Curbside Mechanix: The Easiest No-Start Repair; And A More Difficult One

The best thing about my old ’66 F100 is that it hardly ever breaks, and when it does, it’s almost invariably easy to fix. I got in it the other day to haul some yard debris, pulled the choke, turned the key, and…nothing. Huh? Tried again: a few feeble and barely audible clicks. I knew it wasn’t the battery, as I did just replace that a few months back, since the old one was getting on 7 or 8 years. But wait a minute…maybe I didn’t actually have to, as the symptom was the same, but I just assumed it was the battery then since the truck hadn’t been driven in some weeks and it was winter.

Oh right…this happened about 15 or more years back. It was the starter solenoid! I confirmed it by bypassing it with a jumper cable from the positive pole of the battery to the starter. Turned right over. And it’s an easy fix; that is, if the parts store has one in stock on a Sunday afternoon.

Want to place your bets on that being or not being the case?


Grabbed a couple of sockets and disconnected the two main terminals of the solenoid, popped off the two minor ones, and removed the unit via the two sheetmetal bolts. Total time: 90 seconds? 120?


Drove to my preferred local parts store (Knechts) and…sure enough, in stock. $17.95. It never fails to amaze me how commonly parts are available for this 54 year old truck. Some years back I needed new brake drums; “no problem; we’ll have them here in an hour”.  Ok. Water pumps and tune up parts and such are always in stock. But then these 240/300 sixes were made by the millions, although the later ones have FI and electronic ignition and such.

Anyway, reverse the procedure, and…nnnrrr, nnnrrr…roar; and the trusty old six fires right up.

If only it were always this easy.

This past summer while I was on “sabbatical”, I was driving the truck when it suddenly started bucking violently, as if I was turning the ignition on and off rapidly. Fortunately I was only a few blocks from home, and just barely made it into the driveway.

Please note: I am a mediocre mechanic, at best. Mostly because I’m a lousy diagnostician, which is actually just about the most important part. I’m impatient, and just want my truck to work when I need it for a job. It’s not like a toy that I like to play with. So I jump to conclusions and too often just throw parts at the problem and hope they stick.

Without even getting out a voltmeter or a diagnosis checklist, I assumed it had to be the points, condenser, or coil. See; not very subtle.

Since it had been about a decade since I replaced them last, I went to the parts store for new ones.

I dutifully replaced them, and put the shiny new blue cap on (I splurged!), and hit the starter. The engine cranked and cranked and cranked but absolutely no sound of life. What the?

I happened to have an extra coil around, probably when something similarly happened many years ago, and tried that. Nothing. I double checked everything, to make sure all the connections were tight, and probably emitted some choice words, but that didn’t help either.

So I did what I should have done in the first place: get out my old Chilton’s book and followed the trouble shooting charts that had me getting out my meter and working down the list. Everything was good until I got to the coil secondary primary resistance, I got…resistance. Like off the scale. But this happened with both coils. That’s just not possible.

It took a bit, but I finally tracked down the culprit: the lead (wire) from the coil secondary to the distributor (the black wire just visible at the bottom of this old picture) had a tiny crack in its insulation right where it entered the base of the distributor, and was shorting out. It had still been intermittent at first, which is why I made it home. But my tune up must have jostled it and now it was totally shorted out.

Should I make up my own or bother to get a new one? I decided on the latter, and sure enough, it was in stock. I replaced it, and all was good again.

And the fringe benefit was that now the old 240 six revs cleanly up to 4,000 rpm, where before it had started stuttering a bit at about 3500 or so. Not that I normally rev it that high, but when I’m entering two lane 55mph NW Expressway and have to cross one of the lanes to do so, with 3 yards of compost or a yard or so of gravel in the bed, I do need to put the spurs to the old nag. And now instead of complaining, it giddy-ups. I suppose a tune up more often than once a decade or so wouldn’t exactly be extravagant.


And if you’re wondering about those two heater hose ends sticking up next to the radiator, well, the heater core finally gave out…two years ago. I’ve been meaning to fix it since then, but just haven’t gotten around to it. And our winters are pretty mild, and I don’t use it very much then. Maybe I won’t ever bother…it’s just one less thing to break in the future. My truck is all about probing the limits of the absolute bare essentials necessary for hauling stuff.

Maybe not quite as far as this one, but I do have a fondness for minimalism.

And a running truck. Back to work.

Now about those dead turn signals…never mind, my copilot is good with hand signals.