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Stalled with three bars in the display

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This past weekend I was coming home from our cabin and as I was going up an off ramp (cloverleaf) my Smart died and the display (where the gear indicator is) showed three sets of bars ( each bar was made up of short dashes and I think they were horizontal). I was coasting a bit going up the off ramp I think as I was coming to a stop sign before going onto the main road. I tried to restart it but nothing seemed to happen. I sat there for a few minutes while I checked the manual and then just decided to try starting it again and it started fine and hasn't been a problem since.Can someone tell me what the three sets of bars in the display means? Did I stall it coming up the ramp?Thanks......Bob

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Some sort of a transmission malfunction, though the engine ought not to have stopped running......

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affectionately known as the 3 bars of death. I've had it happen only once, but it was freaky when it happened. Shutting the car off resets the transmission and you're good to go. If it happens frequently, you definitely have a problem, otherwise drive and enjoy!

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Three bars of death, hmm now that doesn't sound good. Hopefully it was a one time thing. Thanks.

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Generally thought to occur when you jiggle and/or move the shift lever so that it is about half way between any position. The computer gets confused because the switching for the stick shift is a hall sensor and is not an all or nothing type switch but actually a range of movement. Get it in just the right position and the computer won't know what you want and will throw a funk. People have generally noticed this happens when their knee or some other body part tends to lean against the stick shift.

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I just saw the "three bars of death" on my current smart for the first time last week. I was rounding a curve when I saw a red traffic light so, I rapidly geared down. I then noticed that the red was a turn lane signal and I had a green light so, I rapidly geared back up. Then the light changed and I geared down again. This all happened in seconds and I got the three bars. It was then easy to understand why. You wouldn't want the gears switching back and forth so rapidly, so the computer was simply looking after my bad driving. I shut the car off and waited about 30 seconds while listening for a relay to go "click" under the drivers side dash (this is what you must do) and then restarted normally. All was fine after that.

post-166-1187746258.gif

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I had the three bars of death and I ended up getting a new wiring harness. My car would frequently get stuck in reverse or not go in reverse, I could hear the gears trying to change but nothing happening. When this occurred I would have to disconnect the battery terminal to get to stop. After much head scratching at the dealer, they put in the new wiring harness and no problem since.

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Hmm, touch wood, my car has had zero shift anomalies in 75,500 km......

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Posted (edited) · Report post

I haven't been on this forum for ages and now need your help. Two weeks ago when i was on my way home, and just half a block away, my car lurched violently and at first I couldn't move. Was waiting at a stoplight. An emergency light on the left of the dashboard came on, forget which one, somehow I got home, and the next day the car was fine. Then yesterday, while driving in automatic, I was losing power and the car was lurching violently. Then got stuck in a small intersection near Whole Foods on West 4th. I had the dreaded three bars :masked: A very kind fellow smart driver with same model as mine, diesel, got out of his car and pushed me to a curb parking spot. He said he sometimes got the three bars but just to turn off engine and wait for an hour. (I am also without iphone as I dropped it in the toilet on Monday. A clean toilet, that is :puzzled: ) Eventually I got towed to MB Terminal St. The Service guy tried to start car, and there were the three bars but no power/ignition, and smell of smoke. He said that it had something to do with the battery. I only have 30,000 km on my smart (I think) I've never had a problem with my car. When I search on this forum, I see all kinds of different reasons for the problem and hope that MB will solve it. Any suggestions? :help: Thank you.

Edited by Catopounce

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MB Terminal St. just called, says I need a new clutch actuator, $600 plus labour, plus $178 diagnostic. Says it's wear and tear. Relieved, after reading about the so-called three bars of death.... :lookaround:

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Just in case you check back in before okaying the bill for a new clutch actuator... I believe a number of people have suggested that taking the actuator off and giving it a good cleaning and re-lubing it will resolve the problem. It's my understanding that the three bars are a generic indication of a transmission glitch, but generally it's related to the actuator. Over time, it gets some crud in it and starts to bind a bit. Not sure if the computer detects a slower shift, or if the actuator simply fails to fully engage/release the clutch. Either way, when you turn off the car for a bit (doesn't take long), the error gets cleared and it'll hopefully be more successful the next time it actuates. But; the worse it gets, the more likely it'll get stuck in a permanent 3 bars mode because it fails to actuate all the time.

I think there's a write-up on the maintenance process either on here, or on Evilution. It's not too bad. Hardest part can be getting the electrical connector to release.

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Just tell them you want to keep the old actuator.

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Three bars happend to me about a month ago. After my car slid down my driveway (forgot to pull my hand brake) into my neighbour car I have decided to follow a most drivers common practise - to leave a car in reverse gear (instead a brake). For a week I try it but didn't like a little shake after turning a key and shifting from R to N before starting the engine. And then I had three bars, but car run normally. I drove home without stopping, restarted the engine and have no problem since - also I stopped leaving a car in R. For me hand brake means less stress.

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Jerzy; not sure why there'd be a "shake" shifting from Reverse to Neutral... Unless it's an indication that the clutch isn't being fully actuated. Sounds to me like you should take it in and have it checked. Might be as simple as having the actuator adjusted (either physically, or getting the computer to calibrate it).

We generally use both; leave it in reverse and the parking brake on.

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Jerzy, check for excessive play between clutch actuator rod and fork. Radial play is unavoidable but there should be no axial play? Grease socket and preload clutch actuator as per the Sachs guide.

Always park in first or reverse.

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Good day Smart friends.

It looks like very dog gets its day. 

