No Start 1: Checking For Spark

It's been my experience, having diagnosed a lot of cranks but does not start conditions, that in most cases the root cause of a no start problem is a failed component in the ignition system.

To be a bit more specific: Something like a bad ignition coil (distributor type systems) or a bad crankshaft position sensor (DIS systems -DIS means distributor-less ignition system) was causing a no-spark condition.

So, my recommendation to you, is to test/check that each cylinder is getting spark with a spark tester first (before you test anything else that is).

Testing the ignition system on your Nissan isn't hard or difficult. I've written several tutorials that'll will help you. You can check them out here:

  1. Frontier, Xterra:
    1. How To Test The Power Transistor 2.4L Nissan Frontier, Xterra (1998-2004) (at: easyautodiagnostics.com).
    2. How To Test The Ignition Coil 2.4L Nissan Frontier, XTerra (1998-2004) (at: easyautodiagnostics.com).
    3. How To Test The Camshaft Position Sensor 2.4L Nissan Frontier, XTerra (1998-2004) (at: easyautodiagnostics.com).
  2. Altima:
    1. How To Test The Power Transistor 2.4L Nissan Altima (1997-2001) (at: easyautodiagnostics.com).
    2. How To Test The Ignition Coil 2.4L Nissan Altima (1997-2001) (at: easyautodiagnostics.com).
    3. How To Test The Camshaft Position Sensor 2.4L Nissan Altima (1997-2001) (at: easyautodiagnostics.com).
    4. Power Transistor Test & Ignition Coil Test 2.4L Nissan Altima (1993-1997) (at: easyautodiagnostics.com).
    5. Coil-On-Plug (COP) Coil Test 2.5L Nissan Altima, Sentra (2002-2006) (at: easyautodiagnostics.com).

Remember, the idea behind checking for spark is to see if all of the 4 engine cylinders are getting spark. Here are the most common causes of a no-spark result:

CASE 1: Spark was present in all 4 cylinders. This result tells you three very important things: 1.) the crank sensors (there are 3 inside the distributor) are functioning correctly, 2.) the ignition control module (also known as the igniter) is OK, and 3.) the ignition coil is good. You don't have to spend any time testing them or any money replacing them.

Your next step is to verify fuel pressure. Go to: No Start 2: Checking Fuel.

CASE 2: Spark was NOT present in all of the cylinders. This test result tells you without a doubt that the no-start condition of your Nissan vehicle is due to a malfunction in the ignition system.

Distributor Type Ignition System: With no spark in any of the engine cylinders, this what I would suggest:

  1. Check for spark directly on the ignition coil tower using a spark tester.
    1. This is the best way to test the distributor cap. The distributor cap and rotor are infamous for causing no-spark no-start conditions.
    2. If you do get spark coming out of the ignition coil tower, you now know beyond a shadow of a doubt the distributor cap and rotor must be replaced.
  2. Test the ignition coil and ignition control module (also known as the igniter or power transistor).
    1. If no spark is firing from the ignition coil, then the next step is to verify that the ignition control (igniter) is activating it. This is a pretty simple test.

COP Ignition Coil Systems: With NO spark at all 4 cylinders.

  1. The most likely cause of no spark at all of the ignition coils is usually a bad crank sensor (it's extremely rare, bordering on the impossible, for all 4 COP coils to go bad at once).

No Start 2: Checking For Fuel

After confirming that the ignition system is creating and delivering spark to each cylinder, the next step is to test the fuel system, mainly the fuel pump, but this also includes making sure the fuel injectors are being activated.

Checking that the fuel injectors are being activated can be done using a fuel injector Noid light tester.

The absolute best way to test the fuel pump is with a fuel pressure gauge, using any other method is not as accurate.

The other method that I've used to test for a lack of fuel (and the one you'll probably have to use), is spraying starting fluid into the throttle body and then having a helper crank the engine. If the engine starts, then I now know that I need to take a closer look at the fuel pump to see if it's fried or not.

When testing the fuel pump (with a fuel pressure gauge), you'll usually see one of two results:

CASE 1: Fuel pressure is at specification. Not only does this result tell you that the fuel pump is OK but that the following components, that supply the fuel pump with power, are OK too:

  1. Fuel pump fuse.
  2. Fuel pump relay (which is known as the Main Relay).

And so, there's no need to spend time testing them or money replacing them.

CASE 2: Fuel pressure is not present. This usually means that the pump has failed, but not always. I would recommend testing/checking the following before condemning the fuel pump:

  1. After verifying that no fuel pressure exists, check that the fuel pump is getting power by tapping into the power circuit that feeds the pump with 12 Volts with a multimeter.
  2. Once you're tapped in, have a helper crank the engine while you observe your multimeter in Volts DC mode. If voltage is present (12 Volts), then you have confirmed that the fuel pump fuse and fuel pump relay are working perfectly.
  3. Confirming power to the fuel pump (with a multimeter) also verifies that the fuel pump has failed and needs to be replaced.
  4. If no voltage is present, as your helper cranks the engine, then the cause of no-fuel condition is due to either a bad fuse, fuel pump relay (known as the Main Relay).

Nissan Vehicles:

  • 240SX 2.4L
    • 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998
  • Altima 2.4L, 2.5L
    • 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006
  • D21 Pick Up 2.4L
    • 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994

Nissan Vehicles:

  • Frontier 2.4L
    • 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004
  • Pick Up 2.4L
    • 1995, 1996, 1997
  • Sentra 2.5L
    • 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006
  • Xterra 2.4L
    • 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004