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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I got my car one year ago and it's a 1981 280ZX 2 plus 2 non-turbo Edition. The car went and rode very well for the first year with only 46 original thousand miles on it. Since then I've made some modifications to it and made it a little my own and added about 10-15k MI to it. The car has worked really well over the last year however in recent times there have been some issues where it isn't so reliable all of a sudden. I worked on some dash upgrades a few days ago and got new speakers. It sounded very well and was very pleasant but 5 days later problems started to rise like no other. I drove to a place about 20 minutes away from my house where I volunteer and I noticed that my car wouldn't turn on / engage like it usually would. So I turned the key a few times and was lucky enough to get it working and went to the next location which was 5 minutes away. At this point in time, my car once again wouldn't turn on after it was shut off and my battery didn't have a good level maybe 9 to 10 volts when I tried to start it up again (multimeter). For the next 20-30 mins I tried again and again, out of nowhere got it to start up, and went home.

I gave the car a two-hour or so rest and then went to AutoZone, it started up perfectly fine and didn't really have any issues which was interesting. I got my battery tested they said it was essentially shot and I needed a new one in which case I got a new one. I bought the best one, a duralast Gold, and I went home and everything seemed fine. However, I was curious to try it out (starting my car again) and see if my car would start up again after I turned it off it didn't. At this point, I knew there was a large or underlying problem that I couldn't pinpoint so I started to chip at it.

Parasitic draw/Battery theory
My initial thought was the initial battery was drained due to parasitic draw. I tested it by taking out all of the fuses of the connections wires (chrisfix's video), yet I didn't see any change/ Outrageous DC amperage (stayed at 0). Then throughout the entire night, I tested my battery level and notice it was at a steady 12.8 V at 1-hour intervals for 5-6 hours. At which point I realized it's probably not a battery issue.

Alternator theory
Now you might ask well maybe it's an issue with an alternator however I did get the car to start every once in a while out of pure luck at which point I would test out the and it would read anywhere from 13.6V to 14.2V constantly never going below that. And I could drive around as soon as I could get the car and it would not turn off no matter what (as far as I suspect I've driven anywhere between 15 to 20 minutes every time)

Starter theory
This leaves us with the starter being the possible culprit for this entire issue however I doubt that's the issue. Every time I turn the key the starter would crank and you would hear the noise of a car starting up or trying to. Now one important/interesting thing to point out was when I did get my battery checked the following day after all of these issues the auto port did say that there was not enough cranking RPM. However, I've gotten my car to start up many times since then.

Other theory (distributor)
At this point, I was really confused and I had no idea what could be going wrong as the problem persisted 50%-75% of the time. I then contacted my mechanic and he said it could be a possible issue with the distributor where things could have weird issues but I'm not too sure. When I do have the car running, I drive it like normal and I drive fast and rev high at some points of my drive. This caused no issues so I'm doubting that this is a spark plug issue. I'm not too sure if it's a distributor issue however I'm doubting spark plugs to some extent and thus I'm also the distributor.

Other interesting facts/things that I noticed
  • Something that I thought about when diagnosing this problem was an engine needs fuel, air, and ignition to start up. I was able to hear my fuel pump so I'm pretty sure my fuel was there however not too sure about ignition as I'm going to take a closer look at that tomorrow (sparkplugs). The only thing is I haven't gotten a new air filter and my car needs a new one because it's a little dirty, I wouldn't say horrid but dirty.
  • It seems like my car goes back to regular/driveable mode after I give it some time to cool down and essentially relax, but that has to be after every time I drive, even if I drive for 5 minutes around the block (no speeding, etc).
  • Also at one point the car would crank and engage and then die soon after (like 1 sec after) I did have my multimeter hooked on the terminals but I don't know if that would cause that issue. I have a video that I can post of that happening and the car not starting.
Video of the car starting up with a little issue
Video of the car staring and dying soon after (with multimeters touching terminals)

Any other ideas on what could be causing this issue? What do you suggest I try next?
 

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A bad ignition module is a common hot start issue with these cars. It is the black box attached to the side of your distributor. There is no way to test them. This could also be a bad electrical connection on your engine. After 40 years things get corroded. The old connectors are not water proof. Check the cylinder head temp sensor that is located between spark plug 5 nd 6. This is THE most important sensor that your ECU looks at. Unplug and plug it back in several times to make sure it is seated.
XenonZcar.com S130 Factory Service manuals
Here is the free download of the Factory Service Manual. Follow the diagnostic procedure to check everything.
 

