Our Cars: 1995 Peugeot 306. Overcoming a failure to proceed.

On Friday I was forced to walk some two hundred yards when our venerable Peugeot 306 threw up a variety of warning lights on the dashboard, accompanied by a loss of power. My wife was returning from a trip to visit her parents, and had almost, almost made it home when the car faltered. She told me that it wasn’t the first time that day, either.
When she visited a store, the 306 had refused to start. The engine would turn over, but wouldn’t catch. She had called her father, who lived nearby, to come to the rescue and bring expertise, but the car had decided to start before he arrived. Well, this simply would not do. We can’t have a stroppy, recalcitrant car in the fleet, so I had 48 hours to scratch my head and sort things out.
Here’s how it went down.

Anybody with Peugeot experience will tell you that the dashboard has two separate scary warning lights. One is the orange ‘check engine’ light, which can be made to come on when certain parameters are breached. If it lights you can usually live with it, nurse the car home and investigate it later.
Of more concern is the big red one at the bottom of the cluster that orders you to “STOP”. When that terrifying message illuminated on Friday, that’s exactly what my wife did IN CASE BAD THINGS HAPPENED. I was still at work at the time, and being that I work from home, I was able to take a few minutes to stroll round the corner and see what was going on. Or wasn’t, in fact. Basically, everything seemed fine. She restarted the car and drove it the two hundred yards home.
Back on the driveway I started it, stopped it, started it, stopped it and couldn’t get it to misbehave. So I asked Nicola to follow me in the Audi on a local fault-finding mission, in the hope that I would experience the failure. I drove thrice around a local housing estate… and the car behaved impeccably. Out of curiosity, I pulled over and switched the car off.
And it wouldn’t restart. Ah! Good. There’s nothing worse than trying to fix a car that doesn’t have anything wrong with it.

Once upon a time I owned a Rover 800 that used to do exactly the same thing – it would cut out and then refuse to start. The fix was to dive behind the centre console and reset the inertia switch for the fuel supply – and this was my first guess as to what had gone wrong with the 306. The symptoms were, after all, exactly the same. So I consulted the owners manual for its location… but this particular 306 doesn’t seem to have one.
With such an uncomplicated engine bay, if something isn’t where you expect to find it, there aren’t many other places to look. So I swiftly concluded that the fault lay elsewhere. This would need more investigation, so I got my portable workshop onto the driveway, ready for action.

The problem was then, on Saturday, the 306 stubbornly refused to misbehave, no matter how persuasive I was. I cranked it over and it started immediately. Absolutely fine. Left it for a few minutes and tried again – no problem. Locked the door and hid around the corner for a few minutes, and then crept up to take it by suprise… started fine. Bag over my head and cod-French accent to pretend I was somebody else…. started fine.
Drove it around a bit, parked it back on the drive and left it. Went back a few minutes later, turned the key… started fine. So I put the symptoms down as a bit more elderly car Hypochondria and left it for the day.
On Sunday, reassured by my confidence that everything would be OK, Nicola jumped in the 306 to go to work.Would. Not. Start.
How tiresome. So I gave her the keys to the Audi so she could toddle of to work, and I took a deep breath and set upon the Peugeot again.

From the symptoms I was pretty sure that we were looking at an intermittent fuel supply issue. On the basis that the car was, when it suited, running absolutely fine I overruled the idea of a blockage or fuel pump fault. This felt to me more like a fuel injector not working. I removed the cold air supply hose, extracted the air filter and gave it a good beating –  it was surprisingly clean – and other attendant plastic mouldings to gain access to the throttle body and its single injector,
There was a lot of oil in there, and my suspicion was that the wiring to the injector itself could be contaminated. I unplugged it, cleaned it thoroughly with kitchen paper and switch cleaner, before plugging it back in.
When I reassembled it I was again struck by just how much oil there was on the throttle body housing.

The cold air supply and its manifold, which is attached to the throttle body, also has feed from the rocker cover. This is presumably an environmentally sound way of letting fumes from beneath the rocker cover get breathed in by the engine and burned harmlessly.
Presumably, though, there’s nothing to stray oil from going up that hose either, and this appears to be what’s been going on for the last twenty one years, largely unchecked. This explains the rather unacceptable amount of congealed oil and guck that’s plastered all over the throttle body housing.
But, oh, what’s this that’s also caked in grime?

