and I’ll bet the lights will go away.

  3. it may or may not store a code. If it does, it’ll probably just indicate misfiring. But have the codes read and post them here. Do not leave this stone unturned.

Now, to the problem:
You have good compression, as proven by its running properly once you get it going.

You could have either an ignition system problem, whichc could range from badly overdue maintenance (read: tuneup…new plugs and filters), or a failing component. Again, the codes could provide a clue.

You could also have a fuel delivery problem. This could be from a weak fuel pump, a clogged fuel filter (again to the tuneup), or even a bad fuel pressure regulator. It’s also possible that the fuel is finding its way out of the line and back into the tank when the car is parked. If it happens again, try turning the key to “on” instead of “start” for a few cycles of perhaps four seconds each. If this is the problem, it’ll refill the fuel line prior to your starting the engine. I’m inclined to consider the pump a low probability unless it’s also been weak on power on the highway.

It could be a fuel metering problem. There are number of sensors that could be the source. Most would cause other operating symptoms, and a CEL light, but there it is.

To summarize:
When was the last good tuneup?
Are there other operating problems?
and have the computer checked for stored codes.


In addition to mcparadise’s suggestion of priming the fuel pressure, see if pressing on the accel pedal just a tiny bit gets it started right up. If that works, you probably have a failing Idle Air Control (IAC) valve.


I took the advice & had the fault codes read at a local Autozone on Jan 18th to report back here. The guy there said the faults were numerous and mostly related to electrical, suggested we clear the codes and I come back in a day or two to see what new codes would be present. I agreed & he cleared the codes.

The next day my wife had a doctor’s appointment, the car started ok after the now-usual second try. But when she came out of the doctor’s office about 45min later the car would not start, wouldn’t even crank over. She called me and I went to pick her up. We had some time so I switched the truck’s battery to her car and the car instantly started on first try. Later that morning we bought a new battery for her car and it has not acted up since. It now starts immediately on the first try, just like it used to. I don’t understand how the old battery could be causing the type of starting problem and getting fault lites on the dash, so have waited several weeks to post this update. But we have not had a single re-occurence of the problem since the battery was replaced.

The worst part of this episode is that the wife asked me early on if the battery could be the problem & I laughed at her question, saying the battery was cranking over the motor strongly and starting it up on the 2nd and 3rd attempt so it had to be ok. Now I’m doomed to being reminded about this anytime I disagree in the future … looking for solutions on how to handle it???


The problem could have been a bad battery but I think the terminals were just corroded. Look at it this way…you would have had to replace the battery at some time in the future anyway.


Thanks for coming back and telling us what happened. Maybe you response will help someone else with a like problem.


The battery that came out was the original one, car is 2004 model, so I figure we got the expected life from it. Just can’t get over how well it cranked the motor over when it wouldn’t start, seemed like it had plenty of electrical power. Maybe even though it was turning the motor over the battery voltage dropped low enough that the electronic system wouldn’t allow the start to occur.