Miata starting problems - gettin'

I have an '02 Miata with 53,000 miles. A month ago it began starting intermittently; initially almost turning over once but then just cranking. After many attempts it would eventually start, but took longer and longer. In addition, once it did start, it would stutter and quit frequently when in idle or low gear, mostly when not warmed up.

I finally had it towed to the dealer’s garage when it wouldn’t start at all. They kept it two weeks, I got it back yesterday and today it won’t start at all (and I happen to be an hour-plus away from home right now!)

I live in Prescott, Arizona where the temperatures are barely getting into the 20’s and 30’s at night, and the car is garaged. I have a new battery, new fuel pump and filter, new PCM for the key, new key, one new relay, and the starter is said to be in working order. Computer diagnostics show nothing wrong. The dealer seemed stumped, and another great-reputation repair shop in town can’t figure out what’s wrong either.

Help! I don’t know where to go to get this problem solved. In the meantime, I can’t really afford a rental, a loaner may not be available, and I require my car to work. I would GREATLY appreciate any thoughts or advice anyone can provide. I have been searching the archives for info, but what little I found doesn’t help…

Has anyone replaced the original spark plug wires?   Miata's give them a hard time, at least the old ones did.  They fire twice as often as a standard car.  I would replace the plugs as well if they are original.

Try another mechanic, it is spark or gas. The options are almost innumerable so a proper diagnosis is imperative.

I don’t think the original wires have been replaced, but am not certain - bought the car used at 32000 miles. I was told about a month ago that the plugs were not the originals and would be needing replacement “sometime in the future - they aren’t quite there yet”.

…and thanks for your comments, guys. I’m going to have your suggestions checked out on the car. The only way I was able to get it started earlier today was to tow it and pop the clutch. It ran great, but when shut off it wouldn’t start again.

Is it a matter of the engine not cranking fast enough to get it to start? It may be that there isn’t enough electrical power to do both at the same time: crank the engine and fire the spark plugs.
To get the most power from the battery (even if it were a new battery) is to disconnect the battery cables and file or wire brush the corrosion out of the battery cable terminals and shiny clean the posts. And, change those spark plugs.

 Get yourself some new plug wires.  Get the OEM ones from the dealer or the equivalent from a parts store.  Don't get the fancy expensive things.  You should be able to do this one yourself. It is not expensive.

Don’t get the fancy expensive things.

And don’t get the cheap generic things either.

When cranking it sounds normal, not weaker. If there isn’t enough electrical power would it sound different?

You may want to try posting here to find your nearest Miata Guru;


We have a great one in Mass.

hi everyone - if you’re still checking this, the problem has been solved. diagnostic codes finally showed up for the first time after i got it running by popping the clutch. indicated it needed a working crankshaft position sensor. it now starts up like a dream. thanks for all your help and suggestions.

Glad to hear you got it working. Thanks for letting us know

Give flyingsprite a gold star!! S/he came back to let us know the outcome! Bravo! Now, if more people would come back with results of our (ahem) august (ahem) advice…?