Diagnosing and Repairing Your Imperial's Starting Problems


Imperial Home Page -> Repair -> Electrical System -> Ignition -> Starting Problems

Question from Roger (1955):

My '55 Imperial has lost its "spark". The car has run from November 2003 when I got to about a month ago. I checked the spark by removing the #1 plug and with the wire attached put the plug base to the intake manifold and had someone turn over the engine. No spark was seen at the plug. I checked the coil by putting a plug with a 0.175" gap between the coil output and the manifold and got a solid blue spark. I changed the points and condenser and checked that the primary wire was not grounded when both points were open.

Another note is that I have the center portion of the dash off to repair the radio and polish the knobs of the controls. I don't know if something in the ignition requires all of the dash controls and radio to be connected.


From Tim:

If everything was working before you did the work in the Distributor and now nothing your problem must be in the distributor area. Do you have spark at any of the other plugs? Did you maybe mess up the number 1 spark plug wire? I wouldnt panic until you double check all of those. I put new wires on my '56 once and I was off 1-spot on the cap. I spent days trying to figure it out. Then one day I noticed by looking at a picture I was off on the wires.

From Paul:

If you are really careful, you can bypass the dash and hot wire the car. If it runs that way, then you know that there is something wrong in the ignition switch or in the wiring under the dash.

I had two '55 Imperials for a while. They both came from the same place. The one I kept has always been dependable since I was able to get it running. The other one had something wrong in the ignition switch. It would only start if it was hot wired, but would stay running without the hot wire after it started. I was pretty sure that the ignition switch was at fault, but gave the car away before I got around to fixing it. The guy that I gave it to tracked down the problem and it was the ignition switch, so they can, and do give trouble.

From Roger:

The checking of the switch is easy. It has four poles on it. Starting from left to right as looking at it from under the dash, check for voltage with test light. Far left (if I remember right) is the ACC. Center should always have power to it. Middle right should be the ignition or "on side". Next pole should be start position. when under the dash check each pole to the postion of the key. I will bet that when you took apart the center you had to disconnect some wires to the switch. If there is power to the on side then a wire is broken or disconnected under the dash. that power wire will go to the firewall and to the components that shut off in the car with he key. The test light will tell the story. ***Before you go there check the wire to the coil. When the switch is on it should light the tester. If it does try a coil.***

From George:

My guess is that you have the spark plug wires connected improperly.

From Ernie:

The situation is as I understand it spark at the coil wire and no spark at the plug. That leaves the rotor and the coil as the two only suspects.

I have seen rotors with carbon tracks to ground and caps the same way. Try a rotor first as your most likely suspect.

Question from Steve (1955):

A friend just called and was explaining a problem he has with his 55 Imperial. He said when it is hot it will barely turn over but after a few really slow revolutions it cranks a little faster and then starts. He said the car always starts however but he is wondering why it cranks so hard. I know this subject has been recently discussed but I don't recall any remedies.

He said he has checked out the starter himself and also had a Mechanic check it and it seems to be okay. He has put in new brushes etc. He is thinking of converting the car to 12 volts but I told him that many members say it isn't necessary and that 6 volts should work fine.

He told me that when his father owned the car several years ago it always started fine but after it got about 35 or 40,000 miles on it was when the trouble started and has just gotten worse through the years.


From Dieter:

A company named Antique auto battery makes a 6/12 Volt unit which gives you temporary 12 volts to start your car then goes back to 6 volts to operate all accessories. I am using this type of battery for 2 years now .== Phone# 330-425-2395 or 1-800-426-7580 if you like to talk to them. I know manyof our members who own a lot older cars like you and me insist that the engineers who designed our cars this way believed that 6 volts are sufficient. But time does some things to all of us, including mechanical marvels like our 55 and older Imperials.

From John:

I have another brand car that is also 6 volt and used to start hard. I finally traced the problem to a combination of a poorly rebuilt carburator that let gas leak out and was essentially dry in a couple hours, and a weak fuel pump, also freshly "rebuilt", that just took forever to pull fuel from the tank up to the carburator. The car absolutely will not start if there is no fuel there. I installed an electric fuel pump at the tank, and that took care of my problems. Naturally, it is necessary to have great spark, and decent compression, and a proper tune up.

From Roger:

Check to see if the battery cables have been replaced. If so, I'd bet they were replaced with a guage correct for 12 volts. Problem is, 6 volt wiring needs to carry twice the amperage as 12 volts, so the guage is much bigger. You can find a heavy guage cable at Pep Boys or other auto parts stores, or order the correct replacement from one of the wiring vendors. Rhode Island Wiring, YnZ, and others have the cables.

If the cables have never been replaced, now may be the time. Bad terminal ends can cause some pretty goofy symptoms. If all that makes no difference, you would suspect the starter solenoid.

I don't subscribe to the urban myth that you have to switch to 12 volts to have a reliable starting car. I have several 6 volt cars that will spin and start just as well as any 12 volt car. Right, Dick?

From Dick:

You took the words right out of my mouth, Roger. I would add that most independent battery vendors have a source for 2-0 cables for 6 volt use. Accept no substitute! And don't get swayed into using #2 cables, these are NOT the same as 2-0! Make sure the connections at the battery posts and at the starter and engine block are all tightly made to clean bright bare metal - no paint!

Make sure also that the battery is rated for the car. In your case, I think you need a Group 2H or equivalent battery. These may be hard to find, but try that same local independent, and if that doesn't do it, get the biggest CCA rated battery that will fit in your battery holder. If it has the usual Group 1 battery, it isn't going to crank that monster Hemi when it gets hot.

From Rolland:

A well maintained 6 volt system should give no trouble starting. However, the key phrase is "well maintained". A six volt system is not as forgiving as a 12 volt system. Look at the E = IR equation and realize that any resistance in the system will result in twice the voltage drop because of twice the current draw. This voltage drop is even more significant since the initial voltage is only half as great. Resistance anywhere in the starting system has a serious impact on cranking speed and starting. Keep all cables, connections, and solenoids clean and the starter brushes and the communtator in good condition. Resistance is resistance anywhere in the circuit.

A second problem affecting cranking speed is worn starter bushings or the steel pole pieces that hold the field coils not being tight. Look for evidence of rubbing between the large diameter of the armature and the pole pieces.

Question from Ted (1955):

I have never had a hard start with a 12 volt Chrysler engine but often have with my six volt '55 Hemi. I have found that making sure the connections are dry and tight helps, but believe there is a heat soak vapor lock problem also. The engine turns slower when hot, which might indicate cylinders full of gas vapor. Some of this gas may leak down into the cylinders while the engine is off. I have thought of a six volt electric pump, but feel since the car started fine when new, I shouldn't need it if everything is right.

Does any other six volt Imp owner have this problem? Has anyone replaced the manifold to carb gasket to solve it? Who sells the gaskets?? Is this a good idea or am I looking at a carb rebuild? Like Jason's, mine starts well when cold.


From Roger:

Jeff Carter is selling new Carter fuel filter elements and they come with a new gasket for the filter bowl.

