Truck Trend Garage: 1990 Dodge W250 Cranky Starter

Expert Advice

Alex Steele
Dec 4, 2009
Photographers: Steve Austin
Q: I have a 1990 Dodge W250, with the 5.9-liter EFI (Z engine code) with 65,000 miles (no misprint). When starting from cold or even after a hot soak, the starter takes two attempts to start the engine. If I crank it for 5 to 10 seconds or longer on the first attempt, the engine won't start. If I crank it for just a second or two, stop, and crank it a second time, the engine starts right up. I don't have to wait, and I don't have to turn the ignition switch to off, or any other such rituals. I crank it, stop cranking, crank again, it starts. What's going on here?
A: There's a lot to cover on this one. You really have to break out the tools and test accordingly. It could be a lack of fuel pressure, weak spark, inaccurate Throttle Position or Coolant Temperature Sensor readings, and so on. I like to start with a scan tool and test for trouble codes and incorrect sensor readings first. The throttle position sensor may be telling the Powertrain Control Module that your right foot has the accelerator halfway to the floor, even if it's on the brake pedal. Or a bad coolant temperature sensor could be reading -2 degrees F on a warm sunny day. Everything copasetic on the scanner forces me to break out my fuel pressure gauge and spark tester. The fuel pump may not be putting out enough pressure, the regulator may not hold the pressure correctly or is leaking fuel into the intake manifold, or the PCM may not be turning the pump on at just the right time. The spark tester simulates a spark plug with about a half-inch gap. A weak spark from a faulty ignition coil can't jump that gap, but it may keep an engine running just fine with the exception of that first start in the morning. You can check some of these basics yourself, but try not to buy any parts unless you're absolutely sure on the diagnosis.
Photo 2/2   |   01z 1990 Dodge W250 Cranky Starter
How To Reach Alex
If you have a technical question regarding your pickup, SUV, or van, feel free to contact Alex, a master technician with the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. Send a letter to him in care of Truck Trend Garage, 831 S. Douglas Street, El Segundo, CA 90245, or e-mail us at Please include the VIN with your question. Due to the volume of questions received every month, we cannot guarantee that everyone's question will be personally answered or will appear in the magazine.

Can't wait for help with a problem you're having with your Truck or SUV? Ask the expert we trust here at Truck Trend Garage—visit Alex Steele at

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