It was at this point that I spotted a multi-plug connector all but unrecognisable under  a thick coat of treacly blackness. ‘I wonder’ thought I.
I unplugged it and, sure enough, it was absolutely full of engine oil, for how long? Who knows. All I did know is that a multi-plug in such a condition is determinedly sub-optimal, so I gave it a good clean out with switch cleaner and absorbent paper, until it was as good, or better, than new.
After giving the surrounding area a cursory wipe over, I got back inside and turned the key.
A lot of winding, spinny noises but still the engine refused to start. Oh…. bugger.
Tried again.
And again.
And again.
Then, it suddenly occurred to me that reconnecting that multi-plug I had cleaned might be a wizard wheeze. I plugged it in, firmly.
Engine started perfectly.
I went through my earlier test routine again, only this time I tried to trick it into not starting. I approached it from a variety of angles, using subtly different techniques, and not once did it refuse to play ball. This was on Sunday and Nicola has since driven it to work and back without incident. In fact, she texted me earlier to say that ‘if anything she has a bit of spring in her step’.
No doubt that’s the placebo effect of having a working car again. But it’ll do for me.
(All images copyright Chris Haining / Hooniverse 2017)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 64 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here

15 responses to “Our Cars: 1995 Peugeot 306. Overcoming a failure to proceed.”

  1. Batshitbox Avatar

    You forgot the part about spraying choke and throttle body cleaner down the chute. That’ll put a hop in the old girl’s boogie!

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      The thinking man’s nitrous.

  2. longrooffan Avatar

    I see you are missing the 10mm socket in that portable tool box.

    1. kogashiwa Avatar

      Isn’t that always the first one to go?

      1. dead_elvis, inc. Avatar
        dead_elvis, inc.

        Every. Single. Time. They should be sold in multi-packs.

    2. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      Good spot! However, I assure you that, remarkably, nothing is missing. The 10mm and a few other bits are out of shot, having been used to unbolt a few things that turned out to have nothing to do with the car’s ailment.
      It’s a great kit, though. Contains everything you need to rebuild the cooling system and change the cam belt on a ’98 A4 1.8T – apart from pliers.

  3. spotarama Avatar

    ben having similar probs with mrs spottys 2015 Cherokee of late, it would go on strike completely, it would lock the steering, it would sit there beeping quietly to itself, it had many ways of expressing its individuality and this resulted in it being towed back to the dealership 3 times
    they first diagnosed a blown BCM, replaced that, it crapped itself again, back it went, it behaved perfectly back at the dealers, home again and once again it died in the middle of the night
    this time the dealership was told to keep it until they could work out what the problem was and by the way we’ll have a loan car (small FWD cars are excellent fun on mountainous gravel tracks by the way) and there it stayed for a couple of weeks
    they eventually traced the problem to a stray strand of copper wire in between the PCM and its attendant plug to the wiring loom. this one little strand was wandering round inside the plug and randomly shorting out various circuits
    it’s been back a couple of weeks now and seems to have redeemed itself in her eyes but I for one will always have my doubts

    1. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      In my dealership experience, that kind of thing is the worst possible fault – especially on a car that’s out of warranty. I remember having an entire interior out once to cure an intermittent non-running fault caused by a wire with a tiny nick in it.

      1. spotarama Avatar

        Luckily its still in warranty, I would have quietly pushed it over the edge of s conveniently placed hill and gone for the insurance

  4. dukeisduke Avatar

    That’s a big set, and the ratchets look like Snap-On. Is that a Snap-On set? I would think a Snap-On set that big should be carried around in an armored car.

  5. dukeisduke Avatar

    I’m still wondering why everything is so oily. Are the oil control rings shot? What kind of shape is the PCV valve and the rest of the PCV system in? It shouldn’t be drowning in oil like that.

    1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

      You missed the part about “Peugeot.”

    2. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

      The answer to that is ‘Probably’. Hell, it’s a twenty two year old, 150,000 mile Peugeot. I suspect not all the oil is remaining where it should be. But it ‘consumes’ it at a sufficiently low rate not to worry about… uh, until stuff like this happens.
      Oh, the tool kit is an ‘Advanced’ set from beloved British DIY car maintenance chain Halfords. A lot of folk find them no less reliable than Snap-On, and they’re rather cheaper.

  6. salguod Avatar

    A few years ago my daughter’s Escort refused to start at school. It took me two weeks to figure it out.
    In the meantime I replaced the plugs, wires, the crank position sensor and cracked open the timing cover to take a look at the timing belt. I checked compression and fuel pressure. Finally, I pulled the coil pack off and low and behold the bottom of it had a large crack in the insulation. I hadn’t checked it because I was told that the coils never fail on these Escorts.
    Convinced that I had solved it, I popped on a new coil and it immediately continued to not start.
    More head scratching and Googling and I came across a post on a Mopar forum, I think, where a coil had failed and shorted in such a way that created a voltage spike that fried the PCM. One $75 junkyard PCM and it was finally running once again.

    1. theskitter Avatar

      It’s always the last thing you think of, isn’t it?
      The ignition control module on the Accord got me twice, just like that.
      After replacing every single other part in the ignition system.