JC Auto Restoration, Inc.
20815 52nd Ave W #2
Lynnwood, WA 98036
Tel: (425) 672-8324
Fax: (425) 771-2522

From Kerry:

If your hard starting when hot is indeed caused by fuel vapor it is PROBABLY caused by fuel expanding in the carb bowl when the carb soaks the engine heat after you stop. The fuel can expand and overflow the bowl and run down into the engine flooding it. Lowering the fuel level by adjusting the float can solve this and has on several of my Mopars including a 54, 64, and two 73's.

From John:

I've seen this problem before. One car I remember was a co workers '68 Dodge Monaco Wagon that would do that. I would describe it more as hard cranking then hard starting.. Occasionally when trying to start hot, it would slooowly crank until the battery seemed about dead. Letting the car cool for 15-20 minutes & it would start right up again.

Question from Dave (1958):

I have a 1958 392 that exhibits a random starting problem. When I push the starter button sometimes it turns over and starts and sometimes it's completely dead (not a sound or motion anywhere). I've tried to jump it, even put the positive jump terminal to the positive side of the solenoid but no avail. Just when I'm about to give up it will crank like nothings happened.. Has anyone experienced this phenomenon or have any recommendations?


From Dave:

It sounds like the relay switch or solenoid.

From Kenyon:

Time for a new starter motor.

From Philippe:

I had the same problem on my '57 starter 2 years ago. I tried to short-wired the solenoid w/o result. I removed the starter and wired it but nothing happened! I removed the brushes, cleaned the rotor, etc.., no result. I let it fall1 foot on the ground and .. after wiring again, it worked!! The next day (before I re-installed it) it didn't work again. After another fall, ok !! Seems that there's something wrong in the brush springs or posts. I put another good working starter on and since this time, it's has sat on the "waiting for repair" shelf.

From Paul:

Have you checked the neutral safety switch? That has failed on 4 of my eight Imperials. It is mounted on the transmission, but can be bypassed at the relay. If you bypass it to test, MAKE SURE THAT THE CAR IS IN NEUTRAL WHEN YOU HIT THE KEY!!!

Well, I don't have a '58 Imperial so I can't say for sure, but it would seem to me that whether you turn the key to start the car or push a button, there would have to be something to keep it from starting in gear. If this function is dealt with by the button itself, it would still be worth testing.

Taking the car into a shop isn't always the best answer either, Hugh. To illustrate, my Mark VI Lincoln wouldn't start once (well many times, folks, its an old Lincoln) so I foolishly panicked, had it towed to a shop. The shop replaced the starter, the relay, the battery terminals, and the ground strap. The car started for them, so it was pronounced "cured".

I drove the car home, and the next day it wouldn't start. I got out my little jumper wire with alligator clips on both ends, jumped the lead to the neutral safety and it started. I am certain that this had been the problem all along. At least if I had been smart, and not panicked, I would have tried it and possibly saved myself all the trouble and nearly $1,000.

The problem with a shop is that they need to fix cars and move them out, fast. As Imperial collectors we have "more time" than they do to hunt down little problems that have massive impact on our enjoyment of the cars. All of us know that old cars do stinky things all the time. We supposedly enjoy this sort of thing and that is why we are in it, right?

Follow-up from Elijah:

There is something to keep it from starting in gear -- the NEUTRAL button for the transmission selector is also the starter "button." :o) In other words, in order to engage the starter, you have to push the neutral button . . . so the starter simply can't engage unless the car is in neutral. Pretty clever, eh?

As for the original question (and at this point, I've forgotten who asked) -- have you tried wiggling the key? Perhaps the ignition switch is getting a little cranky, and the key needs to be in just the right spot to make contact.

From William:

When I put the Mopar Perf electronic ignition conversion kit on one of my cars, things went fine. I started it five times, but the sixth time, it did nothing. Checked all connections with the volt-ohm-meter and everything had plenty of volts. The battery terminals looked clean, but there was a thin layer of grunze in there. Cleaned it out and thing worked reliably ever since.

On another car, it had a problem that was internal to the ground cable. When it didn't work right, about .5 volt would be lost in the mix regardless of where I checked battery voltage under the hood. When things were working ok, no voltage loss. That one took a good while to track down!

From Russell:

Sounds like you need a new set of brushes in the starter and clean up the commutator (the bronze area that the brushes make contact). The brushes are probably worn out and arcing and burning up the commutator.

Question from Bill (1959):

A couple of days ago, I sprayed some Gumout in the carburetor of my '59 Imperial, and it was running great afterwards. I also drove it yesterday with no problems, but tonight when I went to start it, it was extremely stubborn, as bad or worse than it was after leaving it set for a week while I was on vacation. Once I did get it started, and started to drive, it kept stalling. Finally after several restarts, and once the temperature got up to normal, it was fine. Could this have been caused by sludge coming out of the carburetor? It's never done anything like this before, or possibly it was just jealous because I was working on my other car today, and ignoring it!

Reply from Mark:

If the plugs are in poor condition, they may cause a problem until the car warms up. The sludge that was cleaned out of the carb may have added to the deposits on the plugs. I've made it a habit to change plugs after such a cleaning just in case it happens to me again like it did on my 19 318 Newport. That's one possibility.

Follow-up from Bill:

Today I finally had a chance to look at the Imperial's carburetor. I could only find that the choke valve didn't seem to be moving, and was in the open position all the time. I took the car over to my mechanic, and he took a look at it. The symptoms he described to me exactly fit what my car has been doing, hard to start and keep going when cold, and then once it is warm, a hesitation, almost bogging out on acceleration from a stop. He said it was most likely my accelerator pump. I prefer to keep the Carter carburetor, so is there someone who rebuilds these things, and is that the most reliable way to go? He told me if I changed to an Edelbrock carb. that I would no longer be able to use the same air filter.

Reply from John:

Your carb is perfectly rebuildable. The leather piston inside the accelerator pump is probably worn, or there is a blockage. Also, you'll need to fix that choke.

The accelerator pump is the reason why you have the off-idle stumbling.

The choke is the reason you have the cold-starting problem.

You can get a rebuild kit and redo the carb yourself, or take it to any shop that rebuilds carbs. There should be some locally. If not, you can find mail-order places on the internet.

Many mechanics only feel comfortable recommending replacement with modern parts they know and love. It does not make them bad people. It does put the burden on those of us who operate older machinery to be careful before forging ahead with something as drastic as an aftermarket carb and air cleaner. :)

Reply from John:

Stick with the old Carter. The new Carters and Edelbrocks have electric choke, reverse throttle linkage and a larger air horn throat.

Check that the choke valve is hooked to the thermal spring (automatic choke) linkage. The choke plate should be nearly closed when the engine is cold and open as the engine warms. To check the accelerator pump, with the engine off , snap (floor) the throttle linkage and look for a jet of fuel shooting into the throat. If none, the typical problem is aged pump piston leather.

You can get a carb kit for about $30 and do it yourself with simple tools and a couple of cans of carb clearner by following the steps in the shop manual. Carter AFBs are simple to rebuild -- I've done dozens myself. A rebuild shop will charge around $150.

