It's been a few months since I inconvenienced an a-hole by being unable to start my car.
I still haven't figured out what caused the problem. Haven't been able to reproduce the problem since then. In the last month, as a matter of fact, it seems like I fixed the supposed engine/battery/starter problem by replacing an exhaust hanger.
It'd be pretty damn cool if that's what happened.
About 6 weeks ago the car's rearmost exhaust hanger failed. I was in traffic, heard a CLUNK and clanging, heard the catalytic converter grinding as I pulled into the driveway. When I looked under, the converter and the outlet pipe leading to the muffler were a few inches off the ground. The muffler itself was dangling at a 45 degree angle, the exhaust tip nearly touching dirt.
I dug through my camera box. That's not as random as it might sound.
Back in 2008, I bought a few sets of exhaust hanger straps, U-bolts, and a mess of 1/4"-20 screws for making lightweight camera rigs. One of the hangers and U-bolts made a good clamping mount for a bicycle handlebar. I'd been planning to use that on one of the "hike & bike" rides out to Fort Pickens.
All the hangers and parts were in a bag. Once I sorted through it all, I had three complete hangers ready to go. Free is better than shopping for all new stuff.
It took a few more days to get my legs convinced to let me go out (all the going up and down stairs in the cellar the day I picked the spare X-11 engine off the back of the Tracker messed up my left knee). Took half an hour to get one of the hangers modified to fit the car's factory hanger bracket.
Man, the muffler is a mess. When I first got the car nearly 5 years ago, the thing seemed solid. Some burn-throughs in places, probably from too-rich, too-hot exhaust. One scary detail: the right rear bumper guard, a piece of hard black rubber, is partly melted. It sits several inches above the exhaust tip. Looks like there was a hell of a flaming exhaust problem at one point. Yikes.
Anyway, the muffler's belly is torn open and it's spilling rusty muffler guts everywhere. Got a replacement on the way, nice and shiny and keeping its guts inside.
Back to that hanger. Some previous owner had rigged up a hose clamp to replace the rusted/broken original strap. The hose clamp finally gave up, snapped, and dropped another project in my lap. A freaking hose clamp.
Took another couple of days, but I went back out to replace the other two hangers, certain that they were all snapped, given how low the exhaust was hanging. Hell, I've been needing to replace them since I got the car. Knew it, kept putting it off. Even knew about that stupid hose clamp. Hitting a speed bump or something at the wrong angle would get me a loud, embarrassing grinding racket or even a momentarily much louder exhaust as the spring joint at the front end was pulled open. Fun, fun, fun!
Didn't have to worry. Middle hanger was fine, next one needed to be adjusted. And that brings us to the accidental making things better. For the past year or so, I've had some random problems with a crappy idle after driving long enough to get the car warmed up, going into a store, and trying to drive it after letting it sit hot for a few minutes. More recently, it was the starting issue, where the hot engine seemed to get harder to turn over (or the engine heat was overloading the starter).
Ever since I tightened up the exhaust, though, no trouble. Engine cranks and starts more easily cold or hot. No trouble restarting even after a long drive. The only thing that makes sense is that the drooping exhaust was causing a restriction that kept the engine from breathing properly.
Saved myself the cost and effort of replacing the starter, and the disappointment of realizing that the starter wasn't the problem. What the hell, an accidental fix still counts.