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1991 Toyota Tercel just died

I had just left my driveway when my 1991 Toyota Tercel died as I was accelerating. The car had been running perfectly. There were no warnings of any kind of trouble – no sputtering, no backfires, nothing – it just died and wouldn’t start again. When I try to start it, it’s as if there is no spark. We checked to see if anything was loose, but everything appears normal.

Any ideas on what could cause a car that was running perfectly to just die like that?

First you need to make sure its a no spark problem. parts stores have a spark checker, it plugs into a plug wire the goes on the plug. when motor is cranked it lights up when plug fires.If there is no fire first check fuses then you will need someone to follow path of current till it stops.

That car has a carburetor, correct?

If you find that you have spark:

I think that carburetor has an anti-dieseling valve in it that shuts off the fuel when you turn off the key. Those valves don’t last forever, and they fail closed. If it has failed, good luck finding one. I got rid of a perfectly-running beautiful '91 Toyota Starlet with 275k miles on it about a decade ago because Toyota discontinued carrying parts for it. There were a lot more Tercels than Starlets, but I would expect that Tercel parts are getting scarce. If that valve has failed, you MIGHT be able to make the car run by simply backing it out several turns, or removing it and plugging the hole in the carb. The car may not idle well, but it should run. The valve is can-shaped and about the diameter of your thumb, and has a single electrical wire running to it.

Timing belt?

Also known as camshaft drive belt. It it broke the engine WILL NOT run, and you can’t see the timing belt when you open the hood. It’s under some plastic covers.

Has this belt ever been replaced? If not, I suggest it’s the likely culprit.

If it is like the engine in my '81 Starlet, it is a pushrod engine and the cam is gear driven. (that was as great engine!)

See if the coil wire is fully installed. If you see any puffed out areas on it, you should get new ignition wires. If the car runs, of course. Then there is an igniter under the coil that costs over $300 if bought new. There may not be an ignition problem.

This Car Has A Timing Belt

According to Gates this car has a 1.5L SOHC engine with a timing belt. It is an interference engine. When was the belt replaced last?

I recently had a problem with my igniter on my 91 corolla and it ended up being cheaper by half the cost to replace the whole distributor. Plus the coil and all internal parts and hardware is new. Not sure if it’s the same 4A-FE engine.

It could be so many things. Is your distributor cap spinning if you pull it off? If not it could an indication of a timing belt failure, you can also peek in some valve covers thru the oil cap and see if valves move when it cranks.

The basics are fuel, spark and air. Check the easy stuff.

The easy things to check are: for a broken timing belt, and a spark problem.
Take the distributor cap off. Watch the distributor rotor as the engine is being cranked. If the engine cranks, and the rotor doesn’t turn, the timing belt has broken (Actually, teeth will have ripped off the timing belt). If you see the distributor rotor turning, put the distributor cap back on. Pull a spark plug wire, slide a nail into the end of the spark plug wire, between the metal tube (terminal) and the rubber. Place the wire and nail very close, but not touching, the engine block. Crank the engine and watch for spark from the nail to the engine block. If non, get a mechanic to check it out.