Reply from Dick:

If he didn't know that the choke wasn't closing when the car is cold, he probably missed the most important clue. The choke should certainly be nearly closed when the engine is cold. You must have either a disconnected choke actuating rod, or (more likely) the choke butterfly is stuck due to crud buildup on the shaft that rotates in the air horn body. This is something you can easily troubleshoot yourself, just inspect the linkage and manually try to close the choke butterfly (you have to have someone holding the accelerator down to release the locking mechanism which prevents it from closing the first time after the engine has been warmed up.) Just have someone hold the pedal down and then look! You should be able to spot the problem easily - it ain't rocket science!

Question from Tom (1962):

My '62 Crown 4DR/HT has a hard time starting in the morning, or if its been setting for some time. I have to spray it with quick start and once it starts it will run and restart with no problem. I drive the car alot and it runs great, once we do the spray trick.

I'm thinking of installing an electric fuel pump, near the gas tank and wanted to know what type I would need, I had the original fuel pump rebuilt and I know it's working OK.

Has anyone installed an additional electric pump for this problem?


From Bill:

Your problem might be the carburetor.

From Steve:

How long does your car sit between startings? This sounds like you are having a problem with the accelerator pump or the choke. If that is the case then an electric pump won’t help you. If your car is sitting more than a few days and the fuel is leaking or evaporating from the carb then an electric can help. Summitt has one

http://store.summitracing.com/ item SUM-G3134

From Demetrios:

I suspect your choke does not work. Even w/out the choke, you should be able to get it started by pumping the throttle a few times. The cold start is not as easy as with operable choke, but its not that tough, especially in the summer. Another possibility is that your carburetor has a small leak, and gets dry if does not run for a while. So, in summary, check your choke and also check your accelerator pump. The latter is a little pump activated by opening the throttle. You can check by looking straight down the carburetor while pumping the throttle. You should see a healthy stream of gasoline if its working right. If the stream of gasoline is there after you have just ran the car, but its not if the car has been sitting for a while, it may be a small leak.

Electric pump is not the answer, I think. The answer is finding the problem and fix it.

From Paul:

I also believe that there are two small "primer jets" in the front top area of the carb. Those often become plugged, and cause difficult starting when cold. I was successful at clearing them on my '63 with a thin wire from a shipping tag, but that doesn't always work.

From Mikey:

An electric fuel pump wont help the cause behind the symptom you are seeing. It may be a crutch for the symptom but the fuel pump is not the culprit. The reason it is having this issue is that theres not enough fuel in the float bowl when you try to start the car, which means that the accelerator pump isnt moving the fuel it normally would, since the level is too low and additionally, a low or empty fuel bowl wont react to the airflow thru the carburetor and move any fuel into the engine. I would bet that if you cranked the engine enough, the fuel pump would fill the float bowl and then you would be able to start the car...presuming the choke was set properly and the accelerator pump was working right.

Visualize this...all the fuel in the world thats before the carburetor is worthless before you start the engine. The reason is that the carb is generally the highest point in the fuel system and no fuel can get to the float bowl until the engine starts and the pump begins moving fuel. Normally the fuel pump can move more fuel than the carb needs and the float raises inside the carb, that in turn presses upon the needle valve and that shuts off the fuel flow to the carb. Ideally when you shut the car off, the float bowl in the carb will be full of fuel and it will be waiting there for the next start cycle. At that point, you open the throttle once before you start the car..this sets the choke if need be and gives a pump shot to the engine. If the bowl is empty you get no fuel so you wont get a start.

The reason the bowl is empty is generally due to heat caused evaporation.....a 413 creates a fair amount of heat and a cast iron intake manifold retains it very well. Now you have an aluminum carb body bolted to a hot iron intake and the aluminum transfers heat very well...right into the float bowl of the carb and now you have gasoline thats heated up and boiling away, hence the empty bowl syndrome. An electric pump will replace the fuel that boils off at shutdown, but the root cause is still there.

Make sure you have the fiberglass material sandwiched between the valley cover ( the intake gasket is also the valley pan gasket ) and the intake, also if need be you can get a carb gasket thats about 1/4 inch thick and acts as an insulator also....which I believe what should be there anyway. Also, with a full fuel bowl - like right after shut down, take the air
cleaner off and hit the throttle once and verify that the accel pump does give a good shot...though if it was bad youd probably notice that on acceleration.

Question from Joe (1963):

My '63 Chrysler won't start. All I get is a clicking sound when I turn the key...what's wrong?


From Dave:

If the battery is fully charged, it is probably the starter contact. You might try disconnecting the battery, then loosen the 1/2" (or 9/16") nut that holds the large cable to the starter stud. Then tighten the stud nut right at the starter. Sometimes these work loose and will cause the "click".

If still a no-go, then the contact stuff needs to be replaced. Either that or the whole starter. Improvements in this area were made on later models and a current rebuilt model will have them. Ask for part number 3257. A 3258 will also fit, and is a better starter (more HP I believe).

From Rob:

Or if the battery is fully charged, the starter is stuck. Whomp it a couple times with a mallet. The Dart parts car I have now is experiencing that problem. If it sits overnight, the starter sticks. At least it's a /6, so the starter is easy to get to.

From John:

Dirty or loose battery terminals can cause this. Be sure they are clean & properly tightened. There can also be corrosion inside the cable that is restricting the current. Next would be the starter is beginning to fail.

Question from Niko (1964):

After fifty miles of fine driving, I parked the car. A few hours later it woudn't start. There is no spark at the spark plugs. The following checked
okay: Distributor, points, rotor & cup, ignition coil and battery. Any ideas will be greatly appreciated.


From Rob:

The same thing happened to me in my 64 the other week. Turned out that the capacitator (small cyclinder bolted on by one of the coil mounting bolts and wired to the coil) shorted out internally and shut down the car. I had no idea this thing could shut down the car. The capacitator showed no external signs of failure. The problem was only identified with a voltmeter. I think its only purpose is to supress electrical interference with radio reception. Thus, by disconnecting it, the car may fire up.

Hope your problem is as simple as this. I replaced a few of the regular parts until identified this with the help of a friend.

From Neil:

A few simple checks are as follows (but this is from memory I haven't seen or owned a car with points for 15 years):

1. With the dizzy cap off and the points closed switch the ign switch on (run position) and open the points with a plastic biro or similar you should see a small spark as the points open.

2. Pull the king lead out of the centre of the dizzy cap place it close to an earth (ground) ie engine block or head, hold the lead with a thick glove or dry cloth to prevent getting a shock, and flick the points again you should see a spark jump to earth.

3. To check that the rotor arm has not failed do the same as 2, but hold the free end of the king lead over the contact in the upper centre of the rotor arm (don't forget the thick glove) this time you should not get a spark, if you do the rotor arm is bad.

From Dan:

I vote also for the radio noise suppression capacitor. I had one go bad on my 1979 Dodge Magnum, and it took a LONG time to figure it out. I even had a dealer service guy make a HOUSE call.

He ended up finding it as I cranked the engine and he saw smoke coming off of the capacitor. Externally it showed no trace of a problem (has a metal case).

It's either that, or try changing the ballst resistor. We had a 1969 Dodge Coronet and that's what was wrong with it. My dad used to keep a spare one handy as he had one or two go bad. The engine will crank but not start.

