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Starting Problems


Most cold/wet weather starting problems are electrical in origin and relate to voltage drop by arcing or tracking of the high tension charge intended to go to the spark plugs (H.T. leads & spark plugs old & dirty) and often aided by an old starter motor taking too much current.
Read 1 to 10 if starter motor will work intermittently for at least 5 minutes (i.e. plenty of battery power) and is not unduly noisy, otherwise proceed to ’11)’.

1) Loose connections, notably the two small (low tension) wires at one end of ignition coil, ensure that these are tight by slipping off coil, roll them in your fingers this will help to make a good connection.

2) Spark plugs, even when they still look O.K., fit new every 3000 miles and keep spares to fit when the car won’t start.

3) Spark plug (H.T.) leads, especially if more than 2 years old. Firstly, remove and thoroughly clean off all that WD40 etc. that you sprayed on them, the dirt (road and brake dust) that sticks to the oily residue of these de-watering fluids is an ideal path to earth for the H.T. charge. Make sure end sleeves fit coil/spark plugs tightly. Run the engine or get someone to try to start it in pitch darkness, look along (but don’t touch) the H.T. leads for ‘arcing’ against any earth point, replace leads if you see any.

4) Ignition coil, can become cracked where the H.T. leads fit onto it, replace if necessary. Above all keep the coil clean and not covered in WD40 or WAXOYL, clean off the gunge using all purpose furniture cleaner e.g. Mr Sheen, dry off and polish as for furniture! If starting is only bad when hot the coil is the most likely cause – replace it.

5) Contact breaker points & condenser, particularly if they are very recently installed or have done above 6000 miles with no adjustment. Fit new if worn or pitted, if engine has oil leaks it is possible that oil has contaminated points and carbonised – clean off with a dry cloth and cure the oil leak by fitting a new engine breather.

6) Valve rocker clearances too small, reset using method in workshop manual but at 0.25mm to 0.30 mm rather than recommended 0.15mm to 0.20mm, larger clearance results in higher cranking speed compression and less likelihood of valve burnout.

7) Ignition contact drum, at rear of the steering lock, particularly a 2cv problem. Water leaks are common, it drips down the column and causes corrosion and wear on the internal terminals. Check if this becomes warm during starting attempts or during normal driving – replace if either applies. The drum is held with a simple circlip to the back of the lock & takes about 5 minutes to fit.

8) Carburettor, the most unlikely cause of a starting problem, but between the carburettor and the manifold is an insulator block made from a material similar to bakelite, this is often cracked on 2cvs 1986 onwards and causes back-firing on start up and difficult cold running, replace the block and use a paper gasket each side.

9) Cylinder heads, not really the cause of bad starting by themselves but many 2cvs suffer from sloppy engine build up which usually manifests itself as a loose cylinder head on the left side of the engine. The symptoms of a loose head are a smell of oil/petrol/exhaust mixture through the heating system, back-firing on start up and often partial seizure, burnt valve and burnt out spark plug.

10) Engine oil, ever wondered why the starter motor turns the engine over much faster when it’s hot, simple – the oil is thin, therefore if you fill with oil engineered to be thin when cold your car will start better when cold, use cheap 10w40 or 15w40 semi-synthetic but preferably not 20w50 – it’s just too thick!

11) Battery, must always be topped up with distilled water to within 25mm of filler plugs, if it shows signs of ‘boiling over’ then the voltage regulator needs replacing. Check battery terminals, first remove negative lead then clean both battery posts and terminals with emery cloth or sandpaper (but don’t breath-in the lead dust!), apply Vaseline or any other oil or grease (but only if you don’t have Vaseline), to terminals and posts, then re-attach always replacing negative last.

12) Starter motor, check that the main lead from the battery is tight but do not adjust until you have removed the negative lead from the battery first. If the starter motor does not flatten the battery but is particularly noisy or slow there may be a problem with a worn ‘nose’ bearing (at front of starter motor where it hangs over the toothed flywheel behind the carburettor). Firstly, listen to the starter motor trying to start the engine, then apply a drop of oil from the dipstick or a squirt of WD40 to the nose bearing – now try the starter motor again, if it has become faster and quieter then a replacement starter will have to be fitted soon – but you’ll put off the agony for a little longer by applying oil daily!

13) Fuel pump, if you have to leave your 2cv unused for period of time (few days) and each time you return it won’t start until it’s been cranked for ‘ever’, then the problem is probably caused by worn ‘poppet’ non return valves in the fuel pump, there is no repair option – just renew the pump.

Electronic ignition, now we’d love to sell you this as a cure-all but it just isn’t, sort out the H.T. basics we’ve described and do fit this later.

123ignition for 2cv is the best electronic system to fit, it replaces points, condenser, points cam and centrifugal ‘bob weights’, it has only 3 connections to make to your car, makes it run smoother, use less fuel and start more easily, buy it via our website.