high altitude starting problem
long story, trying to be as precise as possible.
About 3 years ago I drove my '97 PowerStroke (at the time about 100K miles) do Morrison, Colorado. We stayed in Raton, NM. overnight. Raton is about 6680 ft in elevation. Next morning was pretty chilly...about 35 degrees. Wait to start light was on a bit longer than usual but truck started fine. Drove into Aurora, Co., and was there a few hours. Aurora is 5435 feet above sea level. Time to go and truck started fine. We drive to Morrison, Co., where my Father in Law lives (8500 ft above sea level). After a few hours I had to move the truck and she started fine. This is where it goes bad. Next morning the truck would not start. Temp that morning was not chilly if I remember correctly. She would crank and crank but would not start. Black smoke poured out of the exhaust, but she just would not start. The battery finally was to weak to crank and I put the battery on a charge. Still would not start. My family borrowed my mother in law's vehicle and we went to visit some relatives. We get back and my truck is in my father in law's garage. He said he finally got it started and it drove just fine, he went and put some fuel in it and drove it in the garage. Next morning the truck would not start. Father in law's mechanic makes a house call and puts his diagnostic tester on it and everything tests fine. He suggests I change out the crank sensor. I purchase a crank sensor and put it on. Truck still does not start. She cranks and cranks with black smoke pouring out of her but she will not start. Father in law suggests we turn the heat on in the garage, maybe that will help. We turn the heat up to 80 degrees in the garage all night. Next morning truck will not start. My father in law suggests we put some heat on the block, maybe the glow plugs are not working (but its not cold, in fact it's probably 70 degrees). We put some heat on the block and she starts. (Didn't even think of plugging her in. I know, I'm an idiot). That concludes, in my father in law's mind, that indeed the glow plugs are bad...all eight of them, even though I've never had a starting problem before now. We drive the truck into Denver (5280 ft above sea level) so the mechanic can replace all the glow plugs. My father in law is now saying he thinks it's a fuel injector problem, not a glow plug problem, even though I've never had a fuel injector problem. The glow plugs are replaced and the truck starts fine in Denver. We drive up to my in law's house and park it in the garage. Next morning the truck will not start. I call around to Ford shops and ask around but no one is able to help me. I email a mechanic who has a call in talk show in Houston and tell him what's going on. He does some research and informs that some PowerStroke OEM starters seem to lose their ability to spin adequately to produce enough combustion at higher altitudes to turn the engine over. We discuss the problems in detail and he tells me of a Nippondenso gear reducing starter that turns the starter about 500 rpm faster than the OEM starter. I research "gear reducing starters" and talk to several retailers. A guy in the Northeast says he sells a boat load of gear reducing starter for PowerStrokes for the higher elevations...including Alaska, where it really gets cold. We put some heat on the truck and she starts fine. We make it home without a hitch, and she started just fine for several months before I replaced the OEM starter with a gear reducing starter. Now she spins really fast and starts real quick.
We are moving to Colorado in April and I would love to have this problem solved. Does any of this sound like anything you have ever heard? Would elevation keep the starter from spinning enough to start the engine? I really appreciate any and all the help I can get