From John:

Probably the ballast resister.Its the ceramic thing on the firewall with 2 terminals if early 60's & 4 if newer.

From Dick:

The condenser that is mounted on the side of the coil bracket and is connected to the ignition switch side of the coil is merely a noise suppression device, the electrical value is very non-critical, and in fact the car will run just fine without it, although you might notice a little more noise in your AM radio signal. This is a good place to use up those old discarded ignition condensers you never threw away.

Question from Johan (1965):

We took the LeBaron to drop off a friend at the airport and on the way back decided to "clear her voice" on the parkway. So I looked both ways and took it up around 90 mph.

I stopped to fill up the tank and had a hard time starting back up. I eventually drained the battery and got a jump.

The car started up eventually with a jump but now the engine drives like the parking break is on (no, its not engaged) when I accelerate up hill, vibrates and rumbles a little. The rumble and vibration is evident in idle as well so it isn't the drive shaft.

Would any one suggest some theories?


From Demetrios:

Most likely, ignition is the problem. Check that all you plug wires are tight, both on the plug end and on the distributor. I have had plug wires come off the plug before, if not pushed in properly. If this checks out OK, you may have to look at your points settings, or inspect them and see if they are burnt up or something.

One of the questions to ask is why did this happen after your "high speed" run (high speed in qutotation because that's not too high). What had happened to me once was that one of the heater hoses had a minute leak, and when the car got hot and the coolant pressurized, it would spray water on the distributor and temporarily mess up the ignition. Once the car sat for a while, the water evaporated and the car ran fine. What was worse was that at idle, it did not do it, so there was no way for me to see it. Somebody else saw it when I was reving the engine from the inside. Look at this before messing with the points.

From John:

I would suggest having a look at the fuel filter. You probably pulled a bunch of rust out of the tank & into the rest of the fuel system. Dump the fuel out of the back end of the filter & see if there is rusty looking fuel & or rust particles.
Another possibility though more remote is that it may have jump time. I know this is fairly common on the 440 cars that have nylon timing gears. With a loose chain & already worn gears, opening it up one more time may be all it takes to strip these. With this condition, it may not want to start at all & run hot & backfire.

From Tony:

Check for the most obvious things first. In this case as previously mentioned check the fuel filter to see if the engine is starving for fuel; mid sixties Imperials have a tendency to rust in the tank thus clogging the lines. This is very easy as all you have to do is loosen the screw on the input side of your filter and observe the appearance of the fuel that falls out. I would even swap it since it costs about $3, then drive the car around the block. If it still performs the same, remove the distributor cap and see if your points are either burned or too far open. If they are too far open re gap them, if they are burned replace them again about $3. If both of these troubleshooting steps is of no avail then look for obvious vacuum leaks, i.e. vacuum advance etc. Oh yes one easy way to see if the timing chain might have slipped is either borrow or if you have one put a timing light on it.

From Patrick:

Fuel system! My first and cheapest guess is a dirty fuel filter. They show their colors under circumstances like you're describing, particularly if you "rocked the world" of the fuel pump and gas tank for the first time in awhile.

Perhaps you jumped time, but it would be running horribly, if at all. I'm bettin' a dirty filter or worn/dirty pump.

From Dick:

Not to contradict the other learned opinions, but I think if the idle is not right either, your problem is not fuel starvation (which would be the result of a plugged fuel filter).

My guess is that you opened the secondary side of the carburetor for the first time in a long time when you floored it, and thus allowed things to move that haven't moved in perhaps eons. So I'd start by inspecting the secondary side of the AFB - in particular, make very sure that the secondary throttle butterflies have totally seated in their bores - this linkage gets very balky with atrophy when the secondaries have lain asleep too long - and one of the most common symptoms is exactly what you describe, due to the secondary throttle butterfly valves not closing all the way. Take a can a spray carb cleaner and really clean up the secondary lockout hardware, and make sure everything works smoothly, in particular the odd shaped plate that interferes with the secondary opening mechanism on the driver's side of the carburetor during choke operation.

From Paul:

I did something similar to this once while driving my '62 LeBaron. The result was that the floats in the carb became stuck. I was able to remedy the problem by tapping lightly on the side of it with the handle of a screw driver. That got me home, and then I rebuilt the carb.

Question from Johan (1965):

This started suddenly after a short joy ride and noticeably gets a little worse each test drive although I think its peaked now

Hard to start, and just cant get up past 40 mph getting to 40 is an effort as well. Pressing the accelerator "confidently" up to about 20 mph instantly starts sputtering and bogs down with random thumping and pops. at idol (park) I get a slightly rough idol and intermittent thumping out the exhaust.

Pulled each wire at the cap and got rougher idol at each one (no help). I looked at the cap and each of the rotor points has a matching "spark scar" that is off center to the same side on each (get that one?) coil plugs and wires with after mkt electronic ignition about 2 years old.

I'm hoping ignition/timing somehow. My buddy says intake (carb) leak. I don't want to hear compression because I just bought a new house......


From Paul:

Are you sure that your fuel supply is fresh and clean?

Many years ago my '65 Imperial began running poorly once when I had a "pin hole" leak in a heater hose. It would only spray when the car was accelerating, but it would spray coolant all over the distributor. Somehow the inside of the distributor would become wet, and the car would run progressively worse until it would finally quit. At the time, it was difficult to figure out, but now I would know what to look for.

I doubt is this is your problem, but it did happen, and it gives you something else to check.

From John:

I've had that problem & it turned out to be the distributor cap. Another time on a '66, A piece of the muffler broke off inside & was blocking the flow. If your car has been sitting, it may have fuel problems as someone suggested. Change the fuel filter.

From David:

I agree with the other posters that timing and fuel supply are the most likely culprits. Check your under hood temperature and exhaust pipes. If they're overly hot, they're probably restricted.

From Steve:

I would try all the normal tune up stuff first to include new points and condenser. If that doesn't get it I would check the compression next as your timing chain may have jumped. Don't keep driving it until you get this fixed as you may cause further damage to the engine.

From Dave:

Try removing the distributor and check it for "carbon-tracking". This can be difficult to spot, - so use a good flashlight. Many of these (Chrysler) distributor caps are susceptible to carbon tracking, and they will run like total crap when it happens. A lot of these caps have little "ridges" in them running up to the plug wire "towers". I find that thee caps in particular are really bad about it (seems strange because I am pretty sure the little ridges were put there to prevent carbon tracking in the first place(?) The engine will be a lttle rought at idle, but when you step on the gas, it will be a lot MORE than just a little rough.

From Roger:

Two things to check--one easy to fix, the other not so easy. First, the vacuum advance on the distributor. The harder one is to check the timing chain. Put a wrench on the crank bolt and with the distributor cap off, check to see if the rotor moves in synch with the movement at the crank. If there's any slop, you've got a project to strip down the front of the engine to change the timing chain and gear. Once done, though, you'll be good as new.

From Brian:

Change the points first and adjust them properly.Check the fuel filter.You might have junk in the tank.These are the cheapest ways to go.

