How to Troubleshoot a No Start (Nissan 3.0L, 3.3L, 3.5L)

What stinks about having your Nissan crank but not start, is that sooo many things can cause it. For example, the no start could be caused by a bad fuel pump, or a blown head gasket, or a busted timing belt, and unfortunately the list goes on.

In this tutorial, which is a primer on what can cause a cranks but does not start condition, I'll share some insights and tips, based from my actual experience, that will help you narrow down your troubleshooting efforts. Whether you Nissan V-6 is front wheel drive (FWD) or rear wheel drive (RWD) or a 4X4... the testing tips and suggestions will apply!

Here are the contents of this article at a quick glance:

  1. Difference Between a No Start and a No Crank Condition.
  2. No Start Condition Basics.
  3. No Start 1: Checking for Spark.
  4. No Start 2: Checking for Fuel.
  5. No Start 3: Checking Engine Mechanical Condition.
  6. No Start Summary.
  7. Related Test Articles.

Difference Between a No Start and a No Crank Condition

Since all of the articles I write are geared toward the Do-It-Yourself'er (DIY'er)... I want to clarify that a No Crank and a No Start Condition are not the same thing. Here's a brief description that'll help you make sense of this tutorial (and will help you find even more info online):

Cranks but Does Not Start Condition: Means that your Nissan's starter motor is cranking the engine but the engine is not starting. This is usually due to a fault in the ignition system, or in the fuel system, or there's an engine mechanical problem (like a thrown rod, etc.).

Does Not Crank Condition: Means that the engine is not cranking when you turn the key to crank the engine. In other words, the engine doesn't turn over at all. This is usually due to a bad starter motor, bad ignition switch, bad neutral safety switch, or the engine is locked up.

If your Nissan doesn't crank and you suspect the starter motor, here's a tutorial that'll help you test it: How to Test the Starter Motor (Nissan 3.0L, 3.3L).

No Start Condition Basics

OK, to start opening up about the most basic (and the most important) information you need to know to successfully diagnose the ‘cranks but does not start’ condition of your Nissan... is that the engine needs 3 things to start and run. These are:

  1. Air.
  2. Fuel.
  3. Spark.

When your Nissan Cranks but Does Not Start...it's because one of these 3 things is missing from the mix. It's as simple as this! I know, I know... I may be over-simplifying it all... but knowing that only one of three things is missing really helps to put the problem into perspective!

Now, knowing this means that when your or my Nissan doesn't want to start... my job (or your job if you're the one diagnosing/troubleshooting the problem) is to find out which of these 3 things is missing.

To get down into the nitty-gritty details- this means that troubleshooting the problem requires that you or I check for spark (with a spark tester), check fuel pressure, and if necessary, check the engine's health with a compression test.

I'll go into more specific details in the following headings:

1.)  Ignition System

  1. The Ignition System is the one tasked with creating and delivering spark to each of the 6 cylinders. Without spark, the engine will crank but Not Start.
  2. The Ignition System of the Nissan vehicles covered by this article use either distributor type system or a COP (Coil-on-Plug) ignition coil system. In a COP ignition coil system, each cylinder has its own ignition coil; thus eliminating the distributor entirely.
  3. In my experience, the most common component failures, of the Ignition System that cause a No Start No spark Condition are:
    1. Ignition control module (ICM) -most commonly known as the igniter (if distributor equipped).
    2. Ignition coil.
    3. Distributor cap (if distributor equipped).
    4. Distributor rotor (if distributor equipped).
  4. All of the above Ignition System components can be tested in a methodical way to find out exactly what has failed (if indeed something has).

2.)  Fuel System

  1. The Fuel System is the one responsible with supplying the engine with fuel.
  2. The Fuel System component that causes the majority of No Start No Fuel problems:
    1. Fuel pump relay.
    2. Fuel pump.
  3. The fuel pump can be tested to make sure it has really fried using a fuel pressure gauge.

3.)  Engine Mechanical System

  1. The components that are responsible for drawing in the air the engine needs are the: engine pistons, cylinder head valves, and all the other related components like: timing chain, etc.
  2. Although rare, internal engine mechanical problems can and do cause No Start Conditions.
  3. Possible internal/external engine problems are:
    1. Blown head gasket.
    2. Blown engine.
    3. Busted timing belt.

OK, the list of possible things that can go wrong looks pretty long... but it is rare to see (or have) two different components go BAD from two separate systems at the same time.

The cool thing is, is that there is a diagnostic strategy that you can use to figure out exactly what's wrong with your particular No Start problem. Let's find out more about it in the next subheading...