Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

1990 Toyota Camry DX Fuel Problem

My car is awesome. I’ve had it for 10 years and it has been the most reliable car. The only problem now is that it has a fuel problem any time it rains or is dormant in moist conditions, dormant meaning if it is not driven for a couple days. It seems that there is moisture in the fuel line because it glug glugs and sometimes stalls. For a shorter dormant period, I can idle it in drive and wait out the glug glugs, until it is running smooth again and it drives like a dream after that. This usually takes 10 to 15 minutes. For longer dormant periods, it’s been 25 min easily and, once on the Mendocino, Ca. coast, it took 45 minutes after 4 days dormant in the fog. Lately I have been driving the car everyday but it’s been very rainy. It sat for one day in heavy rain and I can now not get it out of the parking spot. Hard to start initially, it idles fine (with engine stuttering), but when I put it into gear it stalls right away. I have a new battery and 2 yr old alternator and I am on a tight budget. Suggestions?

If the problem seems to go away after the engine warms-up, I don’t think that it is a fuel problem.

If the spark plug wires haven’t been replaced in the past 6 years or so, I would suggest that you start by replacing them. There is a very good chance that the symptoms will disappear if you install new plug wires.

Thank you so much VDCdriver, I’m going to try that right away.

Please report back to us, so that we know whether this worked–or not.

You might go ahead and get a new distributor cap while your at it. I don’t disagree with VDC but in my experience it has been the cap and not the wiring, but this is very old wiring so it could be. In fact, its a good chance that both are contributing to the problem.

Both of you have confirmed what a few other people have said. Our old mechanic wasn’t so sure over the phone today and wanted to do a diagnostic first ($104/hr!). They quoted $150.00 for doing the job of replacing spark plug wires and distributor cap. Is this high for the economy of Berkeley/ Bay Area? Maybe, maybe I can get my husband to do it (he’s knowledgeable enough). We also have a friend who really knows the old Toyotas and I might pay him directly to do it. I’m thinking that with 4 knowledgeable people saying the same thing I’m willing to risk paying for this without doing the expensive diagnostic. And he could come to me so I can avoid towing.

I will definitely report back with the results. I really appreciate your responses.

Have your husband replace the cap, rotor, wires and plugs. It shouldn’t be a big deal.

I concur w/the others here, this is most likely a problem with the secondary (high voltage) part of the ignition system. One thing you could do is simply pop the hood and examine the spark plug wires. Twist and bend them, see if there are any breaks in the insulation. There’s also a possibility that the ignition coils are on the fritz. I think on this car the ignition coils are possibly part of the distributor sub-assembly.

In any event, I expect this won’t cost much to fix, even if you have a mechanic do it. If you can’t fix it straight away by yourself, it probably makes sense to have your mechanic do his diagnostic tests. I think you’ll find it is money well spent.

Moisture often condenses inside the distributor cap so that would be the first place I would look as the cause of this problem.
This can be especially problematic when you shut off an engine during times of high humidity as the warm engine will attract moisture. Think of a sweating window pane on a cold, damp day.

No matter if you replace the cap and wires with new, I would advise spraying the cap and wires down on occasion with some WD-40. That can help repel moisture and subdue the condensation problem quite a bit.

the cap and wires are a set so your dewing both

On this engine the coil is alos located under the distributor cap, and cracked coils are a known cause of wet weather sensitivity in these. I had a '91 DX

At the risk of sounding stupid I must make this comment. Have you checked for water in the fuel system? I have found that using fuel system dryer Spring and Fall has solved a number of serious performance issues over many years. I know I’m speaking to the choir, but when the temperature falls through the dewpoint in the Spring and Fall the air within the top of your gasoline tank will condense moisture which will accumulate at the bottom of the tank until it reaches the outlet, where will be drawn into the fuel lines and plague you with problems until it is removed.

Ok, so here is the report: While I am riding my bike and buying the ignition wire set, my husband takes a look under the hood. He sees lots of feathery looking corrosion on the contact points for the spark plug wires. He thoroughly cleaned all of this up and now the problem is completely gone! It’s been raining a lot and the car sat over the holiday, no problems at all.

We feel so silly because it was such a simple fix and I struggled with this problem for at least 2 years. We’re thinking to return the part and not replace wires and cap until it’s really needed. Thank you everyone for your advice. Also, will do WD-40 or car grease to protect against condensation.

Don’t feel silly. Lots of problems turn out to be simple fixes, but it’s human nature to fear the worst.

I’d recommend changing the parts. Cleaning them up will not be a permanent fix. It does not solve the cause of the “feathery looking corrosion”. Only changing the parts will.

Point taken. Being rather frugal and re-use minded I hesitate to replace what is not broken, but it’s very good that you bring me to think of what the cause of the corrosion may be, I’m thinking it has to do with old metal and moisture over time? Also my husband thought that the set I got at O’Reilly (formerly Kragen) looked cheaper and flimsier than the current set in car. $53.00 when other outlets were charging $70 to $80.

Hubby was wise in considering the quality of the wires. When in doubt I go to a parts store the bulk of whose business is to local shops rather than to the general consumer, and I always ask about the quality. You’ll pay a bit ,more, but it’s worth it.

"I'd recommend changing the parts. Cleaning them up will not be a permanent fix. It does not solve the cause of the "feathery looking corrosion". Only changing the parts will."

I have to disagree on this one. Changing the parts will not solve the problem either. Corrosion is persistent, it will attack the new parts just as much as the older cleaned parts. The new parts will have fresh anti-corrosion coatings on them so they will go longer before they need attention, but eventually they will need attention.

Being the cheapskate that I am, I would go with the cleaning and plan on doing it once a year or so. I would also pack the connections is a good silicone dielectric grease, that will help keep the corrosion at bay.

I see your point, but generally in my experience this type of residue is a sign of rubbers and coatings having broken down, such as the spark plug boots and wire insulation.Or even a cracked distributor cap allowing moisture in. Changing parts may solve the problem, or at the very least is necessary.

IMHO cleaning will maintain, but not repair. .