From Rob:

A member of the MML just had a similar problem on his 440 Barracuda. Turned out to be the plugs. Conjecture is that short rides without coming up to operating temp fouled the plugs. Symptom was the car idled poorly, like it had a big cam and had lost power. Do the simple stuff first, then if it's not fixed keep digging. My guess is the same as everybody else. Plugs/cap/rotor or bad gas/fuel filter. Check your fuel lines. I had a pinhole leak in a metal one. It would only leak SOME times... took a year to find out the problem.

From Ian:

Yes, always a very good idea to look at the engine in the dark from time to time to see whether there is any tracking taking place. Sometimes you will not even feel the difference with one cylinder not running quite right but it can be a good indicator of problems to come.

From Chris:

I had a similar problem with my 413 when I first took delivery of the car a couple of years ago. One of the very first things Ihad done to the car was replace the plugs, wires, cap rotor, fuel filter, air filter, oil and oil filter. All was well for about a week! Then the car started to run real rough. I fired it up in the dark and low and behold I had the coolest light show from the wire looms of the 413 providing a nice path to ground. I had five out of 8 cylinders giving me the northern lights. The wire set I bought was made by Federal, and it will be the last time I ever buy anything with that brand name! I should hav eknown better since the wires felt very flimsy and thin. But living in a rural area, my choices for parts at the local store are very limited. I digress, anyway, checking for ignition related gremlins in the dark is definitely the way to go.

Question from Brian (1966):

I was driving yesterday came up to a light and the car stalled. I restarted it but I had to put the pedal to the floor. I got it home but now it won't idle. I'm a little rusty, any ideas? I believe it has a Carter 4bbl/440 motor.

As soon as it happened I pulled the air cleaner and the choke was wide open but I noticed a steam (smoke like cloud coming out of the primaries). Could that be the floats being stuck? It runs great as long as it is above idle speed.


From Paul:

It sounds like it flooded. If there is black smoke when it is trying to idle, check to see if the choke is open. If the choke is wide open and you still have back smoke, the floats may be stuck. Could be other things too, but these are a good place to start.

If there is no black smoke, check for a massive vacuum leak.

From Dave:

Sounds like a "flooding" situation. AFBs are quite sensitive to any "dirt"/etc in the fuel. Replacing the carb needles/seats and the fuel filter and checking the gas tank for "trash" may be in order.

From Dick:

The "steam" you saw was probably condensed fuel vapor (extremely flammable!) - you might have smelled it?

If this is the case, and you feel up to it, take the top screws off the air horn (the cast top cover of the carburetor). You need to disconnected some attachments, and remove the two mixture control needles, but this is all pretty simple stuff, and you will not disturb any adjustments. Then look to see where the fuel level is. If one of the sections is almost overflowing with fuel, you know the float/needle valve system has failed. See if the float on that side (primary or secondary) has fuel inside it. (Take it off the air horn by sliding the pivot rod out of it's mounting, the shake it next to your ear). If it has fuel inside it, you've found your problem. These can be drained and soldered up, if you are handy with a soldering iron, or you can look for a new float assembly.

If the floats are empty, then the problem is most likely a piece of crud in the needle valve assembly itself. The best solution is to replace your fuel filter and do a complete cleaning of the carburetor (you'll need a kit from NAPA or other auto parts place). However, you can try just cleaning the fuel inlet screen, the needle valve and seat, and see if your problem goes away (and stays away?).

Good luck. This ain't rocket science, it's all just common sense. Be careful to note how things come apart, and keep track of all the pieces!

From Eric:

I have had a similar experience in my '72 Newport. One day, I slammed on the brakes. For a couple of days after, I heard a vacuum like whistle somewhere. Soon after, my car started running very poorly, accelerating like it had a severe vacuum leak. Feathering the accelerator was needed to get the motor to rev. Once at speed, the car ran smooth, tho I could tell a vacuum problem existed.

I found that when the brake vacuum hose to the brake booster was taken off and plugged, the car ran fine. I bought a new brake booster but have yet to put it on. After I bought the new booster, it came to mind that it may just be the seal around the one way valve button on the booster that failed, this part fits loose enough to lose vacuum. I'm in the process of deducing the problem.

From David:

I have a '66 and had the same problem, upon looking for the fuel filter I noticed there wasn't one, someone before me removed it. You may need to put one in. Clean the carb, check the float setting (mine were incorrect) the correct float setting will be in the imperial service manual. Put some dry gas in with high tech and that should take care of the problem. Might also pull the plugs and have a look at em, they tell the story of how your car runs.

Question from Rodger (1966):

Turn the key to ON - nothing. Turn the key to the START position - still nothing. Use a jump wire to the lower connection on the squire bodied Ballast Resistor from the battery and jump start the car at the starter solenoid with the key in the ON position, and it will start and run. Remove the wire from the battery to the ballast resistor and it will die. I thought the resistor was shot so I replaced it. Still nothing.


From Dick:

Sounds like your ignition switch is not supplying 12 volts to the ignition system. Check your fusible link - if that's OK, check the pertinent wires in the bulkhead connector. If those are OK, check the ignition switch itself. You'll need the FSM to identify the right wires.

By the way, the ballast resistor is only in the circuit after starting - it is not involved in getting the engine started. It provides a dropped voltage for running after you release the key - to save wear and tear on the points.

From David:

I had a similar problem with my '65. Turned-out to be the alt gauge in the dash. I by-passed it and it's ok now.

Question from Jeff (1968):

My '68 Imperial was working fine and than didn't start in park. It started in neutral, now it doesn't start at all. Yet the electrics work. It is completely silent. Worked fine other than not starting in park today. Does it sound like alternator or regulator? The last time my other car died, it was the starter and than it needed an engine rebuild. Any ideas through experience?

I let the car cool down and it started right up. Does it sound like the neutral safety switch or the starter?


From Kerry:

MAKE SURE YOU ARE IN PARK when you short the relay. I had one start once in gear. Was an ugly, ugly thing with fortunately no injurys other than some bent metal. Local guy was working on his sister-in-laws car. His wife came out to watch and was standing in front of the car. It started in gear and crushed her to death before he could get in the car to put it in reverse.

From John:

That doesn't sound like either one. If it was actually cranking very slooooowly, but wouldn't start, that may be more of a vapor lock condition. I've known several people that have had this problem & I used to jokingly refer to it as "440 ites". After the car sits for a little while, it starts right up again. If the car is absolutely dead, try jumping the terminals on the starter relay. BUT as Kerry warned, be certain the car is in park first.

From Joe:

It sounds like you have a bad neutral safety switch.. try jiggling it in park or neutral and try and pull up on the shifter towards park as you turn the key. If that doesn't work put it in neutral and move it slightly up and down. MAKE sure you have your foot on the brake pedal because it may start in drive. The switch can be adjusted.

From Dennis:

I have seen cars with this problem and it turned out to be bad battery cables, with either the positive or ground being bad. Check them their entire length from the battery to the starter and the batt. to ground. Take the ground off and be sure it has a good connection even where you cannot see it and you think it looks good. It is always nice when it turns out simple, but that often is not the case. My father owned a GTO years ago and the positive cable ended up with so much corrosion about half way to the starter where you did not easily notice it that the cable swelled up and split the insulation. It would be hard to start in wet weather and when it was hot you would have to let it sit about a half hour and it would start right up.

