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 to relieve the vacuum to speed up the upwards oil flow while the starter is turning the engine over, is to remove the oil filler cap.  If that proves to be insufficient, then in conjunction with the removed oil filler cap, Fiat’s official fix is to have someone push the revealed air-relief valve “button” with an awl, while you are pressing the start button, to (1) allow trapped air to exit, and (2) allow that same person to be inject oil there, using an oil squirt can.

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

[added 7/3/2021]
Having opened my oil filler cap to have a look at the check valve about 4 or 5 weeks after the car hadn’t been started earlier this year, the engine ran very rough at first when attempting to start it a week afterwards, until the air worked it’s way out of the oil in the brick (the first time that’s ever happened to me – so here’s my theory as to how fewer owners can have fewer episodes of hard starting due to loss of oil in the top end: Don’t pull out the dipstick or open the oil filler cap days PRIOR to starting the engine after it has been sitting a while; instead start the engine, and then you can shut it down and do whatever prompted you to check the oil level / open the filler cap. Or as Tip #2 states, open the oil filler cap just prior to cranking it over.

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 2 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

33 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?

    Like

    • That is something I’ve been confused about this whole time. Why does a non-functioning brick result in no compression? Because you’d think the valves would be in a default closed position. Makes you wonder if they’ve balanced the springs just enough to hold it open unless there’s pressure somehow. I’d like to see an explanation of this mechanism that holds it open *without* oil pressure.

      Like

      • From the article by Scot Manna, that I link to in my Oil Specs, the PCM is programmed to control the intake valves in that manner:
        “Any fault that is detected may cause a cranking no-start that mimics an engine with no compression, like a broken timing belt. This computer control of intake valve actuation allows for a number of unique Multi-Air control modes which are, Full Lift, EIVC (early intake valve closing), LIVO (late intake valve opening), Multi Lift (multiple valve opening events) and No Lift (no valve opening).”

        Like

  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.

    Liked by 1 person

  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.

    Liked by 1 person

  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!

    Like

  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?

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

    • 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.

      Like

  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.

    Like

  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!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have a 2017 Spider Abarth and being in Canada I put it away for the winter. The first three springs, it started up, rough at first, but got going. This year it did not start at all and had all of the symptoms of the oil running out of the MultiAir brick. I tried the multiple starting attempts to try to get oil flowing again, had someone hold the little ball bearing value down when attempting to start to let out trapped air and so on. Worked on it for about 4 days off and on. I then bought an oil can as described here with a flexible neck and small tip and pressed it tightly into the “value” under the oil cap and injected oil with about 4 or 5 pumps. I could feel the oil going into the MultiAir brick just through the pressure of the oil pump. If you try to hold the value open with an awl, not enough oil flows into the MultiAir brick.
      I attempted to start the car and had some compression and the car attempted to actually start. I inject about 6 more pumps of oil into the value and tried it again. You could now hear the car attempting to start and eventually it did, ran rough for a bit, but then evened out. Car is running fine now, starts first time and no warning lights on.

      If I had to do this again, I would inject oil in the MultiAir brick through the “valve” under the oil cap as my first attempt to get it going. I wasted a lot of time with the trying to start it multiple times.

      Hope this helps.

      Liked by 1 person

  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.

    Like

  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.

    Like

  15. I rewrote Tip #2 today, as it was very confusing because it had been unconfirmed at the time as to whether the relief valve actually existed. I also folded in Mel’s suggestion of first just simply removing the oil filler cap.

    Like

  16. Having opened my oil filler cap to have a look at the check valve about 4 or 5 weeks after the car hadn’t been started earlier this year, the engine ran very rough at first when attempting to start it a week afterwards, until the air worked it’s way out of the oil in the brick (the first time that’s ever happened to me – so here’s my theory as to how fewer owners can have fewer episodes of hard starting due to loss of oil in the top end: Don’t open the oil filler cap days PRIOR to starting the engine after it has been sitting a while; instead start the engine, and then you can shut it down and do whatever prompted you to open the filler cap. Or as Tip #2 states, open the oil filler cap just prior to cranking it over.

    Like

  17. I was surprised when my 2018 Abarth did not start after 5 weeks; solution was pushing downhill and it started fine. Blue oil smoke and rough running for about 5 seconds and it’s been perfect after that. Solution summary: second gear push start

    Liked by 1 person

  18. It is absolutely criminal that they built an engine that has this problem. It ranks up with the dumbest pieces of engineering I have ever come across. They should perform the priming process for free for the life of the car any time you have this situation. Just can’t believe they think any of this would be considered normal. It is not because of building a low emissions engine. It is just simply poor engineering. Nothing more, nothing less. And the end consumer ends up being the victim. Last Multiair I will own. Once I get mine started again, I am trading it in on something else.

