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1988 Ford Ranger Starting & Dying Problems

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New User

Mar 11, 2008, 12:58 AM

Post #1 of 6 (9445 views)
post icon 1988 Ford Ranger Starting & Dying Problems Sign In

I couldn't find information I need in various searches, so here goes, maybe one of you guys can figure this out. I'll number them so its easier to answer.

1.)I have a 1988 Ford Ranger,auto 4x4, 2.9L If I remember correctly, Fuel injected that has a problem starting, once you get it started it dies usually when you have been driving for a bit above 2k RPM on the tach, as you take your foot off the gas once the tach goes down to 1k it dies the battery light comes and the truck dies. Now I throw it in neutral and I go to start it, I usually if not always hear a loud winding noise. I let go and I have to let the winding noise stop before I can try to crank it again or it will just make the noise.sometimes, it doesn't try to turn over it just the winding I have to let it stop and try again. If I time it and hit the gas during the mid sound of the wind it kicks over and starts granted theres a plume of white/grey smoke that comes out on times when its really hard to start, I assume I just flooded it with being Fuel injected due to the fact with the more gas means bigger plumes. This winding noise is heard when ever the engine is started, I assume its the starter or something in close relation. The truck is already missing from what the previous owner stated, but how can I fix this starting and dying problem? Is it possible to have a computer diagnosis at like Pep boys,wal-mart,etc,etc?

2.)Separate issue perhaps, my dad was fooling with it before he had to left for business and he said something about a part under the hood and to check if it would start at all I had to take a wooden handled screw driver and see if a spark jumps. Its located on the left wheel well. I am not to sure since mom was translating from a note, and I am sure some info got lost in translation. I am assuming he was referring to an ignition or some coil? He said when the truck was giving him fits he would mess with the wires on that part and it would attempt to start again.

I am really not up to par with engines, its like a test in school, so much stuff in the inner workings just makes my mind buzz I get nervous. I need help and I would be very grateful. I haven't really done anything as far as repair yet, I just replaced the battery and fresh gas due to it sitting for so long. It was orignally a parts truck, but the truck it was parts for crapped out completely so I must fix this truck to get to work, pick up my daughter, general daily use. If any further information is needed, let me know.

I have a Haynes 1983-1992 Ranger/Bronco II manual if you need me to refer to that for anything.


Tom Greenleaf
Ultimate Carjunky / Moderator
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Mar 11, 2008, 2:53 AM

Post #2 of 6 (9441 views)
Re: 1988 Ford Ranger Starting & Dying Problems Sign In

Tough but I'll try........

2.) The screwdriver thing was just testing for spark. If the coil is there it could be causing spark problems. For now just make sure all wiring is hooked up there.

1.) Your description of the starter sounds like a starter drive problem. Those when failed sound like the motor is strong but the gear isn't turning the engine - quite a whirrr - and a later try can crank normally. Your description is good and if that is bad it could do that for years or just a couple more times and quit cranking the engine at all. Tricky but you can replace just a starter drive but price out a whole starter vs just the drive and see if it's even worth it.

1.a) The starter doesn't have anything to do with it stalling. It's just going along for the ride once it has started.

Stalling/battery light. As RPMs drop towards a stall the battery light would come on so that's inconclusive right now. Check for vacuum leaks as best you can. Make sure rubber (pencil or so size) hoses are hooked up and not cracked or broken.

Missing: By that do you mean engine skips like it isn't always firing on all cylinders? That could be many things but for the moment I suspect plugs and or plug wires or anything with the high voltage.... Plugs, plug wires, coil wire, coil itself, distributor cap and rotor. Without just tossing everything you might find arcing that you can see in the dark especially is these items are misted with water - do this with engine on cool side - not fully warmed up and if you see the sparking/arcing that spot has a problem - note what part it is.

How much are you up for? Checking spark plugs would be a good thing. For the missing you could carefully feel the exhaust at tail pipe and feel for a putt instead of a smooth flow. If regular putt it's usually a problem with just one cylinder - if random it's more likely a problem common to all.

For codes they are more basic than newer vehicles. You can try auto parts stores for a free check. AutoZone and no doubt many others do this for free.

There's more than one issue going on with this. Where do you want to start and do you have a reasonable set of tools?


New User

Mar 11, 2008, 6:02 AM

Post #3 of 6 (9434 views)
Re: 1988 Ford Ranger Starting & Dying Problems Sign In

Missing: Not all cylinders are firing at the same time, has a putt putt sound at low speeds fades at higher speeds 25+.

The screwdriver was a test to make sure there was a spark.

That sound, doesn't sound when the engine is running, it sounds like an eletric motor winding, you don't hear it as much when the motor starts, just when the motor isn't starting it seems to get louder.

Gonna check for vacuum leaks, now any tips on where to start to do that. I'm not experienced with cars. You don't have to lay out a step by step just tell me where I can go read up on how-to so I learn for future reference. My knowledge of cars is basic, tires,oil,fluids brake,power steer, etc, I may know what you mean and not know it.

the plugs are gonan be changed I just haven't got to that. Its a work in progress, my normal truck died two nights ago and I been scrambling to get this truck running.

If you have time can you explain the arching process further? If not don't worry about it. Could you perhaps point me to a link or something where I could learn about it?

I been reading up on the haynes manual, but sadly it doesn't tell diagnosis or how to just how to take apart/reassemble.

