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01 toyota highlander mysterious starting issue

when i turn the ignition over to start the car does nothing. i can hear the fuel pump come on but NO other sounds whatsoever.
if i hold the key in the starting position, after about 30 seconds to a minute it will start. lights and horn and everything else will work.
it happens mostly after it has sat overnight or all day while at work. if i just run in the store to get something and come back out quickly it will normally start right up.
solenoid on starter maybe?
any help would be appreciated.

After checking the battery connections and the battery, the starter solenoid would be my next guess. That’s what happened to my '96 when it began doing that intermittent no-start. Google ‘Toyota starter solenoid’ for more info.

How old is the starter?

if i hold the key in the starting position, after about 30 seconds to a minute it will start.

So it’s just silent for 30 seconds or so, and then the starter suddenly engages and the engine starts normally?

Suggest to discontinue the ‘hold the key in start for 30-60 seconds method’ as a work-a-round until you’ve had a shop take a look. That practice could damage engine wiring and even start an engine fire. You definitively don’t want that.

When you turn the key to start the battery powers a circuit through the ignition switch and various safety switches which is supposed to cause the starter solenoid to activate and that powers up the starter motor and causes that rrr rrr rrr sound. So there’s something wrong with all that. A shop might start by measuring the voltages at the starter motor. If they are ok, then it probably a new starter motor you need. If the voltage inputs to the starter motor are not correct, well it is obvious what needs to be done. Find out why.

Shops do this all the time since it is such a common complaint. No worries but get this addressed with due speed.

Check your batt connections…check your starter relay…swap relay with an identical one in the fuse block if avail and test. It can also be the electrical part of your ignition not making contact…easy to test that theory with a test light in the steering column wires…probe the starter wire and see if it energizes when you turn the key to that position…if not you found the issue.

If these dont work I would rebuild the electrical contacts inside the Denso Starter Solenoid…they cost about 25 bucks to do them yourself…pretty easy to do also.


From what you describe about the trouble it sounds like the problem is with the safety switch for the starter circuit. The switch keeps the starter from working unless the shifter is in the Park or Neutral position. Try moving the shifter around when this happens or put it in neutral to see if it will start then. I would be a good idea also to clean the battery connections just to make sure they are okay. Many folks have electrical problems simply due to faulty battery connections and it is one of the easiest things on a car to take of so problems don’t happen.

YES… @Cougar makes an excellent point here…almost forgot bout that one…