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97 Corolla (sometimes) won't start

My 97 Toyota Corolla sometimes has trouble starting. Occasionally when I turn the key nothing (and I mean nothing) happens. When the key is turned all the way there is power in the car (lights, wipers, etc.), but it never even cranks. Sometimes if you hold the key turned all the way for several seconds it will start. Sometimes it starts right up with no problems, but about once a week it won't start at all. If I wait some undefined period of time (usually a few hours), when I come back it starts right up. This seems to be unrelated to temperature, time of day or when I drove it last...just random.



I took it in to the dealer and they said the battery connections were corroded. They cleaned them and it seemed to be better for a few days, but then I started to have problems again. I looked at the terminals and the positive one had more corrosion, so I cleaned it very well, but I continue to have problems. Any ideas?
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Comments

  • edited December 2008
    Yes, but only one. It used to be the chief cause of that problem but hasn't been one lately. The engine to body ground could use some cleaning on the body end. It may be a wire or a braided cable. It should be on the right front fender and it will be from there to some metal part attached to the engine. Remove the end attached to the fender and scrape the end connector. Then look where it was connected to the fender and scrape the paint off the fender where it connects. If it is attached to a stud, wire brush the stud and reattach. This will also reduce the corrosion that happens to the battery terminal if your problem was related to that ground cable.
  • edited December 2008
    There are several possibilities. Certainly the battery cables could be one. Make sure ALL ends of ALL battery cables are removed, cleaned and properly reconnected.

    Cables can be internally damaged. Here a ohm meter would be able to find the problem.

    Frankly my money would be on the ignition lock. It may be time for a new one. This would be most likely if you have lots of keys and things on your key ring. The extra weight can damage the lock.

    Finally if you have an anti-theft system (especially if it is after market) that could be the problem.
  • edited December 2008
    My guess is the starter solenoid. They fail this way all the time.
  • edited December 2008
    Thanks. The cables seem good, although I'll take a closer look. I don't have an anti-theft system. Any way to test/check the ignition lock? I'll look into the starter solenoid as well.
    It started fine this morning (19 degrees and snowing, had been outside all night). But yesterday evening it gave me a scare: first two turns of the key: nothing. Third turn I held it all the way for about 6 seconds and then it started right up.
  • edited December 2008
    Is the solenoid separate from the starter itself, or is this all one unit?
  • edited December 2008
    Grrr...happened again. Drove it fine to work this morning. Then I was out running errands and came back and it wouldn't start. Repeated attempts and nothing. Went inside and waited about 5 mins, came back out and it started right up.
  • edited December 2008
    Anymore suggestions? I drove fine this evening; it started several times with no problems, but I have no confidence that it will start when I need it!
  • edited January 2009
    I don't know if you still are having this issue or if it has been resolved. Anyway, I too have this problem - exact same thing. I replaced the battery. Problem seemed fixed for 9 months. It resurfaced. I bought a starter thinking for sure this was the problem, however, when I removed the battery cables, I noticed corrosion on the positive terminal. I cleaned, reconnected, and the car started up fine. I ran for 3 months with no issues. Now, the problem is back. This time, I am going to verify the battery is ok under load. I am going to replace the battery terminals and clean corrosion there. I should have done this before, but regrettably did not. I do not think the starter is the problem as it starts fine when a disconnect and reconnect the battery cables. Weird problem. It must be corrosion on the connectors.
  • edited January 2009
    Toyota starter solenoid contacts frequently wear out (6-10 years is typical). If you're handy, you can remove the starter, take off the solenoid, and replace the contacts for less than $30. Here's a description of what's involved (make sure you get both the side contacts and the center disk).
    Here's how: http://www.yotarepair.com/startercontacts.html
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