A few weeks ago, I told you the story about how one of my many Smart Fortwos seemingly died after sitting for over a year caked up in Tennessee mud. I’m now happy to say that it not just starts and runs, but it drives! I fixed it with desperation and whatever I had laying around. In this case, that happened to be a crowbar and a jumper cable.
My mechanic and I were a bit lost on what stopped my car from starting. The engine turned over by hand just fine. It had fuel, it had air, and it most likely had spark, too. New parts included an alternator, starter, belt tensioner, belt and engine mounts. We replaced or otherwise mended anything that could stop the engine from starting, yet it still didn’t start.
Further confusing things was the car’s starting sequence. We bench tested the starter using the car itself. When you turned the key, the starter turned. It just didn’t seem to turn very fast — certainly not fast enough to turn over the engine.
The only idea we had was to try an OEM starter. But before I resigned myself to paying ridiculous Mercedes-Benz part prices, I decided to try anything in desperation. I tried resetting the transmission. I tried resetting the ECU. I even tried hooking up my STAR diagnostic computer, which didn’t give me any insight. I thought I was doomed to spend way too much money.
Then a little plastic box in the battery well caught my attention. Inside of that box is a 200-amp fuse, and the cable it’s attached to goes straight to the starter.
I ignored this fuse during my troubleshooting because the starter was turning. But maybe the fuse was still bad?
As a test, I hooked one end of a jumper cable to one of the posts the fuse screws into and the other end to the other post.
Then I turned the key. The car turned over and started for the first time in well over a year. It had a misfire for a few seconds. Then it cleared up.
Getting the engine started did not solve the other issue with the car being seemingly stuck in park. My initial thought was that this was a computer or actuator issue. Now that the engine was running I knew I could do a proper transmission reset. That reset did nothing, and the rear axle was still locked, even when the gear indicator said neutral.
I figured that when I had enough time, I’d have to get under the car and remove the clutch actuator for the automated-manual transmission. Parts that you’d normally control, like a clutch pedal and a gear lever, are replaced with actuators and motors controlled by a computer in these cars. When the clutch actuator fails, the car is stuck where it sits, unable to change gear. But that wasn’t the problem, either.
The cause and the solution hit me at roughly three in the morning today. On U.S. spec Smarts, park isn’t actually a gear but a pin that locks the transmission. That pin is operated by the one and only physical connection between the gear knob and the transmission — not a computer. That meant checking out the park pawl cable.
The cable moves this lever.
When you put the car in park, it pushes the lever. When you take it out of park, it pulls the lever. Mine will push the lever, but it will not pull.
As a test, I put the car into neutral then used a crowbar to move the lever out of the park position. Sure enough, I was able to put the car into gear and drive it a few feet for the first time in way too long.
When I first yanked the car out of where it sat for a year, the gear knob wouldn’t get out of park without a ton of pulling. I didn’t think much of it because I was so laser-focused on getting the engine running. But this action appears to have damaged something in the adjustable coupling for the park pawl cable.
I’ll need to investigate the coupling further to see what’s going on, but for now, the car runs and drives — albeit with a jumper cable and a crowbar to get it going.
I’ll search my parts bin to see if I have an extra fuse. My local dealership tells me that there are no more new park pawl cables left in the U.S., so I’ll probably have to buy a used one if it comes to that. Once everything is up to spec, I’ll go through and clean up the rust.
Once again, I want to remind you that you shouldn’t let a car sit for too long. But if you do, definitely wash all of the crud off of it first. I need to go back in time and slap past me for this mistake. Also, find yourself a good mechanic. I’m thus far in only a few hundred dollars into getting this car back on the road when other places have quoted me multiples of what I spent for less work.