Re-establishing Oil Flow in Multi-Air “brick” after Long-Term Storage

multiair brick

multi-air “brick”

oil filter relief valve2

brick prime1

photo courtesy of Calehedron – click to enlarge

While inactive for an extended period*, some of Fiat’s 1.4 L engines have a tendency for almost ALL of the oil to drain out of the top-half of the engine, including the high pressure oil pump and the hydraulic pumping elements in the Multi-Air “brick” that are operated by the intake lobes on the camshaft, that all need enough oil (without air) flowing to feed the actuators used to properly control the fully variable lift of all eight intake valves.

The only way to re-establish consistent oil flow in the pump(s) again, so that the engine will actually run, is to “prime” them (getting the air out of the system) by turning the engine over with the starter (which cycles the primary oil pump delivering oil back into the top-half of the engine), making sure to pause once in awhile, long enough to prevent the starter motor from overheating.

Here is the actual “Extended Park Starting” procedure from the Owner’s Manual:

NOTE: Extended Park condition occurs when the vehicle has not been started or driven for at least 30 days.
1. Install a battery charger or jumper cables to the battery to ensure a full battery charge during the crank cycle.
2. Cycle the ignition to the START mode and release it when the engine starts.
3. If the engine fails to start within 10 to 15 seconds, cycle the ignition to the OFF mode, wait five seconds to allow the starter to cool, then repeat the Extended Park Starting procedure.
4. If the engine fails to start after eight attempts, allow the starter to cool for at least 10 minutes, then repeat the procedure.

Tip #1

Upon determining that you will be performing this ritual (after the first pause to cool down the starter), it might be best to temporarily remove the fuse for the fuel pump (F34) for a few cycles, to avoid flooding the cylinders.  Hopefully, all systems are go, once you reinsert the fuse and resume starting  –  VROOOM.

It has even been suggested that you leave the fuse out all winter, since the primary concern with periodic starting is condensation, and periodically crank the engine until it sounds normal, rather than “free-spinning”, to keep oil in the Multi-Air brick.

Tip #2

One seldom mentioned  tip (hasn’t been officially confirmed) to speed up the upwards oil flow while the starter is turning the engine over, is to have someone engage an air-relief valve “button” that is said to be accessible by removing the oil filler cap (indicated by the orange oval in my photo), while you are pressing the start button.  m7art states that it appears as a 5 mm black dot, and simply needs to be pushed down with perhaps a Phillips screwdriver, in order to allow trapped air to exit.  Last December, #Greg from Eurocompulsion was going to look into this further, but hasn’t yet been able to confirm.  Having looked myself, I’m not getting a good feeling that there is a button there either, so I’m hoping someone will confirm – either yay or nay.  I’ve drawn an arrow to the spot that I think has the greatest possibility, but since that area is submerged in oil in my engine, I can’t tell for sure.

I see that the valve does exist in the identified location, and injecting oil there is an official fix.

oil can2

Harry Besosa has written up this procedural variation (giving credit to Bryan at NGEN Customs and Performance) on this process on 6/29/2020, and again confirmed that the button does exist.  Nice way to take advantage of that valve, by injecting oil there with a oil squirt can, and then cranking for a bit with the fuel pump fuse (F34) removed.

oil can

Tip #3

Another tip that jbbdc posted today after a positive outcome, is to extract oil out through the dipstick tube, and either pouring it back in through the oil filler port (insuring it is at least as clean as it was within the engine), or simply replacing the same amount with new 5W-40 oil.  He later stated that he only needed to extract/pour-back a half-quart to get the desired outcome, assisting in the priming of the oil pump.  Although more of a hassle for some, I’m confident that extracting the oil via the drain plug would be just as effective, as the benefit comes from catching some of the oil in the top half of the engine, as it is poured into the filler port, but all that effort for only a half-quart?  You could however, take the opportunity to perform a full oil change, if the timing is appropriate…

Tip #4

Greg (Eurocompulsion) offered this tip as well:

1. Disconnect the Throttle’s electrical connection
2. Crank engine over until throttle light goes out (about 5-10 seconds of cranking)
3. Connect throttle
4. Start engine

We’ll see if it helped lynk26 get his car started after sitting for 2 months and having tried everything but tip #1.

Tip #5

On 2/18/2019, BillaVista published his Canadian Owner’s Manual advice, which seems to follow along the lines of Tips #1 and #4, in a much easier fashion:

1. Hold the Accelerator Pedal wide open during cranking to cut off fuel and avoid flooding
2. After the first few cycles, release the Accelerator Pedal to allow fuel for engine starting

Tip #6

On 5/3/2019, Jaybo published what is reported to be Fiat’s official solution – bleeding air out of the oil pump via the ‘Possible Oil Pump Priming Point’, located on the bottom of the engine underneath the oil filter and adjacent to the oil pressure sensor.

oil pump priming point

Questions to ponder…

  • So why are only a few experiencing this condition?
  • What is allowing oil to drain out of the top-half of the engine?
  • Poor compression in at least one of the cylinders?
  • Why does it seem to be mostly Abarth owners?
  • Are the engines in question, not being broke in properly?
  • Even if the owner treats the car properly, are others (dealer personnel, potential customers doing Rally test drives, etc.) abusing the car in it’s first few miles, before the customer gets the keys?
  • Should this issue be escalated at the dealer for warranty repair if the oil drains out in, say under 2 weeks?
  • Customers that indeed have compression issues, are probably entitled to a new engine – is this issue a precursor predictor of that?