The weekend, I jump-started  my 2006 Smart  (battery has been dodgy for quite some time). It was idling nicely. I got in and drove off. 1st, second, third gear it started surging and the dashboard display died intermittently.I tried to change down, no luck.  The car was still going though. I kept driving and after another 500m the display stabilised but the engine died and the car came to a halt eventually with the beautiful 3 bars display. I tried everything and some. Nothing could get it going again. I towed it home, removed the actuator and lubricated it. I refitted it and tried again. Still no go. I removed the actuator again but left it plugged in to see what it did. Seems to work fine. The pin comes out when turning on the ignition. I pressed the  clutch with a lever to check it and it works fine. I pushed the pin back in and refitted the actuator. 

 

To me, it looks like the car does not know in which gear it is and how to get out of the deadlock.

Any ideas will be highly appreciated.

 

Video-0006.mp4

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Posted (edited) · Report post

Your actuator does not seem to move in enough to engage the clutch. When you put the actuator back on, did you adjust it so that the rod is touching the lever plus a 2 to 3 mm in more then tighten the bolts down? Then try again.

Edited by Wild!
more info

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I agree with WILD for sure....there is definately something not right with your actuator...it should move close to an inch....if I recall correctly. It is either far too tight already or it has stripped teeth inside as they are plastic gears.  It isn't easy to open up the actuator case and be able to get it back tightly together again.....as you have to drill out the main rivets and you can't replace them. It won't stop it working correctly but unless you secure the case together well and use silicone it'll fill up with road grime etc. Then seize up.

As WILD says when you install the actuator it simply needs to be snug against the clutch fork, not forcing it against it or moving the clutch fork in any way before it is asked to.  You could always take it off with it still connected with the wiring and take a video of it working to see if it does move further with no clutch pressure against it? The actuator may need grounding to get this to happen..? Just a simple wire  would do the trick I bet if it needed it.

 

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Thanks heaps Wild and Willys. 

I installed the actuator exactly as you describe. After looking at the video, I thought there may be an issue with the clutch being tight. So I put a long bar on the clutch lever and pushed it by hand. It does take some doing, but went in fine and popped out fine. So, Willys, as I said above, I already did the actuator test while plugged in and dangling in the air. It definitely pushes out the pin. I'll go and check for stripped gears next.

 

Thanks again for your speedy replies. That really makes this forum a pleasure and worth it!

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IF it is a gear selection issue you'll need a STAR system to reteach the transmission the correct rotations for each gear position I'm afraid. I do not know another scanner/diagnostic system that will do this. 
Also did you check to see if your clutch fork arm has a hole in it where the push rod rides on it...?  From your video it didn't show the arm moving far enough to have gone through the clutch fork arm so I didn't suggest this earlier, but it's also something to consider when having clutch/actuator issues.  There is an easy fix for this issue, look up acorn nut mod. 

 

Hope this helps.

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When testing the actuator out of the car the rod may have come out too far.  It will go back in with some effort and a few swear words.

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On 7/1/2021 at 0:30 AM, Willys said:

IF it is a gear selection issue you'll need a STAR system to reteach the transmission the correct rotations for each gear position I'm afraid. I do not know another scanner/diagnostic system that will do this. 
Also did you check to see if your clutch fork arm has a hole in it where the push rod rides on it...?  From your video it didn't show the arm moving far enough to have gone through the clutch fork arm so I didn't suggest this earlier, but it's also something to consider when having clutch/actuator issues.  There is an easy fix for this issue, look up acorn nut mod. 

 

Hope this helps.

Thanks Willys, I just fitted a brand new actuator. No difference. The 3 bars of death remain and the actuator does not actuate. I'll see where I can get someone to assist with the reprogramming meanwhile and as soon as the weather allows, I'll check the fork.

Cheers!!

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On 7/1/2021 at 3:11 AM, Nigel said:

When testing the actuator out of the car the rod may have come out too far.  It will go back in with some effort and a few swear words.

Hi Nigel, I opened the old actuator and found that it is a 45 degree nylon gear running on a metal "worm". Forcing the pin back into position will certainly damage it. Too late for me, I already did it and damaged the nylon gear (it rounds the edge of the teeth in the center where it connects the worm). I will never recommend that. So, I ordered and fitted a new one. Rest of story in the reply to Willys...

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2 hours ago, McG said:

Thanks Willys, I just fitted a brand new actuator. No difference. The 3 bars of death remain and the actuator does not actuate. I'll see where I can get someone to assist with the reprogramming meanwhile and as soon as the weather allows, I'll check the fork.

Cheers!!

Start checking all your grounding pins and all wiring that leads to the actuator for rub throughs, shorting?  Check all connections/plugs for corrosion at the SAM, ECU, Speedo as these cars are notorious for water leaks which result in corrosion.  Especially on the grounding locations....I know i keep harping on this but you'd be surprised how many are solved by bad grounds.  At the worst you may need to remove seats and carpeting to get to all the wiring under it to make 100% sure it's not under the carpet where most of the rusting happens. Your car may be different but I'd check. When you check your ECU on the side of the air box, BEWARE...it contains capacitors and they will discharge if you short out two pins in the plugs, ask me how I know!!!!!   An ECU isn't cheap and requires a STAR to re-introduce it to the other computers in the car or the car is scrap!   BEWARE.....I used sensor cleaner and a plastic toothbrush and in the suds I saw a flash of lightening, instantly showing me I cooked it!   I's now use a wooden tooth pic and nothing else to slowly rub off any corrosion making damned sure I do not bend any pins.  There are only 3 pins that seem to go green and two are in the very corner of the plug.  Again check all plugs for all computers first.....then grounding pins then wiring.

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