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Old 08-16-2014, 09:18 PM   #1
MrPig
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Unhappy Need help troubleshooting

The issue:

The car won't start. When I push start it, it'll stall at idle RPM but will run like "normal" at 1500+ RPM

The story:

The car is parked in the garage over winter (no trickle charger) and I've never needed a boost start her when insurance kicks back in mid-end April. About 3 weeks ago, it wouldn't start (like it won't now). The starter would tick and then die off. Interior/accessory/headlights were weak so I figured it was the battery. Took it in for testing and they said it was drained to essentially 0. Got new battery, plugged it in and the car started like a champ. Drove it around for a couple of weekends, no issues.

Fast forward to Wednesday night. Start the car no problem and away I go to pick up my girlfriend. When I get there, I shut the engine off and wait for her. All accessories and interior/exterior lights seem to be normal strength. While waiting, I decide to pull the stored codes (got a brief CEL two nights before) and come up with code 1222. I know I have a slight rough idle and have suspected a small vacuum leak for a while now, no big deal. She shows up; I try to start the car and nothing. After about 5-10s the alarm goes off.

I push start the car and notice slightly dimmed cluster lights and my headlights didn't turn on right off the bat; I had to cycle the light switch. I somehow make it to my mom's place (where the car sits during the week; don't have a second parking spot at the condo yet) only stalling 2 times (inertia was enough to push restart it).

What I'm seeing/have done so far:

The battery idiot light is on on the dash, so it's definitely not that.

When I first replaced the battery 3 weeks ago, I suspected a parasitic drain killing the (original) battery, so I grabbed a cheapo multimeter from princess auto to see what's going on. It doesn't go under 0.1A so it showed 0 drain. Figured the previous battery was just old/bad (came with the car when I bought it 3 years ago).

Thursday night I plugged the battery into a battery charger/maintainer. The "Maintain" LED turned on, which means the battery wasn't drained (unless I have a bad charger/maintainer). Today I hooked up the voltmeter to the battery and it showed the following:

Battery unhooked from the car: 12V (no decimals so I'm assuming it's rounding down the 12.4V it's supposed to be).

Battery hooked to the car: 10-11V

Tried starting the car and nothing; not even the ticking of the starter motor. Poked around the engine bay a little, and notice there was a plug unplugged right next to the alternator (the wires are going parallel to the engine block, under the intake manifold. Not sure how to describe it). Tried starting again, this time there was a ticking coming from the starter for the first 1-2 attempts and then it would just die off.

The driver side ground ribbon (body to block) is there; dirty but there. The passenger side ground ribbon is missing, though (don't recall ever seeing there anyway).

So, what can my issue be?

1. A bad starter would explain why the car won't start but not why it stalls at idle RPM after push starting it.

2. A bad alternator/voltage regulator would explain why the car would stall after a push start and I do appreciate that starting the car kicks the battery in the teeth, but I've had an alternator belt snap on my old Mk3 Golf before and running the engine on the battery alone got me a couple of starts + a good 20-30km of driving before draining the battery completely.

3. Bad ground somewhere?

4. A short somewhere from the battery to the engine compartment (battery is in the trunk)?

5. A bad ignition switch?

6. I think the car has an after market alarm. Maybe it crapped out and is immobilizing the car?

7. My new battery has a bad cell and needs to be replaced? I guess I better find that receipt.

8. A combination of some of the above? That would make me a sad panda. Summer is almost over and I've barely driven it this year (Moving to a condo didn't help).

Any help/suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
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Old 08-16-2014, 09:44 PM   #2
TSI
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Ouch, that sucks. Good post though. Electrical issues are my worst nightmare, but I think we can narrow it down to three things:

1. A bad alternator/voltage regulator would explain why the car would stall after a push start. The battery idiot light is a strong indicator this might be the case. I would suggest you take it to Canadian tire/ partsource and have it tested; failing that, I'm sure a few forum members have a spare kicking around for you to try. Comparing the E30 to a mk3 golf, or any car to any other car for that matter isn't going to give an accurate reference. Some car (my E39 springs to mind) will last 5 kms before dying, some much longer. The good news is, this is a fairly easy check.

2.Bad ground/short in wiring? Possible, but a bit less likely. Try leaving the battery unplugged overnight after it's fully charged, see if you get the same symptoms the next morning after plugging it back in. It's a largely academic point until the alternator is checked, though.

3. I think the car has an after market alarm. Maybe it crapped out and is immobilizing the car? I've had this happen before in my old Audi, and the alarm going off would point towards this. Look in the engine bay: E30s did not come from the factory with an alarm system (so it would be either a uber-rare dealer option or aftermarket). Check the auxiliary fuse box (little square box right next to the main box) in particular, see if there's anything plugged in there. I would suggest you rip any alarm components right out.
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Old 08-16-2014, 11:30 PM   #3
MrPig
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I already tried leaving the battery unplugged (positive cable unplugged) and charging it Thursday evening -> Saturday afternoon. Same result; no start.

