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1988 Toyota pickup with a starting problem

I have a 1988 Toyota (4 cylinder) Pickup truck, with a very intermittent starting problem, that is driving me crazy. It has had the starting problem for over a year now. Normally is starts easily, within one second with the starter motor, no gas needed, and it starts smoothly.

When it has the problem, I turn key, and I only hear a click, and the dash lights are lit, but no starter motor sound.

Early on I would call for a tow truck, but it usually started when they arrived.

I got angry one time and turned the on and off rapidly, nothing. Meditated for about 10min to calm down. Nope, still angry, so turned the key rapidly again, and the starter motor engaged, but the engine didn’t start.

So I did that again and gave it some gas, then a lot of gas. The engine was running very rough, like all cylinders were not firing, then it spews out a huge cloud of blue smoke, and the engine evens out. That’s my usual pattern now: turn the key like crazy wait a few minutes or even an hour, and keep trying.

It is usually fine for 2 to 7 days with no problems. But a couple of times it has had the problem twice in the same day. The problem seems to happen most when the engine is cold, or after a short trip. A few times, it has had the problem even after a long trip, when the engine was still hot.

What has been replaced in the last year? In this order: starter motor, battery, hot lead to fuse box, battery terminal clamps and wires, fuel pump, mass air flow (don’t know what that is), catalytic converter, and master relay. (OK the master relay probably isn’t related because rain water leaked in and dripped on the fuse box in the cab.) (Also it has 133,080 miles, and a rebuilt engine put in 4 years ago.)

After the mass air flow and catalytic converter change, the truck has started with no problems for 3 months. Now the problem is back! Same symptoms.

When they last worked on the truck they did a tune-up and they said the starting problem could have been caused by the starter motor not being lined up properly so it would “jam”. That would explain why the starter motor wouldn’t go, but it doesn’t explain the miss-firing when it does finally start going.

I also notice that after they do some work on the truck, it starts fine for about 2 weeks with no problem. So maybe something is getting wiggled into a happy position when they work on it?

If this is an “electrical” problem, what can be done to find this very intermittent problem? Also, just before the the problem started happening again, I noticed there would sometimes be about a 1/2 sec to 1 sec delay from when I turned the key, to when the starter motor would go.

Attached is an audio file of what it sounds like. 1) starting normal, 2) turning key and only clicks, 3) the rough start after many tries.

Ignition switch?

I owned this vehicle once and had the exact problem. Googled the issue for you:

It was inexpensive DIY with my knowledgable college roomate, a girl who actually knew cars from her dad.

Assuming that starter motor, battery and cables are okay, something appears to be resisting the engine from moving.
It running badly after it does start is another clue.

If you own a volt meter, put that across the battery and start the car. If it only does the clicking, see what the volt meter reads. If it goes way down to - say - 8 volts, it could be that something is drawing a lot of current or your battery is bad.
Since you replaced your battery, that’s perhaps less likely. Your starter and wires have been replaced and since it is drawing a lot of current (the voltage drops very low, after all), those things are likely okay.

I wonder whether one of the injectors is leaking badly into a cylinder head.

Oh, I forgot the ignition switch was replaced too. :slight_smile:

I’ll get out the VOM and check the voltage this evening. If something is drawing the current, it’s interrmitent, so I might have to wait for the problem to happen again, to measure at that time too.

I’ll mention the injector thought, next time I take it into the shop, which could be soon.

Thanks for the responses.

The starter solenoid contacts are most likely failing and can be replaced relatively easily but if a quality rebuilt starter is available at a reasonable price I would recommend replacing it.

I have a '96 Tacoma with the same and after going through the expense of changing this and that, I finally found that if I leave my AC on I can start my truck in over 110 degree weather. My problem begins at about 90 degrees. Try it, it may work for you and it cost nothing.

Check the small wire to the starter motor. It should be a spade connection with the female part of the connection inside an insulated sleeve on the wire. I have seen this connector slip up into the insulation instead of fully going over the male spade on the starter. You can pull back the insulation exposing the female connector, put it on then slide the insulation in place.

On old Corollas the problem could be fixed by cleaning the engine to firewall ground wire. The firewall end was connected right on thick paint. I removed the wire. scraped the end of it and removed paint from the firewall with a pocket knife. Problem fixed. Hope your problem is that easy.