Question from Kevin (1971):

My 440 keeps running even after its turned off? What is the problem?


From Clay:

If the running on is caused by combustion chamber carbon buildup (I don't know how you could tell). I have had good luck pouring a can of Seafoam down the carburetor and letting the car sit overnight. Seafoam does seem to be kind of a Midwestern product though, and isn't available everywhere.

From Jim:

Give it a good tuneup with the timimg set properly and to the correct spec for its year, the idle speed set correctly and try spark plugs a range or two colder. Then put a vacume gauge on it, warm it up and set the idle mixture to get the smoothest idle, highest vacume and idle speed. Reset the idle to spec if that changed anything then see what the vacuum gauge says. If the engine vacume at idle is significantly lower than it should be after all that is set correctly, its probably a vacuum leak or some similar problem that lets too much air into the system. I'd put a new hose on the PCV valve if it is at all hardened just to rule that out and I'd disconnect and plug every other vacume hose and fitting on the engine (except the vacuum gauge). Run it at idle again and see what it says. If the reading is pretty much up to spec, one of those hoses leaked or goes to something that leaks. You can find out which one buy connecting them one at a time until you get to the one that causes the reading to drop. If the reading is really low like 10 or 12 inches, its probably something like a very loose/leaking carburetor flange or the intake manifold gasket.

I grew up around these engines and have seen several that dieseled at one time or another. It does get hot down here in Florida and heat does contribute to the problem but every time one of them dieseled, too much air turned out to be the problem.

From John:

Try slowing down the idle.

Question from Kevin (1971):

A while back, I said my 440 was dying at the stop light, I was told I needed a carb re-build, well I got the carb re-built but that didn't fix the problem, well I took it to a mechanic and he said the ignition is bad. He hooked it up to a timing light, and the timing would be fine until I put it in gear, then there was no flashing light. Is the ignition bad, the ignition was coverted to electronic way back in the day.


From Phil:

Just to throw in a couple of guesses, I'd look and make sure the ignition wasn't getting grounded out. Is it possible you have a piece of insulation missing on one of the 12 volt leads to the coil? That is an unusual problem that the ignition would shut off only when you put it in gear.It makes me think that something might be grounding out. Check the ballast resistor and coil while you're at it. Those are the components I can think off of the top of my head that may fail while under a load.. Also, I may be misreading your post, the engine can stall when you put it in gear, but that doesn't necessarily mean the ignition system has failed. The timing light going out is a pretty good hint that there's a bad connection in the power line for the ignition somewhere. But it may also just mean that your timing light isn't getting a good signal from #1 plug wire. Looks like it's time to dig in deeper. Let us know what you find. Also, fire the car up at night when it's totally dark. Then look for flashes of light anywhere in the engine compartment, this will show bad plug wires and other wiring problems that can be hard to find otherwise.

From Mike:

Check all ground straps from engine to frame and engine to firewall, disconnect your battery ground cable and then thepositive and clean terminal and cable ends. Before reconnecting battery, pull all firewall connector off one by one and examine male leads, clean with wire brush and electrical contact cleaner. Make sure they all fit on snug. When you put the car in gear there is a natural tendency for the block to shift on the mounts pulling any badly connected or exposed wires with it. Yes and even thogh the ignition wires may look good, internally they may not be. On my '72 New Yorker with Electronic Ignition, the wires looked great. One night at the
car wash I had the hood up and was cleaning the engione. When I went to start it up, it bucked a little, but I moved it out of the stall into the moonless night. I left the motor running and got out and walked in front of the car. To my astonishment I observed sparks jumping between wires, which were still damp. I bought a new pair and put them on. I repeated the conditions, but this time NO spark jumping. Check any and all wiring under hood for cleanliness and whether they are frayed or not, and make sure they are tight.

From Rob:

I think it would be easier just to replace the electronic ignition. You could buy the whole kit ($125last time I bought one) or replace parts piecemeal. It's better than dealing with rewiring everything back AND then having to live with points. I would consider that it might still be a fuel problem. Make sure you're getting fuel to the carb.

Question from Joel (1972):

Here's my dilema. Periodically, my '72 has trouble starting. Some mornings it cranks right up, but i see white smoke. And usually those days, I can hear the lifters. On a few occasions, it only stayed running while I held the key. On a typical day I have to tug at the carb under the hood and once I get it started, I have to keep revving it or it will die. And when I rev it, I hear a screech like the alternator is going out. On other mornings when its fine, it runs quiet. On those bad occasions, I've had to check my wire harness under the steering column. It has melted plastic inside the socket for thick red wire. I wrapped some foil around it to make it conduct better and crimped a wire running to either side of the harness with a crip to keep a current flowing. The car has cut completely off on me about 3 times while driving. It will die and the brake pedal will turn to stone. It killed at the light, and twice while I was coming to a stop. After I let it roll to the side, I jiggled the harness and it worked again. Other times I'd have to work harder and mess with the box on the firewall on the passenger side (ballast resistor maybe) and it worked. Yesterday all I could get was the cranking but it would not turn over and start. I checked my battery cable, then the
ground that goes to the block. Seemed sturdy enough. Don't know why but I turned the key and the factory am/fm radio knob at the same time and it started but I shut it off. Nothing again. When I tried that evening it cranked right up. And this morning, cranked right up. What is loose or going out? Should I get an electroninc ignition or is it already electric? Is my carb bad? There a small spring broken on the lever which I connected to the gas pedal. Do I just need new plugs?


From Rob:

Fix the wiring harness first. If there is melted plastic there, you know it's bad and it could be causing the other problems. Then go from there. Carb is probably fine, but you may have a choke problem. Much like my "new" '82, you have a lot of issues. Start eliminating the problems one at a time and some of the other problems may disappear.

Don't worry, new problems will pop up. For instance, once I knew I could get the car to start 100% of the time the back half of my exhaust fell off. A laugh a minute! ;)

From Anthony:

Also 1972 Imperials do have electronic ignition rather than points, so the problem probably exists in your rather shady harness.

From Paul:

Several things in your note caught my eye.

One of them was your complaint about the brakes turning to stone when the car died. I am sure that you know that you have power brakes, so the fact that this happened is due to the car dying, not necessarily anything wrong with the brakes themselves. That said, if you haven't checked your brakes, you should do that to be safe. Thoroughly inspect them and if in doubt replace everything with new.

White smoke when the car is cold sounds strange to me. Black smoke would mean that your choke was too rich (tight). Blue smoke would mean that oil was seeping past the valve guides and burning off when you first start the car. Continued blue smoke under acceleration would mean bad piston rings to me. White smoke usually means steam. If only slight, could mean condensation burning off in the exhaust. Continuous would mean a bad head gasket or some other leak from the cooling system, worst case, cracked block. I would suggest a compression test since this may reveal a bad cylinder which could prove a gasket problem.

You ask if you need spark plugs. If the car is hard to start and the choke is set properly, then new plugs is a good place to start. An obvious sign of bad spark plugs is if some of them don't fire, yet you didn't say that the car wasn't running on all 8 cylinders.