I will look for after market alarm components in the secondary fuse box tomorrow. Failing that, I'll rip out the alternator. I may have been unclear; the idiot light is on when the key is in the accessory position. With the engine running it is off. I merely mentioned that is not burned out because in my research I discovered a burned idiot light would sever the circuit and cause electrical issues.
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Old 08-17-2014, 08:44 AM   #4
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Oh, I see, forgive my misunderstanding. I think the alarm then would be the most likely culprit--it wouldn't hurt to have the alternator checked anyways, but I doubt that would be it for the reasons you state. Can you take a picture of the engine bay?
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Old 08-17-2014, 03:05 PM   #5
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I had an alternator problem in the 525, it would bench test great but the car still kept killing battery's finally I had it tested at a shop that rebuilds them and it turned out that half the solder joints were missing and it would test good cold but then fail as it heated up this was a new reman from car quest around 300.00 and the guy that tested it left it apart so I could show them the crap solder joints they replaced it and no problems after that, but it was a nightmare trying to figure out why a new battery and alternator that tested good would kill the battery I checked every wire on that damn car trying to figure it out.
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Old 08-17-2014, 03:18 PM   #6
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ever notice that they build parking lots flat, I went for weeks trying to find a spot to park on a hill just in case it would not turn over and when I'd find the perfect spot go shopping, come out and some dummy has parked in front of you and then have to wait for them to move before I could jump start it..lol it was fun though.
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Old 08-17-2014, 05:02 PM   #7
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if I read correctly, you said you found a plug under the intake that wasn't plugged in. This could be the reason for the rough idle. That plug probably was unplugged from the throttle position sensor just below the throttle body. Not sure why unplugged but see if that changes the idle and stabilizes it.

Aside from this...double check your grounds. there could be one problem masking the other in this case. Make sure all ground leads are good and have good contact. then I'd move to finding the parasitic drain.

my car is currently at that stage. I had multiple problems. First I had to correct my bad starter, then the ground cable. I have yet to determine where the drain is coming from. Seems to happen after a week of not driving.
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Old 08-17-2014, 08:15 PM   #8
MrPig
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Update: finally got some time to get in there (car is in Richmond Hill, but I'm in central Toronto. Weekends are basically the only chance I get to work on the car). Pulled out the alternator and is it me, or are the solenoids a bit short on the voltage regulator?



Also the contact point inside is really rusty too. I'll clean it when I get the chance and before I get the alternator tested at Crappy Tire/Partsource.



@TSI

I poked around the fuse box & aux fuse box and didn't find any extra wiring (or at least what looked like after market wiring). The aux fuse box didn't have any fuses/relays in it either.



@Ceeker

This is the plug in question; it went back into the large general wiring hose .. Thing.



Also I think I can 98% rule out parasitic drain. When the original battery died, I thought it was the culprit but I can even get a reading on my multimeter (it won't go under 0.1A). It may be a ground and I did take a look around, but like I mentioned, the only odd thing I saw was the passenger side block-to-chassis ground strap missing. The driver side strap is in a little bit of a rough shape. I should probably replace it as preventative maintenance.
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Old 08-18-2014, 05:13 AM   #9
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Is there a receptacle in the general vicinity of this plug in the pic? Judging by where it is if not mistaken looks to be the oil sending switch plug.
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I think I've had 14 bmw's in 4 years.
2 IX's -sold and parts
2 325i 4 dr - sold
4 318is all white - sold and parts
1 87 325is red - parts
1 89 325i vert grey - parts
1 90 325is white - keepin
1 87 325i vert -red - keepin
latest addition 1 88-325is red - parts
latest addition 1 89-325i vert - white -fixin/sold
latest addition 1 92-318i vert - blue - parts
latest addition 1 87 325is blk - parts.

latest addition as of 2013-Gold 87-325is auto! it's a keeper!
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Old 08-18-2014, 08:41 AM   #10
MrPig
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@Ceeker

I'm thinking it's the oil level sensor (the receptacle for the plug is almost at the front driver side corner of the block). If it is, it will certainly explain why I've been getting oil level light on my OBC for the last 8 months while the dipstick showed oil level normal.
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Old 08-18-2014, 08:48 AM   #11
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yup.that's the plug... :-)
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I think I've had 14 bmw's in 4 years.
2 IX's -sold and parts
2 325i 4 dr - sold
4 318is all white - sold and parts
1 87 325is red - parts
1 89 325i vert grey - parts
1 90 325is white - keepin
1 87 325i vert -red - keepin
latest addition 1 88-325is red - parts
latest addition 1 89-325i vert - white -fixin/sold
latest addition 1 92-318i vert - blue - parts
latest addition 1 87 325is blk - parts.

latest addition as of 2013-Gold 87-325is auto! it's a keeper!
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Old 08-18-2014, 09:12 AM   #12
MrPig
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Hooray for fixing things you're not looking to fix. I'll have the alternator tested (probably) today. Kicking myself for not taking the battery too to eliminate the chance of it being bad (though the 12V reading reduces that chance).
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Old 08-18-2014, 03:00 PM   #13
MrPig
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A thought occured to me; if my new battery has a lower CCA rating than stock (stock is 650CCA if memory serves) could that potentially mess me up? I'm grasping at straws right now until I can get my alternator tested.

Edit: ignore that brain fart; it wouldn't explain the car stalling after a push start. Neither would the less than recommended reserve capacity.

Last edited by MrPig; 08-18-2014 at 03:16 PM.
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Old 08-19-2014, 12:32 AM   #14
Slowered318
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It might run a lot better if you clean up all the electrical contacts (battery, battery ground, distribution block, engine ground, alternator, and starter). A little time on the wire wheel and dielectric grease goes a long way, same with using the correct (group 91) battery.

Found a good source for ground cables here... http://www.bavrest.com/engine-cables.html
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Old 08-19-2014, 08:35 AM   #15
MrPig
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Are you sure it's group 91 and not 47, 48 or 49? I have a 48 iirc.

Anyways, I tried 2 different Part Sources and a Crappy Tire; 1 PS had their testing unit broken (for over a year according to them), another didn't have the harness for my alternator and the Crappy Tire by work didn't have the testing unit period. I have 2 more locations in mind which I'll call today to find out if they do the tests.
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