Replaced coil pack, now turning the key does nothing

I had an urgent question last week and this community got me answers so thoroughly and quickly I have to come back for more. See, that car is probably totaled so it’s time to get the other car running before I run out of money on this rental…

In a nutshell: 1997 Ford Escort. My (<1yr old) battery is dead, but even when jumping the car turning the key does nothing. No noise, no lights, nothing. Within the past year I replaced both the battery and alternator. This weekend I replaced the coil pack and spark plug wires. I can’t find any blown fuses (in the car or under the hood).

Full story:
Driving my car I came to a stop and it was idling rough. Worried, but it did this before for like 2 days then never again, seemed like some contaminated fuel or something, but this didn’t go away after a couple days. At an idle the RPM was inconsistent, fluctuating by an ever-growing amount such that if I didn’t give it some gas it was probably going to stall. Step on the gas and it’s slow to move. Started running rough sometimes even while driving. Determined cylinder 3 was misfiring (diagnostic code).

Seemed likely to be the Coil Pack, and since I could get one online for $30 I figured I’d start there. Until in a pinch I had to drive the car again - nothing I thought it might be was likely to destroy the car in such a short period of time so i took the gamble. Oops. on the highway the car turns off - well, I lost power pretty fast then all the dash lights came on like a stall and the engine was off. Pull over. Car still has power, but, as far as I remember (this was weeks ago) turning the key made nothing happen. Pop the hood and there’s a tiny bit smoke coming from each of the 4 spark plugs; that stops pretty fast but it was there.

At this point I’m thinking “Ok that settles it, it was the coil pack, it went to crap and on its way out took all the spark plugs with it. Better order new Coil Pack & wires (and when those arrive I’ll go to Autozone & get the right plugs & socket with which to change them).” I get the car towed and while I’m waiting I’m in the car using the electricity - all the electronics appear to be functioning correctly. I’ll stress that I can’t remember for certain, but I believe even at this point turning the key didn’t do a thing, but tension was high and that was weeks ago.

Fast forward through a winter storm, some stupidly long shipping times for parts, and here we are a few weeks later. I’ve got the coil pack & new cables and figure I’ll install those, try my luck, and when it doesn’t turn on I’ll go get the spark plugs and by then my problems should be solved. Wrong. Replaced Coil Pack and plug wires, put key in, turn it, and nothing. Took me 2 days to realize that the trunk light had been on for 2 weeks & drained the battery (tried open trunk after ice storm, it wouldn’t open, ice melted, trunk no longer weighed down raised a little triggering the light, but I’d forgotten. Ugh).

So, I figure we need a jump, then the car will at least have power and I can work out the rest from there. Get everything set up for a jump, I put the key in the ignition… nothing. Even while hooked up to the other [running] car I can’t get so much as an interior light to turn on, let alone the engine to turn over. I tried several times, the jumper cables are brand new, the alternator replaced within the year (and battery too), I check all the main fuses under the dash (skipped a few like windshield wipers) and check all the fuses under the hood. All appear to be intact (the 100A Main fuse in the engine compartment looked a tiny bit different from the others but the metal all appeared intact, no black residue or anything. Sadly, this is the only fuse in the car held in with a bolt. Didn’t know that, it was dark, tried pulling it out with pliers, and now it might be actually broken).

That’s it, that’s where I’m at now. I’m leaning towards a bad starter but I’m confused and just have no idea where to proceed from here. If it’s the starter does that explain not being able to draw any power from the battery even when it’s hooked up to a good one? Whether the jumper cables are plugged in or not the result is the same - turning the key does absolutely nothing. I really just need some ideas of where to turn now because I’m at a loss. A starter is something I can replace myself so if that’s the next step I don’t want to pay for a tow and then to have someone look at it and then say “yeah, replace the starter”. Could the coil pack have taken the starter with it on its way out without tripping a fuse? Was the problem never the coil pack in the first place?!

Sorry if this post is sloppy, I’m so tired and frustrated at this point I just don’t know what to do next! Thank you in advance for your input.

The battery is stone dead. With a battery this dead, jumper cables will not help in most cases. You cannot count on the cables to transfer enough power to turn over the starter. And, you will need to run the other car for quite a bit to get enough juice into the dead battery, which could possibly short and cause all kinds of problems. Take the battery out and take it to the place you purchased it. Have them give it an ‘all-day’ charge and see if it can be recovered. Be prepared for a new battery. Hopefully, they will just replace it under warranty, but a sharp parts man may ask questions.

Hmmm, OK… that’s definitely a start, and a pretty low-labor one which is nice! haha


“all appear to be intact”

Do you have a test light? That is the correct way to check fuses. Once you fully charge/replace that battery, use the test light to check all the fuses, especially that 100A main fuse

I agree with @BustedKnuckles . . . the battery might not even take a charge at this point

Agree w/others, a battery that is totally discharged can be very difficult to charge again. At first it has such a high internal resistance it resists taking any charging current at all. But it may be possible given enough time. It may take several days on the charger though. And you buying a new battery is not an unlikely forecast I think.

But first thing I’d do though is verify the battery is actually fully discharged. Have a load test done on it. Many places will do that for free, just take it out of the car and use your other car to take it there for testing. The reason? The battery may not even be the problem.

If it isn’t the battery, it could well be the starter motor is on the fritz, or a few other things, like the ignition switch, or a fuse, wiring, or ground problem. Before worrying about the coils, you’ll have to at least get the engine to reliably crank.

I agree with eliminating the battery as the cause first. With a completely drained battery, you may not be able to get it to take a charge on a battery charger. To jump off the car with a battery that dead, you need really good jumper cables, the typical 8 or 10 gauge cables will not do the job and if you hook up 2 or 4 gauge cables, there is the possibility of damaging the vehicle doing the jumping for you.

