Tobias (from Germany) has observed that while starting the 124 Spider in COLD conditions, there are extra “delays and relays”, before the starter engages, all while the lamp, adjacent to the Low Fuel lamp in the instrument cluster, is steady on (not flashing).
Next to the low fuel warning light there is also a pre-glow indicator. You’d think that this hardly makes any sense on a car that isn’t offered with a diesel engine but it still seems to serve a purpose on the 124.
As far as i have figured it out on mine:
Whenever ambient temperature are below ~4°C and the engine is completely cold (i.e. car sat overnight) and you switch on the ignition you see this light flash up, hear a relay clicking a few times and the light will go out after 1-2 seconds. If you don’t switch on the ignition first, but start the engine right away, this also happens, but it will delay engaging the starter for the above mentioned 1-2 seconds. None of this happens if temperatures are higher or the engine has some residual heat in it.
Seems to be a Fiat thing (maybe only in euroland?), since my dads’ Panda (mighty 1.2L NA) also does this.
Tobias stated that nothing is mentioned about this light in the German edition of his Owner’s Manual, so I decided to look into the subject further. Per my U.S. Owner’s Manual (page 99), that amber lamp is the “Cold Start Disable Indicator Light”, and the manual continues…
Apparently if you attempt to start the vehicle and the ambient temperature is below -22ºF (-30ºC), the ECU module will prevent the starter from engaging with the engine, as indicated to the driver by a flashing amber “Cold Start Disable Indicator Light”.
Place your vehicle in a warm garage until the temperature has risen to a sufficient level to enable engine starting.
I had a paragraph on cold weather starting in my trickle-charging article regarding the extra Cold Cranking Amps (CCA) of the battery Fiat chose for our vehicles (520 vs. 350 in the MX-5), that you will really appreciate while starting, when it is between -22ºF and the +teensºF, wherever the car is parked.
Well, that ambient temperature pre-check accounts for some of the delay…
I imagine the Multi-Air brick won’t function properly when the oil is too cold, and the steady activation of that light while starting when temperatures are at, or below, freezing, is indicating that cold weather “pre-check” logic is in-process, as Tobias sort of guessed.
I decided to download the Canadian FIAT 500X Owner’s Manual, since the same engine powers them as well. I became curious as to why the label for that same symbol (page 6), states “glow plug”. Then on page 279, I found this:
Cold Weather Operation
To ensure reliable starting under extreme cold conditions, an externally
powered electric block heater (available from your authorized dealer)
is required for the 1.4L Turbo engine below -20°F (-29°C).
To prevent possible engine damage while starting at low temperatures,
this vehicle will inhibit engine cranking when the ambient temperature
is less than -34°F (-35°C) and the oil temperature sensor reading indicates
an engine block heater has not been used.
The message “plug in engine heater” will be displayed in the instrument
cluster when the ambient temperature is below -4°F (-20°C) at the
time the engine is shut off as a reminder to avoid possible crank delays
at the next cold start.
(I found this identical information on page 255 in the Jeep Renegade’s Canadian Owner’s Manual, as well.)
…perhaps an additional delay is attributed to a pre-check of the Oil temperature and calculating the Δ
So, even though it isn’t mentioned in my U.S. Owner’s Manual, the 1.4 L Turbo ECMs (Engine Control Modules), manufactured by Delphi for various FCA vehicles, are probably all programmed to not only check the ambient temperature, but also the oil temperature, and determine if a block heater has been plugged in.
Since there is no mention of a block heater in my U.S. Owner’s Manual, that explains why it sounds like the 124 Spiders have instead, been programmed to not allow the starter to be engaged at a “warmer” temperature (-22ºF vs. -34ºF), when in fact, perhaps the logic is actually all there to allow starting if colder than -22ºF, if it also determines that the oil temperature is warmer, because a block heater is in-use. In my opinion, just because the 124 Spider isn’t able to display the a block heater reminder message, doesn’t mean they would change all of the programming. Something for you brave souls living on the frozen tundra to keep in mind and investigate further…