cranking but not starting

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i have a '91 mazda 626 automatic, 4 cyclinder. Currently the car is unable to start but I am getting some strong cranking. It sounds like the car is just JUST about to fire but doesn't. The battery should be fine as i am getting cranking power and there is a full tank of gas. This all starting while replacing the radiator which had a leak. The first time it happened occured with me soaking everything (well not everything) under the hood from the leak on the top of the old radiator. The car cranked but did not start. I figured i soaked the plugs or distributor or something and left it to dry out for a while. i did come back later and sure enough the car did start with no problem. I installed the new radiator and the car worked fine, up until maybe my third time drivng it after the installation.

This time after I shut the car down and went to restart i noticed that it took some extra cranks before it fired. Shutting down the car again 3 mins later and restarting i noticed it getting increasingly harder to start until finally just cranking and no starting. Jump starting did not help, same effect, cranking. I should mention that this third trip was to by a new radiator cap as the old one was leaking through the cap. so you could say that the engine could have been getting moisture in the form of steam. However, moisture could have nothing to do with this and could just be coincidence that the starting problem occured at the same time as the radiator problems, im just mentioning this whole thing about the radiator in case.

so far i have replaced the spark plugs and plug wires and opened the distributor cap to check for moisture and sprayed it with a little WD40. I know there is a simple way to check the spark plugs by pulling them out and grounding them somehow to see if they are firing but i am new to fixing cars myself and not sure how to do this. Even thought the car is cranking healthly (to my ears) could it still be a starter problem such that the starter is drawing too much current or something? Change ignition coils? distributor, rotor? Some sensor? What should my troubleshooting plan be?

thanks for reading this long post. I was trying to be detailed.

posted by  donnelfrane

:doh: ok, so i finally replaced the head gasket. I followed the haynes manual. What i did was as follows:
1) remove distributor, spark plugs
2) remove rear housing
3) remove timing belt upper cover and slip timing belt off camshaft pully. (was already alligned to TDC before i did this)
4) Detach exaust, hoses, clips, air assembly
5) remove head bolts ( inorder)
5.5)lift head up enough to remove gasket (dont have to take off intake), replace gasket, retighten bolts to specified torque)
6) slip back on timing belt, (camshaft still at TDC)
7) put back in clips, plugs etc.

Car starts...horray.....however......

now i have two additional problems.

the car will actually start and turn over now. however, i noticed 2 things

1) Thick white smelly smoke puring out the exaust and from under the hood a little. Never ocured before. i figure this could maybe be leftover antifreze in the oil buring off or something. i did not change the oil since it broke down.

2) The timing is obviously off as i found the car to sound very very rough and loud. when i shut the car off it is not alligned TDC according to the camshaft pully notches . I could attribute this to the following problem:
While in the process of fixing my car over the last 2 months, it was towed by the apartment complex cause i left some tools and a part under the car. During this time the timing belt was off the camshaft.

My question is this: could having the car towed while it was in this state have cause the timing to be off? I am wondering if the second pulley, the crankshaft has to be alligned TDC as well. the manual for the older 626's says something about this but the updated section in the manual for my newer but not so new '91 626 says nothing about it only the camshaft being alligned TDC.

For timing, am i correct in saying that for correct timing, the crankshaft, camshaft and rotor/distributor must all be set to TDC? or is it just camshaft and distributor/rotor?

Could it be that the camshaft pulley and distributor could be alligned but the crankshaft pulley be way off due to the car being towed?

I should note that I also had markings placed on the timing belt itself before i slipped it off so i could get it back in the exact place and these markings were a few inches off of where they were supposed to be when i slipped the belt back on.

Is my thinking on track or am i missing something big? I also heard you could destroy your engine by towing or rolling etc with a broken/ no timing belt. Could i have done this?

posted by  donnelfrane

Sounds like you one or more of the following: a warped head, left some gasket material on the mating surface, stretched head bolt(s), cracked head, cracked block, improper head gasket, broken head bolt(s), stripped head bolt(s), stripped head bolt(s) in block, head bolt(s) holes not cleaned out (in block) etc., etc. This is why you always take the head off and check for flatness, clean the bolt holes, etc. Looks like anothe rteardown for you, senior. BTW, do not drive it unless you like doing more damage to the engine and O2 sensor(s).

posted by  srober32

dam, i was hoping it might just be excess radiator fluid in the oil burning off.

can anyone clarify whether timing is in fact designated by crankshaft and camshaft or is it dependent on car model etc? could rolling or towing the car with timing belt slipped off of the camshaft have caused the crank shaft to rotate?

posted by  donnelfrane

Not unless it is a stick and was left in gear.

posted by  srober32

Nope, one of the first things he said was it was Automatic (first post).

posted by  car_crazy89

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