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1983 280ZX Turbo
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Important bit of info: when you had the no-start, as you turned the key could you hear the solenoid relay engage? If not, consider that it may be a bad ignition switch failing to trigger the starter. My '83 ZX required a new ignition switch when similar behavior happened.
 

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Zman, I agree with what the others have said above about the ignition module box (matchbox on the distributor) and also, I believe I responded to another post of yours with start-up / engine dying issues and recommended the same thing... the ignition control module. It may not be the cause of your problem, but it is something you should look at.
it's a very common issue on non-turbo zx cars.... my 83 was doing this all the time. its not your spark plugs either. make sure they are NGK and gapped correctly.

One more thing.... do you have the FSM as advised in the posts above? and if so, are you using it?
That is your best bet in troubleshooting your car. modern mechanics aren't really familiar with these old cars and may not even want to work on them. most kids at autozone don't even know how to open the hood on these things, so they're not much reliable either. GET THE FACTORY SERVICE MANUAL!!! - its a big help.... really.

Bon
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I think it's the distributor, others have said the ignition module on the distributor. When my car wasn't turning on, as I described above, I noticed that that component seemed to be quite hot (like a suffocated laptop). And that there would be no spark/signal to the ignition wire(s). when the car was able to start at some cooler temps then spark/signal was sent to the wires. I just bought a new module so we shall see what happens.

also @bonfire79, my mechanic has been working on cars since the 80s haha so he knows about older cars. He suggested that it was the distributor. and Kinda I'm using the link sent to me

P.S.I did replace the ignition wires to see if it was that (bad connections etc) didn't fix it
 

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I think it's the distributor, others have said the ignition module on the distributor. When my car wasn't turning on, as I described above, I noticed that that component seemed to be quite hot (like a suffocated laptop). And that there would be no spark/signal to the ignition wire(s). when the car was able to start at some cooler temps then spark/signal was sent to the wires. I just bought a new module so we shall see what happens.

also @bonfire79, my mechanic has been working on cars since the 80s haha so he knows about older cars. He suggested that it was the distributor. and Kinda I'm using the link sent to me

P.S.I did replace the ignition wires to see if it was that (bad connections etc) didn't fix it
The ignition module gets hot and then doesn't function correctly. That's why your car will usually start later after it cools off... try the module and see what happens. its good that your mech is an 80's guy... I have had several people try to look at my cars and they don't seem to have a clue, but again most of them are young and never really dealt with these.
by the way, does your car die in mid-drive, and do you notice your tach fluctuating like crazy? that's a good indicator that the ignition module is the culprit.

Bon
 
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
The ignition module gets hot and then doesn't function correctly. That's why your car will usually start later after it cools off... try the module and see what happens. its good that your mech is an 80's guy... I have had several people try to look at my cars and they don't seem to have a clue, but again most of them are young and never really dealt with these.
by the way, does your car die in mid-drive, and do you notice your tach fluctuating like crazy? that's a good indicator that the ignition module is the culprit.

Bon
My car has yet to die in mid-drive. I think the longest Ive driven it in recent time was 20-30mins with no issues. When the car is running all the tach(s) seem fine/normal, no issues
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
The ignition module gets hot and then doesn't function correctly. That's why your car will usually start later after it cools off... try the module and see what happens. its good that your mech is an 80's guy... I have had several people try to look at my cars and they don't seem to have a clue, but again most of them are young and never really dealt with these.
by the way, does your car die in mid-drive, and do you notice your tach fluctuating like crazy? that's a good indicator that the ignition module is the culprit.

Bon
So I replace the ignition module with this one and then the car did not start up at all. keep in mind the car was not driven for a few days. I swapped it with the original one and then it started up. I thought it was a loose connection and swapped with the new one and the same issue, was no start. I then swapped it and then started, then drove it and got it warm and had the same issue. any idea why that is?

