1987 Toyota Camry Wagon Intermittent Woes

This is a question that will stump the chumps - nobody has really been able to figure it out.

I bought my college-age daughters a 1987 Toyota Camry wagon back in December 2012 with a little over 30,000 miles. We are the third owner. The second owner was a mechanic and bought it from an elderly acquaintance who barely drove it and he told me that the car sat for a long period of time before he bought it.

The car drove great for a few weeks, but then it started to stall and die and took several tries to start it - reving it seemed to clear the problem. Our family friend, who seems to have a knack at fixing anything, took a look at it back then - the had us put in additives to remove water and clean the fuel injectors. He checked the spark plugs and wires and changed the fuel filter. All of that helped, except it did not completely make the problem disappear if you let the car sit for two or more days until he drained the tank - he said there was varnish in the bottom of the tank. After he drained it, the problem went away for over a year!

After that, the car ran fine for about a year and a half (we put on about 1000 - 1500 miles on it per month). No it is starting to doing it again but only for the same repro steps that I originally found before the neighbor drained the tank.

For the past 3 Mondays, after the car has been sitting in the car over the weekend, the problem will reproduce during my trip to and from the coffee shop before work. It will not happen at any other time and it will not handle for the same repro steps on Tuesday- Friday, because I think the car was not sitting long enough. Note that we are in Seattle and the temperature around 7 am has been around 65 - 70 degrees F (yeah, awesome!), if that helps.

Here are the steps:

  1. Leave the car in the garage for at least two days
  2. Monday morning (usually this is at 7 am), drive to the coffee shop. It is about a 5 minute drive. Note that the car started fine and drove fine up to this point. I think the car’s temperature gauge is about 1/2 way when I arrive at the coffee shop, or very close to it.
  3. Go in and get a latte - this takes about 3 minutes.
  4. Come in and start the car. Back out of the parking lot and head towards the parking lot exit (only about 50 feet). Car will sputter and die on approach to exit. It feels like it is starved for gas, but I’m not a mechanic! It takes 1 to 5 restarts and revving the gas pedal to make the problem go away. It is almost like revving cleared it out.

Once I get the car started and driving after that, it is fine.
The problem will not happen again even though I go to the coffee shop at the same time of day for the rest of the week.

A big key in all of this (I think!) is that the car sat for 2 or more days. Could have the fuel pump gotten damaged or gummed up after drying for two days (due to the car moving) or perhaps it is getting re-gummed up after anything bad that may have happened when the car sat too long when owned by the first owner? Or perhaps some other part?

The car has about 38,000 miles on it now and my current mechanic didn’t think anybody rolled back the odometer. The car is in great shape for its age. I also have a 1988 Toyota Camry station wagon with 56,000 miles that is in pristine shape and drives perfectly.

Both cars were made in Japan - their VIN number starts with JT. I’m going to try to repro the problem for the mechanic tomorrow morning who I’ve been going to now for about 6 months - who has his shop right next to the coffee shop tomorrow so hopefully it will repro just fine at 10 am as well. But the car is too old to have diagnostics. No ODB-2 (?) sensor and the sensor diagnostic plug (?) I saw under the hood was all beaten up and didn’t look functional.

Note also that a year ago, the problem would reproduce even in the afternoons as long as hadn’t driven the cars in two days, but I don’t think it was very warm. Maybe in the 60s. I am mentioning it in case there is a temperature factor in all of this. It is strange that the car always starts fine in the driveway at home and drives fine to the shop. I think if I didn’t stop for coffee it would continue to drive fine. I think the stopping is a key as well as not driving it for two days.

thank you so much for your help

You’re correct in the sense that your car predates OBD2 by a lot of years

But, if I’m not entirely mistaken, you can bridge TE1 and E1 in that underhood data link connector

Then turn on the ignition and count the blinks

It’s quite possible you don’t have any stored codes, by the way

May I assume the car has the 3S-FE 4 cylinder?

The car is 4 cylinder. I don’t know about the rest of the stuff you mentioned - 3S-FE? Should I take a picture? I seem to remember the connector under the hood looks like the pins are all squished/damaged but I definitely ask the mechanic to see if he can do it. thank you

This car went from barely being driven to being driven even less.
Did you put Stabil in the gasoline when you filled the tank to stabilize the gas? It sounds like the gas is going stale and perhaps you’re even experiencing varnish buildup in the fuel system, a much bigger problem, on carbureted engines.

Or, since the problem seems to be related to letting the car sit for a few days, perhaps the fuel is draining from the carburetor float bowl back into the tank as the car sits. Try turning the key to ON once or twice for perhaps 4 seconds each time to refill the carburetor float bowl before turning it to START. If that works, that means the bowl is draining. Just build that into your starting procedure. At some point, if you desire, you can have the check valve in the pump replaced, but honestly, I wouldn’t bother. My old '89 Toyota did that too if it sat for too long, and I just built the few seconds of turning the key to ON into my starting procedure.

I have to disagree with the “float bowl draining” hypothesis: If this were true, the car would be hardest to start first thing Monday morning after sitting / draining for 2 days, but it starts up right away. Therefor there must be gas in the float bowl, assuming that this car is carbureted.

Sorry I can’t be more help.

Isn’t this fuel injected? The “fuel pump priming” idea still applies, however.

3S-FE = Fuel Injected 3S-FC = 2bbl. carburetor.

Peace, I got mixed messages from the post on this. In one statement it drives fine in the morning, in another the OP refers to the car having sat for two days before the problem recurred.

Your comment makes sense, however.

Insightful, this one’s carbed.

From OP,

had us put in additives to remove water and clean the fuel injectors.
From TSM,
Insightful, this one's carbed

Quite the pickle we have here!

The car is fuel-injected - asked my mechanic at the shop today. Sorry I was not clear about the mixed message comment above. I meant the car drives fine on Tuesdays through Fridays even though I drive the car with the same repro steps that result in the problem only happening on Mondays. The car isn’t driven on the weekends so it sits from Friday night to Monday morning. I went to the mechanic today to repro the problem and backed up the car from the coffee shop and then said he thinks he figured it out given he has been trying to think about why the two days of not driving matter. He thinks that given it only happens after the car sitting for two days it might be the throttle something-or-other getting gummed up. He cleaned the cable and the throttle assembly (I know this is the wrong terminology, sorry - he cleaned the area. He also said the throttle cable was too tight and he said it was idling a bit too fast so he adjusted it as well. So, I’ll try to repro again on Monday morning and we’ll go from there. At least this seemed like an easy thing to try rather than going for the expensive option of dropping the fuel tank and replacing the fuel pump, which is what one guy at work though it might need. thanks again for the help. I will report back next week.

Hmmm…speaking of cleaning the throttle assembly…I would also try cleaning or replacing the idle air control valve (yes, this car does have one, also called an idle speed stabilizer). If it has gotten gummed up, that could explain why it’ll work right only after being exercised a bit.

You might also want to clean the throttle plate.

Such a simple cure to the problem and I’m glad I was the one to come up with this.

You need a latte on saturdays and sundays now and the problem will disapear!!!


hi All.
Just wanted to follow up that the car problem did not repro the 2 Mondays I tried it (after not driving it on the weekends). I checked with the mechanic and not only did he clean the throttle body, adjusting the throttle cable, adjusting the idle, he also did clean the air intake valve. Thank you for all the helpful responses. I guess this means (I can’t take Yosemite’s suggestion of buying lattes on the Saturdays and Sundays.)-( I’ll am going to have the mechanic do the same steps on my 1989 Camry Wagon V6 when it goes in for an oil change.