For many truck owners, getting their vehicles to start on the first try is a reassuring and convenient experience. However, some people find that they can only get their trucks started on the second ignition attempt. Why could this be? We've done the research for your convenience.
Like in most cars, you will need fuel, air, and heat to get your truck's engine to start. During many cold start scenarios, a lack of proper priming causes the engine to run lean on fuel and fail to start during the first try. However, there are many other causes for this failure.
- Loose battery connection or bad wiring
- Weak battery
- Failing starter motor
- Dirty or clogged fuel line
- Bad fuel check valve
- Failing spark plugs or diesel glow plugs/heating grid
- Bad sensors
If you would like to know more about these possible causes for your ignition concerns, then please do read on. Together, we will try to diagnose and isolate the problem.
Why Does My Truck Not Start On The First Try?
Whether it's a truck or any type of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle, we need three basic ingredients to fire it up: air, fuel, and heat. All of these need to be in the engine's pressurized combustion chambers in order to work.
If your truck does not start on your first try but fires up on the second, then one of the components may be missing or lacking during the first try. Let's try to diagnose and isolate the problem by answering a few questions.
Fuel System Priming
Did you turn the ignition to the "On" position for a few seconds before turning it all the way to "Start"? If not, then you should do this the next time you do a cold start.
This step, called fuel system priming, allows your fuel pump to get fuel flowing from the tank to your fuel rail. By doing this, you will ensure that you have the proper fuel-to-air mixture when you try to start your engine.
Moreover, in diesel engines, this step also gives the glow plugs or heating grid enough time to generate sufficient heat for proper diesel fuel combustion during ignition. Without sufficient heat, the diesel fuel will not ignite, especially during cold starts.
If priming solves your ignition problem, then that's great news! Congratulations!
If not, then let's continue our diagnosis.
Does The Engine Crank On The First Try?
After priming, do you hear or feel the engine crank during your first turn of the key (or push of the start button)?
No engine cranking means the problem is electrical. This could be any of the following:
Bad Battery Connection
Does the instrument cluster flicker when you turn the key? Flickering lights as well as inconsistent ignition attempts are tell-tale signs of loose wiring or battery connection.
First, you need to check the battery terminals. Are the clamps loose against the terminals? If yes, then try tightening them with the proper wrench.
Are the battery terminals dirty or corroded? Whitish powder on your terminals means that your battery's chemicals are corroding your terminals. This can lead to a bad battery connection and it can drain your battery's charge faster.
You should remove the cable connectors and brush the terminals clean with a baking powder and water solution.
If left unchecked, corrosion may wear the terminals down. If you cannot tighten the clamps properly on the worn-down terminals, then you can try using battery shims to ensure a snug fit.
Check out these battery terminal shims on Amazon.
Bad Starter Motor
When you try to start the car, do you hear clicking and grinding noises with no engine cranking? Furthermore, can you turn on your lights, radio, and accessories? If your answer to both questions is yes, then your battery may be fine but your starter is not.
The starter is an electrical motor that gets power from the battery to crank the engine during ignition. If your starter motor's components or its wiring are defective, then you may have intermittent ignition problems.
If you're comfortable working on your truck's electricals, then you can try testing your starter motor. However, for many drivers, getting professional help may be the best option. Check out the video below on how to bench test a starter motor.
What Does Slow Cranking Mean?
If your engine does crank without any clicking or grinding noises, then we can move on to the next question. Does it crank slowly or normally?
Slow cranking can mean that you have low battery charge or a failing starter motor. We've already shown an example of how to test your starter motor, so you may need to test your battery and alternator.
You may use a multimeter or a car battery tester to test your battery and alternator.
Check out this popular battery tester on Amazon.
Here's a helpful video on how to use a battery tester.
My Engine Cranks But Won't Start
If your engine cranks during your first try but doesn't start, then you know that your problem is not with the battery or the starter motor.
Moreover, if the engine starts on the second try and runs smoothly afterwards, then the problem is most probably due to lack of fuel system priming or diesel engine pre-heating.
However, if you manage to start your engine on your second try but you sense that it runs roughly or even dies occasionally, then you have another issue. Your problem is most probably with your fuel system, your airflow, your spark/glow plugs, or your sensors.
Check out this video below to get a few helpful hints about these problematic components.
Your fuel system consists of the tank, lines, pump, filter, and injectors. If your fuel lines get dirty, or if your fuel pump or injectors malfunction, then you won't get sufficient fuel inside your engine's cylinders.
Moreover, your fuel line has a fuel check valve that keeps the fuel flowing in only one direction. This valve prevents the lines from going dry, and it helps maintain pressure on the fuel rails. Without this pressure, the fuel cannot spray in mist form into the cylinders.
Spark Plugs And Glow Plugs
Although spark plugs and glow plugs operate differently, they perform the same basic function during ignition. Spark plugs and glow plugs provide the spark or heat necessary to start the combustion process in gasoline and diesel engines, respectively.
Diesel glow plugs, in particular, perform a very important function during cold starts. Because diesel fuel does not ignite as easily as gasoline, glow plugs heat up the fuel and air mixture prior to engine cranking.
If one or more glow plugs malfunction, then you may have a hard time starting a diesel engine. The fuel and air mixture may remain cold even after keeping the ignition in the "on" position for several seconds.
Crankshaft Position Sensor
The crankshaft position sensor monitors the crankshaft's position as well as the engine speed. This sensor forwards the information to the car's engine control unit (ECU) so it can time the fuel injection and ignition properly.
A malfunctioning crankshaft position sensor can result to failed ignition attempts because the engine may not be firing correctly on all cylinders.
Manifold Absolute Pressure Sensor
The manifold absolute pressure (MAP) sensor tracks the pressure in the engine's intake manifold. This sensor relays the data to the ECU, which then determines the proper amount of fuel for good combustion.
A bad MAP sensor can send incorrect data to the ECU. If this happens, the ECU may get confused and send a fuel amount that may be too lean or too rich for proper operation. This can make ignition difficult or even impossible.
Mass Air Flow Sensor
Today's cars can have either a mass air flow (MAF) or a MAP sensor to control the engine's air intake. Some modern turbocharged engines may use both sensors.
As with the MAP sensor, the MAF sensor sends data to the ECU so that the latter can determine the right amount of fuel needed for combustion. In this way, a bad MAF sensor can cause the same ignition problems as a faulty MAP sensor.
Engine Coolant Temperature Sensor
An Engine Coolant Temperature Sensor (ECTS) keeps track of the engine coolant temperature. Using this data, the ECU can adjust the air-fuel mixture for optimum engine operation. Because of the improper air-fuel mixture that it can trigger, a bad ECTS can make starting quite difficult.
In many cases, priming your fuel line, as well as heating up its glow plugs (for diesel engines) can make your truck start on the first try. However, if you notice that your engine runs roughly after starting, then your problem may be with your air, fuel, and heat sources, or possibly a bad sensor.
Thank you very much for reading. We hope we were able to help you identify the cause of your truck's ignition problems.
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