Old:
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Motor vehicle Automotive tire Automotive exterior Car Hood
 

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Is the module attached to the distributor with screws? If it isn't attached with the screws you could be grounding the red or green pickup coil wires. The module is grounded to the distributor with the attachment screws.
I also don't see a ground wire on your distributor. The spade connection located on the vac advance is for a ground
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Is the module attached to the distributor with screws? If it isn't attached with the screws you could be grounding the red or green pickup coil wires. The module is grounded to the distributor with the attachment screws.
I also don't see a ground wire on your distributor. The spade connection located on the vac advance is for a ground
Yes I screwed it down as much as I could and didn't get a difference, I just did that for the photo so u see connections. I can try again tomorrow
 

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Going to back up a bit, it's worth a shot. This used to happen on my 1979 280ZX on hot days, I always attributed it to be vapor lock. There's a little fan with two air registers that's supposed to blow air over the fuel rail and mine hasn't worked in decades. It would happen any time I tried to start the car within 5-10 minutes of shutting it off. If I let her cool down there was never a problem.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
tried another module, now 2 in total, still issues. when i pop the original one back in it works.

Going to back up a bit, it's worth a shot. This used to happen on my 1979 280ZX on hot days, I always attributed it to be vapor lock. There's a little fan with two air registers that's supposed to blow air over the fuel rail and mine hasn't worked in decades. It would happen any time I tried to start the car within 5-10 minutes of shutting it off. If I let her cool down there was never a problem.
also is there a fan over the rails? I have what seems to be a fan thing over the spark plugs
 

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tried another module, now 2 in total, still issues. when i pop the original one back in it works.


also is there a fan over the rails? I have what seems to be a fan thing over the spark plugs
You should download the service manual from Nicoclub for answers like this. That was suggested in post #5 but you evidently haven't followed that good advice. It sounds like you refer to the fuel rail cooling fan. Check Ithe manual to be sure.
 

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tried another module, now 2 in total, still issues. when i pop the original one back in it works.


also is there a fan over the rails? I have what seems to be a fan thing over the spark plugs
Okay. I have suggested several times as have others about getting the service manuals and learning everything that is in the engine bay, but I am assuming you haven't acted on that advice.

So, I think its best before you do anything else on your car that you first go and buy a Z/ZX Chilton's manual, a Z/ZX Hayne's manual, a ZX Clymer manual (on ebay), the fuel injection bible, and for the last time.... download the factory service manual. this is FREE at several Z websites. AND once again, go and read up on the the S130 section in its entirety over at www.xenonzcar.com, as this is arguably the BEST reference you are going to find online regarding the 280zx and any other Z car for that matter.

Yes, you are correct. You are seeing a fan assembly that resembles a hair dryer over the fuel rails. No, it is not a turbo charger.
I believe they started putting these on the mid to late ZX cars... I removed mine, but that is a personal preference. It is most likely not the source of your particular issue. Speaking of issues, clearly the ignition control box was not the cause... so now its time to move on to the next small item in the system that could be the culprit.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Okay. I have suggested several times as have others about getting the service manuals and learning everything that is in the engine bay, but I am assuming you haven't acted on that advice.

So, I think its best before you do anything else on your car that you first go and buy a Z/ZX Chilton's manual, a Z/ZX Hayne's manual, a ZX Clymer manual (on ebay), the fuel injection bible, and for the last time.... download the factory service manual. this is FREE at several Z websites. AND once again, go and read up on the the S130 section in its entirety over at www.xenonzcar.com, as this is arguably the BEST reference you are going to find online regarding the 280zx and any other Z car for that matter.

Yes, you are correct. You are seeing a fan assembly that resembles a hair dryer over the fuel rails. No, it is not a turbo charger.
I believe they started putting these on the mid to late ZX cars... I removed mine, but that is a personal preference. It is most likely not the source of your particular issue. Speaking of issues, clearly the ignition control box was not the cause... so now its time to move on to the next small item in the system that could be the culprit.
You should download the service manual from Nicoclub for answers like this. That was suggested in post #5 but you evidently haven't followed that good advice. It sounds like you refer to the fuel rail cooling fan. Check Ithe manual to be sure.
So I looked into it my two air registers never had fans attached to them. Also when the module gets hot no electrical current and thus supplies no spark, so is it likely that vapor lock is not the issue? Im looking at the book and trying to find what ever i can. Im just still a little stuck where to look. Im using the Xenon book as well as old physical one I have(for get the name) and trying other things to debugs it to the best extent.
 
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