Melted wires under the dash is never a good thing, but I would think if that was related, the car would not run ever. The coincidence with the radio knob is mystifying, although it could be related to the melted wires.

Hearing lifters in a cold engine is not uncommon since they sometimes take a while to pump up. Whether this happens or not could depend on where the engine stops when it is shut off. Some of your lifters may pump up with oil easier than others. This could also be an indication of having dirty oil in your engine, having too low of oil pressure (from worn bearings) or using too thick of oil so it doesn't pump well when cold. This should not be related to the instances of white smoke when cold.

There were lots of other things I noticed in your post, but this should help you get started. I would say: check that the choke is working properly, go ahead and change the plugs since they are easy and cheap, and definitely fix that melted clump of wires. Oh yeah, I'd also do a compression test.

From Dave:

About those "melted" wires. A lot of Chrysler products of this era had the same problem. Seems that connector just isn't up to the job of handling all the amperage. I think by '74 (re-designed connector, - had "blades" instead of "pins"), the problem went away. The best (and in my opinion, the *only* way to fix them) is to just cut the wires, and route them outside of the connector. usually the connector plastic is melted and and the "pins" are not useable anyway. Solder the wires, - end of problem (assuming the switch itself is OK that is).

Another thing to watch for is where these same wires go through the firewall bulkhead. I have had to fix a lot of them by running a "solid" wire through the bulkhead connector, - "spliced" on each side.

Question from Jeff (1975):

I have a mystery I need help with! I have a '75 Imperial all stock 440 which was running perfect until one day when it will not start at all. It is not getting any spark off the coil except when the key is turned off. We replaced the balast resistor, the electronic ignition module and the coil. All with no change. no spark at all until the key is turned off when there is 1 spark. Any ideas about a possible solution?


From Bill:

Sounds like a bad ignition switch based on what you have already done.

From Harold:

If the rotor is turning (as was already suggested) and is pointed at no.1 terminal when no.1 piston is at top dead center (indicating timing is alright), then a few electrical checks could be made: with the key in the start mode, there should be about 12 volts delivered to the ecu; with the key in the run mode, there should be less than 12 volts, maybe 6
volts delivered to the ecu; resistance measured across the leads to the distributor pickup should 300 to
900 ohms.

All of these electrical readings are variable, but they should be close to these.

I have had a few instances of the pickup unit failing because of broken wires just inside of the distributor housing (where they flex because of the action of the advance).

From Charlie:

You energize the coil primary when you turn the key on and collapse the magnetic field in the coil when you turn it off. That's the pick up's job. Check the wirng inbetween the distributor and coil-module for an open if not pick ups.

Question from Leo (1981):

My '83 EFI is becoming harder and harder to start all the time. When first starting it in the morning it has to crank at a high speed for at least 7 to 8 seconds before firing. After driving it for several minutes and shutting it off, it will then fire on the first crank everytime. The plugs only have 12 k on them. I have NOT replaced the magnetic pickup in the distributor as yet but find it hard to believe that could be the problem as it starts so easily after warming up. BTW it only has 84 K on the odometer and is correct!


From Bob:

This is a common problem. Some cures are to cycle the Igniion/Start switch two or three times prior to cranking - this is to assure that fuel is squirted into the manifold. This MAY be due to "leak down" of fuel from theSupport Plate. This happens because the heat of the engine at shut-down tends to vaporize the fuel, hence there is none present to run the engine. Hot starts work well after a definite amount of time, then it becomes more difficult due to lack of fuel because of the heating, while parked. Also, there is a check valve in the return fuel line at the bottom of the Support Plate that may be leaking fuel and hence the "ready to go" attitude isn't there because the fuel isn't there. I suspect that you might be surprised to see that there is no fuel squirted into the engine if you would remove the Lid and look at the equipment while someone else cranks it. Last, but not least - check the fuel pressure at the Support Plate. The drop in fuel pressure is a gradual and silent enemy; you might remember when you last changed the Fuel Filters. I have reduced this starting problem by insulating the underside of the "dish" below the Support plate; I also enclosed both supply and return fuel hoses in the engine compartment to reduce this problem. I guess that one of the reasons that the newer cars are immune from this is because they are all high pressure fuel systems.

From Dick:

I'll second Bob's comments, and add that the new oxygenated fuel seems to evaporate more readily than the fuel that was current when these cars were new. It also is much better at finding it's way through the check valve or anything with a rubber seal.

On any of the EFI cars, if you have delayed start or failure to start, a quick diagnostic trick is to put about 2 Oz of fuel into the depression in the center of the air cleaner lid. Then momentarily loosen and then retighten the wing nut to allow the fuel to dribble down the center screw threads. Then quickly crank the engine - if the car then starts immediately, you know it was lack of fuel that caused your starting anomaly. This test will immediately relieve any concern you have about your ignition system.

Question from Joel (1983):

I have a 1983 Chrysler Imperial that I purchased about a month ago. It's in pretty decent condition, but does have some rust in the rear left & right quarter panel & the bottom of the deck lid. It has 130,000 Miles on it (but there is an asterix beside where it says that, don't know what that means) and gets from 15 - 20 US MPG on a tank.

Right from the beginning, whenever I would start it, it would crank over a bit more than what I would expect a "normal" car to do, although I did hear from a certain mechanic that due to it's older computer, that could be normal. It always drives & idles nice though. Anyways, here's what happened: I drove my car to work friday morning (7:30 am), and it did it's usual "longer than normal" start, all was good. It sat all day at work in about say 20 C (68 F) temperature. I finished work! around 5:00 pm and went to start my car. The first try I held the key in the "start" position for about 6 - 8 seconds, it just cranked, didn't fire once. This was kind of surprising, as it had never done this before. So I tried it again, nothing. After that, i tried pumping the gas pedal (I usually NEVER touch the gas pedal at all before or during starting) while I was cranking it, it actually fired one or two times but didn't start. Next, I pulled off the air cleaner cover, & I could smell gas( but it didn't appear flooded), so I left the cover off for a minute or two, then put it back on and tried again. Nothing.

So after that I went back inside to where I work & called AMA to send over a tow truck. Next ( about 30 mins had passed since I had last tried starting the car) I went outside again to see if I could start the car. I put the key in and cranked it...it didn't fire for a sec or two, but then caught a few times & started. For the first few seconds it ran rough, like it had too much / too little fuel, bu! t after that it smoothed out and idled like it has always had before (it idles nice btw). So now i'm a little scared about something like this happening again (i've been driving it for about 4 days since then and it's always started). Now would any of you guys have any idea what the problem could be and what I can do to fix it? I'm also interested in why it seems to need a few excessive cranks to start.


From Neil:

What is the service history of the car? The EFI cars are a bit fussy, they require a good set of spark plugs, good air filter element and most important of all is that the air filter housing is firmly fitted and preferably sealed with some (non silicone) sealant.

I have owned my '82 imp for 7-8 years now and find that differing ambient temperatures have the greatest effect on whether the engine will start right up or require more cranking, usually heat soak causes the most problems, this is where the car has been shut off for a short period after a longish run and a restart is attempted on a hot day, the engine will crank and crank but will refuse to start. My car has never had this problem but it is a regular EFI trait.