If you have access to another battery that is fully charged, remove your battery and install the other battery and see if the vehicle will start that way. If not and there is no sound, then it could be any number of things from a blown fuse, bad starter, bad park/neutral switch (or clutch switch) to bad connection somewhere.

If you have access to another battery that is fully charged, remove your battery and install the other battery"

I have a rental Ford Fiesta an no money left in the bank. Can I pop the Fiesta’s battery in my Escort real quick and see what happens without destroying the Fiesta’s battery or anything? If the car starts I’d just replace my battery and be good, but if not… well I don’t know because I’m on my last $100 so I can neither buy more parts nor hang onto the rental car for longer.

But yeah, am I gonna wreck the rental car’s battery by testing my car with it and be even more screwed?

Even if the battery swap is done perfectly, you’ll allow the memories to disappear from the rental car computers and probably have even more problems on your hands. I recommend against it.

Do you have AAA?

If you have an ohm meter, tvm or vtvm (transistorized or vacuum tube volt meter for the younger crowd) check continuity between the negative post on the battery and the ground of the car. Could be a bad cable or connection.

If you pull the battery on the Ford Fiesta, it will have to be towed back tot he dealer to get it reprogrammed so that it can be started, quite expensive, NOT on of Fords better ideas. Need to find an older car. BTW, it wont hurt the battery. You also need to be aware of the polarity of any other battery you borrow, I think Fords have their posts reversed from every one else, they used to anyway.

Removing the battery from a Ford Fiesta requires the car be towed back to the dealer before it can be started again? Yes, that isn’t one of their better ideas. Curious though. What is it that makes towing the Fiesta back to a dealer a necessity just b/c the battery is temporily removed?

@georgeSanjose I do not know that facet either, but due to potential brain damage to my car I always use an odbc memory maintainer, or similar that plugs into the power point. I took my daughters saturn to autozone, and requested they use one when putting in a new battery, they found one and told me they had to have a honda towed because the brains died after a battery change ($200 or so), and had to pay for the repairs.

If your battery was completely discharged it may have frozen depending on where you live. That would explain not being able to jump start it.

Hey everybody, thanks for the feedback! I applied what I learned from you all and have an update (and I’m feeling more optimistic that I can get to the bottom of this and fix it).

Took battery back to Wal-Mart, it was <1yr old so they replaced it for free. Headed over to O’Reilly auto parts and bought 4 new spark plugs. Just finished replacing everything so now we’ve got brand new battery, spark plugs, spark plug wires, and coil pack.

The car is getting full power, all the lights come on, dash lights, everything seems to work fine except it still won’t start - but now I have something to go off of:
When I turn the key I get a steady grinding noise, kind of like that grinding noise you get when cranking a generator I guess. That’s all it does.

So, that makes me think alternator or starter. I replaced the alternator with the battery about a year ago, though it was a used/rebuilt alternator so maybe it went bad. I don’t remember everything I learned from back then about how the starter, alternator and everything interact so I’m not sure if my assumption that it’s one of those is correct.

For the record - the battery was dead not due to a faulty alternator. Not saying the alternator isn’t bad, but the battery died because the morning after an ice storm I tried to open my trunk, it was frozen shut but became unlatched. When the snow/ice melted it wasn’t weighed down and sat ajar just enough for the light to come on for over a week in weather around 20-40 degrees. Seems clear to me that’s why it was so dead.

Anyway, I’ve got the rental car until 6pm tomorrow and can use my lunch break tomorrow to get parts I need, but what do I need?


“steady grinding noise” . . . it’s possible the starter drive gear isn’t meshing with the ring gear

In other words, the starter may not actually be cranking the engine over

If that is the case, it’s time for a starter

Okay, starter is what I was leaning towards too. I only wish I knew why my starter was giving me problems. Had a misfiring cylinder, most likely due to bad coil pack, I do nothing, and now the starter is shot.
shrug It is what it is I guess.

Steady grinding noise…I wonder if @Godot originally snapped a timing belt when the engine stalled while driving and now after all this the noise he’s hearing is the sound of the starter cranking an engine with no compression?

I’ll get out the flashlight and look for a lack of belts… haha. I know where one is.

It does from the symptoms described sound like the starter motor is turning but not engaging with the flywheel for some reason. It could be something simple like the starter motor is coming loose from its moorings, just the bolts need a re-torquing. That’s a simple fix. And it could be the teeth have been ground off, either from the starter motor or the flywheel. Or both. Not a simple fix.

Here’s another idea. Sometimes if the starter solenoid is on the fritz (or there’s a bad electrical connection somewhere) it could make a sound like that, but what is really happening is that the solenoid is closing and opening so fast that it makes a sort of buzzing noise. Some people might interpret that as a grinding noise. What happens is the contacts close, which, b/c of a poor electrical connection, loads down the electrical circuit so much the voltage drops, which then causes the contacts to open, which then allows the voltage to return to normal, which causes the contacts to close … etc … etc … sometimes this same things happens with your turn signals, you get the turn signal lever cocked slightly askew and instead of the normal blink … blink … blink … they go crazy and start buzzing … bzzzzzzz …

Interesting @GeorgeSanJose

I’m about to head back out and see if I can get the timing belt cover off a little ways, enough to see if the belt is still on there at least. The belt I think is the serpentine is still lookin good.

Now, for re-torquing… Can I head out there and use my socket wrenches to tighten stuff on the starter and see if that makes a difference?

The solenoid deal, is that something there’s a way for me to test tonight?