Thank you so much for you time. I am very very grateful!

Tom Greenleaf
Ultimate Carjunky / Moderator
Tom Greenleaf profile image

Mar 11, 2008, 6:56 AM

Post #4 of 6 (9430 views)
Re: 1988 Ford Ranger Starting & Dying Problems Sign In

Let's understand so we don't get you hurt with anything there. You said you were fairly new to working on cars and I want YOU to use all judgement with anything that doesn't make sense or could hurt you and WHEN IN DOUBT - DON'T! Let that be the rule: Ask again or get assistance please. It takes years to just get started with being a technician so don't expect to know everything (none of us could - there's so much to know) about mechanics quickly.

The erratic firing will diminish at higher RPMs. It helps to direct you to the problem area if you can tell if that's random or a single, regular putt or miss which indicates ONE cylinder but let's get started with something.

1. - To test for visable arching is like watching for a spark when there is static and you touch something it goes "tick" and sometimes you see that. Bet most people can relate to that and that's what I'm talking about. The high voltage that makes the spark plugs spark starts at the coil - the item with just one pencil or so size wire and a boot. It's large wire goes to the distributor cap which will have the six - one for each spark plug + cylinder. All the items that control that spark (high voltage!) must contain it till it gets to the spark plug itself where it will make the spark unseen to fire the air/fuel mixture. Ok so far?

2. - This electricity like all is charged to seek ground which the engine is. It doesn't care how it gets there but we need it to do that last jump to ground at the spark plug and not at a weak point in wires or parts along that route.

3. - Spraying some water at one area at a time will encourage the electricity to leap out for ground at that spot if there is a weak spot there. Water other than distilled will conduct electricity. A little salt in it will conduct even better. Good components won't react to being damp. Sometimes you can see it and sometimes not but it helps if you can to isolate the problem area or perhaps rule out this isn't the problem. I say do this with engine on the cooler side as the plastic parts (coil, dist cap especially) don't want the shock of being cold as that could crack a good part.

This is fairly quick and simple to start with. Don't touch the areas as there is always the risk of getting a shock yourself which is surprising more than harmful and to be avoided.

That would be a good start to the testing. Report what if anything is found and note if engine reacts adversly to doing that as that is a strong clue and note where it reacted. If nothing there's more - let's wait till you say what happened.

Vacuum leak testing: First just look for rubber hoses that aren't right. Rubber can be purchased to splice in a bad area if you find something like that obvious. Some vacuum will go from rubber elbows to plastic line that looks like wire and that gets brittle over time and breaks clean. Those can be patched too.

Further testing using carb spray cleaner with the tube: THIS CAN CATCH FIRE SO USE ALL CAUTION AND BE READY FOR THAT!! Just look at where the air is taken into the engine to a central point on top thru plastic snokeling of sorts to get there thru the air filter. Where the snorkeling meets the metal is the air horn intake and that area and many more need NOT to leak. Carb cleaner when sprayed on an idling engine will alter the idle - it could run better or stall depending. Use spray targeted at one spot at a time and sparingly. Don't let it make puddles. Spray along vacuum lines and the devices they go to. Also spray along the base of that air horn as there is a gasket there. Note where it reacts if it does at all and we'll move on from there.

Hey - have an extinguisher ready or don't do this if you are not comfortable with this.

The whirring noise will probably require a new starter but if you can still start this let's wait till we getting running well first.

Hit back with questions or results found. Try to describe the area if you don't know the name and I try to find a pic to match what I think it is.

Good luck,


Ps: About all the manuals and books are going to be based on you having a good base understanding to start with and if yours has a pic with a name just say the name and I'll find itWink

New User

Mar 12, 2008, 5:14 AM

Post #5 of 6 (9422 views)
Re: 1988 Ford Ranger Starting & Dying Problems Sign In

Ok, today I am gonan take it to Autozone and run one of those tests. I took some pictures. I really am not sure what each is, I have an idea, but knowing is better than thinking.

What is this thingamajig?

I am not sure what this is, but the tube on the top has a hole in it. You can see the nick in it from this photo. The nick is about an inch from the end of the hose. Its not pencil in size, but any hole in a hose like that generally aint a good sign.

And is this one of the locations you were referrign to to check for leaks?

Thanks! Sorry for the crude pics. If you need more of a certain area let me know, I shall return with results from the autozone test.

Tom Greenleaf
Ultimate Carjunky / Moderator
Tom Greenleaf profile image

Mar 12, 2008, 7:30 AM

Post #6 of 6 (9421 views)
Re: 1988 Ford Ranger Starting & Dying Problems Sign In

thingy is for evap emissions. Just chance perhaps but never had one be the problem area. The larger diaphram is for cruise control.

Hose look as expected for the age. The multi things with hoses can be for coolant or vacuum trees to spread vacuum to various items. None of these things should react to being sprayed with carb cleaner.

With some hose the ends do what your are doing and get like stress cracks at the barbs where they go on. If enough good hose just cut those back just a tad or replace the whole area. Vac also goes from rubber to plastic line and those can just up and break completly or get a burn hole - whatever - and you can just go over leaks in those with rubber that has an I.D. that will hold on.

Small nicks or weak spot could be patched with a product called "liquid electrical tape" - has brush in cap type stuff and if used let it dry complely and not for larger holes as you don't want that stuff getting sucked into the engine.

Keep at it. The pics help!


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