Intermittent ignition problem

My 2001 Accent has trouble starting every few days. When this happens -- the engine cranks but does not start -- it takes several tries to get it going.
But once started, it gives me no trouble at all for a while. Between episodes, it starts fine on the first try. What's problematic is that this starting problem is intermittent, so I'm worried that if I just bring this to a mechanic he'd have to make a guess and replace a few things.
It's not the battery or alternator (I had them tested at Autozone). It's probably not the air filter, spark plugs, fuel filter or air filter: they are all fairly new. Sometimes, I've seen erratic idling on cold start (RPMs go up and down). Sometimes, the engine seems a little noisy on cold start, but quiets down after about half a min. Any suggestions on how to approach this? Thanks.
Chris
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First figure out if it's a fuel or spark issue. Check for spark when it doesn't want to start. Also, make sure that you hear the fuel pump for a few seconds when you first turn on the key.
None of the things you mentioned will cause the symptoms you describe other than - maybe - a fuel filter full of water or other stuff. But then, it would be unlikely that the car would run well between episodes. You could be looking at a fuel pump, PCM, CPS, fuel pump relay, etc. First, figure out if it's fuel or ignition.
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I had a similar problem on a Dodge. This went on for several months and it could go for several weeks without a problem. It turned out to be a cam sensor but it couldn't be tracked down until the check engine light went on so that the code could be read.
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Check for trouble codes in the ECM. It's possible it saw an issue but the problem didn't repeat, so the check engine lamp is not yet on.
Also, when the vehicle cranks, does it crank normally, slowly, or quickly?
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Thanks to you and others for replying. I did not realize that codes could be set if the check engine light is not lit. Anyway, I had Autozone scan the OBD-II, and came up empty. Even when it has trouble starting, the engine cranks normally. I don't get it. Apart from these intermittent starting problems, the car runs normally.
Chris
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Could be a bad crank sensor or relay.
When the condition occurs:
Check for the check engine lamp during the bulb test. This means the computer powers and grounds properly when the ignition is on.
Like the other poster(s) mentioned, you want to check to see if you have spark and injector pulse. Checking for spark is simple enough. Pull one of the plug wires and stuff an old spark plug in it and lay on something metal and then watch while cranking the engine. To check for injector pulse, you'll need a noid lamp (a lamp which plugs into the harness where the injector would normally plug in). If the noid lamp flashes, then you have injector pulse.
The immediate things that come to mind as possible causes are a bad main or ecu relay, or a bad crank sensor.
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Checking for spark is simple enough. Pull one

I thought that I had read where this is not a good thing to do on the electronic engines. Its supposed to mess something up. I always did it in the old days but not lately(20 years)
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If the injectors are working, it'll put fuel in the exhaust, so you shouldn't really do it. But as a quick test, it's pretty harmless.
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Thanks. I'll also listen for the fuel pump (I didn't realize you could hear it) next time, as another poster said. I'll keep an eye on the check engine light for another reason, namely this TSB I found on hmaservice:
-------------------------------------------
TSB 01-36-014: 2000-01 Accent Intermittent Crank-No-Start Caused by the ECM
DESCRIPTION:
If a 2000 or 2001 Accent experiences all of the following: - Very intermittent crank-no-start (in some cases, months between incidences). - The Check Engine Light does not light up when the ignition key is turned to the on position (normally it does). - The Hi-Scan Pro cannot communicate with the Engine Control Module (ECM). - Disrupting power to the ECM and reapplying (for example, by disconnecting the negative terminal on the battery or disconnecting and reconnecting the EC01 connector) fixes the car temporarily (the engine starts). - The vehicle was produced between 6/14/00 and 7/11/00.
REPAIR PROCEDURE:
Replace the ECM.
-------------------------------------------
I'm not saying I'm positive this is my problem, but I'll keep an eye on the check engine light. I do have a 2001 Accent, and the no-start problem is suspiciously intermittent, but I don't think it was manufactured in that date range. Too bad my warranty expired less than 3000 miles ago. I rather doubt that an ECM comes cheap.
Chris
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See, I should check the bulletins more often. Every once in a while, there's one I don't remember.
You can check your car's production date by looking at the placard on the driver's door opening pillar. If it's not in the production date range (which it is likely not since the range only goes to 7/11/00), then you're extremely unlikely to have this as a problem. The good news, however, is that if this is the problem, your ECM may be still covered under warranty-- it's warranted for 8 years/80k miles under mandate from the federal government.
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