The importance of a firmly fitted air filter cannot be understated, the correct element must by fitted centrally in the housing, the housing MUST sit flat and firm on the HSA (injection unit) and all the pipe work must be fitted correctly, when lowering the filter housing onto the HSA you must ensure that the wiring loom which runs front and back is clipped to the housing and not trapped underneath also make sure the little vac hose is fitted to the snorkel and the lambda sensor wire is reconnected. Ensure that the PCV valve is working (shake it if it rattles it's ok) and firmly fitted into the rocker cover (if the rubber grommet is not holding the PCV tight replace it) and that the hose to the breather which sits in a grommet on the opposite valve cover to the PCV is fitted properly.

The above may sound like a lot but it only takes a few minutes to check, if you do not have the correct Chryler service manuals you should as they are the essential to an easy life.

What you will find from reading the IML and the service manual is that if the engine is flooded wide open throttle (WOT) while cranking will stop fuel delivery completly so only use this if you think the engine is flooded, i find with my car that a light throttle opening helps it to fire up quickly.

From Paul:

This was a frequent problem with early '80s, first generation computerized cars. In most, the ignition and the fuel system are both computer controlled. There are a guzillion reasons why these cars either stop running or won't start. In many cases, the trouble is intermittent and difficult to find. Many Auto Electric shops in the good old USA became very wealthy during the time that these cars were on the road. The sad part is, most of them never really ever figured out what was wrong with the cars. Eventually their owners became annoyed and sold them.

I hate to be so general here, but I know from experience that this was universally true among the big three and most likely others too. My newest Chrysler Product has always been my '68 Imperial. I have '80s offerings from each of the other major manufacturers, and have had occasional problems with both, although the G.M built cars have been much more reliable than the ones from Ford. I still run both of them on a daily basis.

When those Imperials were new, many people had exactly that kind of trouble with them. The cars will run perfectly, and for no apparent reason, quit on the road or refuse to start. Over the years I have found that the folks that were the most successful keeping those cars on the road were the ones who "loved them no matter what".

I have also found that reading the wiring diagrams and understanding where relays and sensors (both vacuum and electronic) are, and understanding what they do helps a lot. Relays with dirty contacts can cause an intermittent problem for years before they actually quit working all together. This is also true of sensors.

In summary, I would say that there probably is not one thing that anyone here can tell you that will solve your problem. If you love the car, you will become very accustomed to knowing under what condition your car does certain things. Eventually you will be able to make sense out of that information, along with the things that you read and study to make a good stab at finding the faulty part or parts. The other option would be to pay someone else to do that, but I offer this: back during the time that those cars were on the road there were few, if any mechanics that could trouble shoot them. Most people just got taken to the cleaners, and still couldn't depend on their cars to run when they were suppose to.

From John:

I believe the asterix means the dash has either been repaired or replaced. That was one of the '80's Imperials big problems. I knew someone that bought an 81 sometime around late '83 & he had the no start problem then. There were times when he would crank it till the battery was nearly dead, then leave it 15-20 minutes & it would start immediately. We worked at the same place, so I had given him a ride over to the Chrysler dealer several times when he brought the car to be fixed. Every time I was there, they had one or two of them in the shop with lots of parts removed & stacked all over the place. I asked the mechanic working on one of them one time I was there what was wrong with them, since every time I was there, they always had at least one like that. He didn't seem to want to volunteer too much info other then to say it wouldn't start. After word came out that the cars had major problems that would require a major retrofit & that the parts to do so were in very short supply & cost $2-3 K to accomplish, he got rid of the Imperial in a hurry at a big loss.

From Bob:

I had an '81 that did this same type of thing. After replacing quite a few things, I found that the control pump was weak. I pulled it apart, cleaned it up, and the car then started great. Cranking the car a long time does no good, because after a short time the computer shuts down the fuel. If it doesn't start within the first few rotations, turn it off and try again. Sometimes turning the key on and off a few times will get the pump to push enough fuel through to start it.

From Rolland:

I have an '81 Imperial and have gone through many of the same experiences you have. For the past two years the car has worked quiet well. I use it as my daily driver and it always starts whether it is 10 below zero or 90 degrees. I am determined to keep the EFI and keep it as original as possible. When these cars work they are really a nice car but reliability is not their strong suit.

I don't have pat answers to your specific problem. It is intermittent and you would drive yourself up the wall trying to chase it down. Since it only did it once I would assume it was a fluke and dismiss it. You may be a little ucomfortable each time you go to start it but that is the way it is with these intermittent problems.

If you are up to the challenge of keeping a great car running like it was intended it can be very rewarding.

I would have the following advice:
1. You are on the right track to obtain the service manuals. They will be less valuable in troubleshooting than you would like but they go a long way in helping you understand the system and the function of each component.

2. I would try to acquire some spare parts. Some that are known to be good if possible. They are around but not easy to find. There are still some out there at a reasonable price. Particularly pick up a computer, a power module (inside the Hydraulic support plate) and probably a water temperature sensing unit. Other components would be helpful but not essential.
Make your appeal to the IML folks. They are very helpful.

3. Unless you are steeped in electronics I would not get into repairing the specific components. They are complex and difficult to diagnose. Change out components to find the culprit.

4. The electronics seem to me to be sensitive to moisture and humidity. If your starting problem occured under these conditions the problem will probably repeat under those conditions. When it is damp out make sure the car is completely warmed up and dried out when you shut it off.

5. It has been my experience that these cars start with less cranking in the winter than they do in the summer. Long cranking cycles are usually associated with high ambient temperatures. I would expect this is due to fuel vaporaziation and the inability of the system to quickly purge itself of fuel vapor. I don't know what can be done about this.

6. Even though it might seem so, the problem is not always in the EFI. Make sure the ignition system is in good condition. This includes spark plugs, plug wires, ignition coil, ballast resistor, and the hall pick up coil in the distributor.

7. A common problem is the failure of the air cleaner/hydraulic support plate to seal sufficiently to make sure all the air for the engine is passing the air flow meter. Check all seals and gaskets from the throttle base to the air horn to minimize leakage. Also make sure all vacuum hoses are tight and not weathered to the point they are leaking.

This is a lot of what my seat of the pants experience has taught me. I don't have all the answers but I have a car that is used almost daily for relatively short drives and runs and strarts good. Mine has just over 93,000 miles on it.
I have replaced several of the EFI components over the years and have found the computer and power module to be the most troublesome. I did implement the service fix of grounding the Automatic Shut Down Model to the engine.

Converting to a carbureted set up was an option for me at one time. My son was parting out a Dodge Mirada and all the components were available to me at no cost, including the fuel tank and intake manifold. I decided to give the EFI one more shot and I have never regretted it. A clean conversion that was not done by the factory is extremely hard to find. I have seen many that are real butcher jobs even though they do start and run.

Good luck on keeping your car running. It is a real challenge at times but if you enjoy a challenge and a nice running car it is worth it.

This page last updated October 12, 2004.  Send us your feedback, and come join the Imperial Mailing List - Online Car Club