*   Ideally, if you have an engine that displays this condition, and you wish to avoid the consuming, oil flow re-establishment process, you will simply have to start it often enough to keep the brick’s oil pump primed with sufficient oil.  For some, that period of time is less than a month (perhaps every 3 weeks), yet for me, I’ve gone over 3 months (during it’s first winter) and thus far, have had no problem starting my car.

fiats-multiair-valve-lift-system-explained-photo-301273-s-original

courtesy of BRYAN CHRISTIE DESIGN

18 thoughts on “Re-establishing Oil Flow in Multi-Air “brick” after Long-Term Storage

  1. Hi All,
    I find this interesting and nice to know. Because I enjoy understanding how things work, I wanted to raise a question to clarify my understanding. Since the oil pressure is used to open the valves, when this situation occurs, wouldn’t the intake valves stay fully closed while cranking?

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  2. Per Scot Manna, I think you are correct, and steve6225 perhaps got it wrong, but nevertheless, several posters have stated the engine feels as if there is no compression while cranking in this situation. Scot states “Sitting directly above the intake valves on the cylinder head is the Multi-Air actuator, often called the “brick”. A look at the camshaft reveals there are three lobes per cylinder, two identical exhaust lobes and a single intake lobe that operates a follower which moves a piston in and out of a bore in the Multi-Air actuator – this is the high pressure oil pump. The stroking movement of this piston pressurizes engine oil that will be directed to a hydraulic piston, which will open the intake valve.”

    He further states “Service manual information lists the intake valve lobe lift at .145 inch or 3.81 mm. In actuality, due to rocker arm ratio and hydraulic system multiplication the actual intake valve lift [can be as much as] .370 inch or 9.3 mm. “, implying to me that the valves don’t remain closed when there is no oil pressure, but that they open a minimal amount.

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  3. I ran into a couple at a Fiat get together who had this issue. They told me that the Fiat mechanics at the dealer told them the air relief valve under the oil cap was indeed a procedure to assist in this situation. So they (in a round about kind of way) confirmed the existence of the procedure.

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  4. I removed my quote from steve6225, since I don’t now believe it is technically correct.

    As steve6225 states, “The oil drains out of the intake valve actuators and the valves go wide open, that’s why you have no compression.”

    Thank you #acandioty for getting me to study this some more, as I think I understand the topic better now, and I’ve rewritten the 1st 2 paragraphs in the name of accuracy. Essentially, it’s really about the pump losing it’s prime.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I had the same problem with a 2017 Jeep Renegade 2.4 Tigershark MultiAir after sitting for almost a month. Turned over but wouldn’t start. Finally kicked over in about 5 minutes, after many tries. Both the Jeep and my newly acquired 2017 Spider Abarth will sit for longish periods as we do a lot of extended traveling.

    Thanks for the tips.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I own a 2017 fiat spider and had the same starting problem. I had to call roadside assistance to have my spider taken to the Fiat dealer,very upsetting! They told me that the problem was caused by me not driving the car for a month and the oil drained out of the dual air system. I now start or drive the car every 2 weeks to avoid the problem.Seems to me this is a enginering problem that shouldn’t happen.I live in Pa. USA and don’t drive it much in the winter.I would like to sell the car,but am worried that this starting problem will happen to the buyer and will think i sold them a lemon.Very frustrating!

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  7. One thought that comes to mind — if there truly is an air-relief valve, as mentioned in Tip #2, perhaps the engines that are losing their prime is due to a bad valve seal, or insufficient spring pressure within that valve. I’ve never experienced the issue, and perhaps that is attributed to a good vacuum within the brick resulting from a properly functioning valve?

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  8. I just discovered Jaybo’s dealers’ resolution to this issue for his vehicle, and added as tip #6:

    On 5/3/2019, Jaybo published what is reported to be Fiat’s official solution – bleeding air out of the oil pump via the ‘Possible Oil Pump Priming Point’, located on the bottom of the engine underneath the oil filter and adjacent to the oil pressure sensor.