    Like

  19. You guys just saved me a ton of money and time. Went out to start my 2019 Abarth (spider) this past weekend, starter was turning, but the engine wouldn’t start. It had been about 2 months since I had cranked it (keep the battery on a trickle charger). I’m over an hour from a Fiat dealer and was sweating the bill for a tow truck, Uber to the dealership, repair etc. I found this post last night and it just saved my butt.
    Symptoms:
    – Plenty of gas
    – Battery was strong
    – Starter was working and turning the engine, just wouldn’t fire up
    – Seemed like no compression
    So. I went to Harbor Freight this morning and bought the $7 orange fluid pump and their red hand oil can (picture is above). Although the Harbor Freight pump is cheap, the black included hose went in and down the oil dip stick just fine. I pumped out about a quart of oil. Then attempted to put it back in the oil refill while pressing the “magic button” as noted in the post. I tried a small Philips screw driver to try and press the magic button down.
    Tried and tried but the engine wouldn’t start. This afternoon I tried again. Removed a little more oil and this time, I used the metal tip of the harbor freight oil can to press down on the magic button as I squirted in the oil. That seemed to work better as I could feel the button give, slightly. Note, you have to press hard.
    After that, the engine started up (sputtered at first, then ran). Whew.
    As Tom said above, it is criminal that they made an engine with this problem. I’ll be cranking it every few days from now on. Thanks again everyone!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi,
      a few months back I talked to my dealer (who also owns a 124 and is a member of our local Abarth club) about this issue. According to him 3 weeks without starting generally are ok, but you shouldn’t go for 4 weeks or longer.

      As a precaution I start mine every 2 weeks at the latest and until now never have experienced any problems.

      Liked by 1 person

    • A follow up to my post of September 2021. I had been cranking it every day since – which turned into a pain in butt. Early January, I started it one morning and it ran extremely rough – sputtering and wouldn’t get up to speed. A very strong rotten egg smell. Google searches returned everything from a faulty catalytic converter, plug cap/control, to bad plug – the first two could be extremely expensive and it was just out of warranty. Ugh. I connected my OBD reader and it indicated a fault with plug number three. Decided to take the easiest route first and change out the plug. The car started and ran just fine after that.

      These two issues caused me a lot of stress. I’ve owned a lot of cars over the years and have never had such problems. I could no longer trust it to not leave me stranded somewhere. With the used car market so crazy right now, I decided to sell it.

      Like

  20. In a post above, I mentioned using an oiler made by Performance Tool / Wilmar Corporation. These oilers are no longer supplied with a fine tip, but rather a very blunt tip that is not suitable for our purposes. I have found another oiler that works great – it has a long flexible metal spout with a very fine tip that works great – you can depress the ball and inject oil past the ball with this fine tip (just like my original PT oiler). The oiler I now recommend is the Dutton-Lainson Goldenrod #707 oiler. You can find it in certain hardware or auto parts stores, ebay, or direct from http://www.dutton-lainson.com . Search #707 in the search bar. Best, s

    Like

  21. My Abarth was in storage for a year. After reading everything here and elsewhere, I pulled the fuel pump fuse, connected a lithium battery pack, and just turned over the engine about a dozen times. I went home, charged my battery pack and returned for more the next day. I replaced the fuel pump fuse and started the car – it started after like three attempts. I was lucky not having to add oil or trying other things.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. I bought my Spider in April 2018, brand new and garaged her that October. In April 2019 She started up first time with no issues. Same again for 2020 but after garaging her last October she refused to start on 7th April this year. No compression. I tried several times over the next 24 hours. Then I found this site and spent hours reading and wondering what to do next.
    I finally went with the Fiat suggestion of cranking 8 times then rest and I did this three times. Next I took a wooden kebab skewer and pushed down on the little black button under the oil filler cap and using a small oil can I inserted 5 fluid ounces of engine oil (a quarter of an Imperial pint) down the tiny hole. It took about two minutes to do. Then I replaced the filler cap and got behind the wheel.
    As soon as I pressed the starter I had compression and she tried to fire up. The second attempt and she did fire up but sounded quite rough. I gently prodded on the ‘gas’ pedal and she started to run smoothly. All is fine now.
    I thought about all the different tips written about how to fix the drained ‘brick’ issue but I managed to get her back on the road with nothing more than what I’ve written above. Next winter I’m going to turn her over for a few minutes every two weeks and maybe this will avoid the problem of starting next spring. I hope this info may be of some use to anyone having the same experience.

    Like

    • Hi,
      you should be fine with 2 weeks between starts.
      This winter i started mine every 3 weeks and (more often than not) let it idle until it reached operating temperature. Fired right up every time.

      Like

  23. Hadn’t started my 2017 abarth all winter. Battery was very dead, but still wouldn’t start after replacement (not convenient in a parking garage). Thankfully, turned to the forum and this blog and tries the “remove oil filler cap” method. Started on 2nd try. Thanks to ameridan, all the other contributors, and the 124 community!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s