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  9. I have a brand new Abarth. I bought it new and did 6.000 Km during the summer in England. I left the car sit in my parents garage in Spain in September and now ( December ) I try to run the engine and doesn’t kick in. I check all the essential parts of the car and levels and all looks OK ! Battery is fully charged and maintained with one of this low energy chargers.
    Initially I thought that the starter system was not activated due to low battery of the key fob ( and intermittent green key light indicating low battery of the key fob ) Right, i replaces the fob battery and same problem. Car doesn’t start. Then in your forum I found information about the low pressure oil in the multiair brick. It’s difficult to believe that this can be possible in a brand new car !!! I have parked next to the 2018 Abarth 124 an original Fiat124 from 1980 and bloody hell the classic never ever gave me an issue !!! Now I really think after what I read from all you that the problem is the lack of oil in the brick multiair, so I’ll try the tip #1. I was afraid to crank the starter so many times with the fear of flooding the cylinders. I’ve tried like 15 times during 6 hours. It’s not a lot so I hope engine is not flooded. Now will disconnect the fuel pump fuse and try more. I’ll let you know what happens. It’s highly disappointing that can’t use and enjoy the Abarth after 3 months of wait !!!!!! Thank you.

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  10. WOW! After reading all the information, tips and comments I’m both amazed and dumbfounded. I put my 2020 Abarth 124 Spider into storage the first of November ’20 and haven’t started it since. So now here I am at the first of February ’21 wondering, and quite honestly a bit scared, if maybe I should have been doing regular start-ups every 3 – 4 weeks. I rode and winter stored motorcycles for 50 years. That was always done with excellent results by proper pre-storage service and battery maintenance were applicable and NOT starting, thus NOT introducing condensation into the engine during storage. Now I find myself in a seemingly completely contradictory situation.
    It would seem, as has been pointed out, this is a major malfunction in engineering. Why would any manufacturer design, produce and install in applications sold to the public an engine that they know cannot tolerate extended downtime or idle periods. Why would a manufacturer put an engine such as this in a vehicle they know will be stored for extended periods in many geographic locations in which they market that vehicle.
    This would seem to be a issue that 1.4L multi-air owners have been grappling with on their own for some time, but in reality is in fact an issue that FIAT should address and should have addressed some time ago.
    When the current arctic blast gets done passing though I guess I’ll pull the cover and see if or attempt to start or at least crank over several times my stored auto.
    Thanks to all for all the information.

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    • The engines with carburetors from generations past could indeed sit for an extended amount of time, yet start without much trouble, but their emissions were becoming an environmental concern. The multi-air engine was introduced over 10 years ago, and won many accolades back then, for the greatly reduced emissions. The oil evacuating from the brick was probably not by design, but was probably discovered later on across a good population of those engines. I have never experienced this myself, even though my engine has hibernated for 3+ months during prior winters.

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  11. My 2018 Abarth just joined the “No Start” group. It has sat in storage at Portland Motor Club here in Maine since November 1. When the fine people there went to move my car so that they could wax/buff/detail – one of the nice things they do there, on the Portland Detailing side – they couldn’t get it started. I texted a link from “124Spider.org” to them on the pull fuse/crank/rest/crank etc. procedure, but no luck. They will try again, but if they cant get it going I will go there Tuesday afternoon the 9th of Feb. I will try injecting oil into the brick via the check ball under the oil fill cap. I will keep you all posted as to what happens after that.

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  12. The fine caretakers of my Abarth could not get it started via the “crank/rest/crank/rest . . . ” method. So I went to start the car. I can confirm that as it was cranking over it did in fact sound as though it had absolutely zero compression. I use Pennzoil Platinum Euro 5w-40, and injected about one ounce at a time into the brick via the check ball, cranking over several times between bouts of injecting oil. To inject the oil I used a neat little 6oz. pistol pump oiler by Performance Tool. This little oiler has a flexible metal spout with a fine small diameter tip so that you can depress the check ball and inject oil with very little oil running out over the top of the brick. ( For those who are interested, it is Performance Tool Pistol Oiler w/ flex hose #W54265, “www.wilmarcorp.com”) After I had injected just 5 ounces of oil, then cranking, all of a sudden I had compression. The engine continued to crank without starting for a bit, then tried to start spittin’ and sputterin’ along the way, then started running properly. Conclusion: This method works! Inject oil, (in my case just five ounces), crank/rest/crank/rest . . . . startup!

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  13. Added the best photo I’ve seen to-date (courtesy of Calehedron) to my article today. I’m finally 100% convinced that there is a prime valve there now that is a ball under spring pressure that needs to be pushed down, if you wish to inject oil.

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  14. Hello. My partner’s 124 Fiat Spider had the same issue. After trying to remind her to start it every month during our winters up here. She failed to take my advice and when we tried after about 5 months of inactivity, of course it wouldn’t start. After an initial attempt of just cranking it over about 10 times, to no avail, I read an article about the ball valve and allowing the air to be released. Never worked. She had a syringe that held about 24ml Livestock needle, in the article it stated that it needed about 240ml to fully prime the system. Okay no problem. After about 10 injections through the release ball valve, not knowing how much made it in or squirted out the sides, I thought it was time to crank it over. After the 4th time it started to fire, the fifth time it started. So injecting oil into the ball valve that is pictured in a previous article written by I’m not sure who, is the correct way to prime and start these engines after long term storage. No what I would do. Starting the engine every three weeks is by far the best way to prevent this from happening. Even if it’s for only a minute.

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