1994 Toyota Camry start problem

94 Camry LE 6cylinder - 159K+ miles. Cold mornings turn the key in ignition and nothing, no crank, no click, lights dim. Tried to start from Neutral and same results. Found if you push on the key while turning it will start without issue. Mechanic said it is the starter @ cost of ~$400 parts and labor. Why would pushing on the key while turning have an affect on the starter?

That’s a good question.

The only reason it has an effect on the starter is the fact you are completing the electrical circuit to the starter solenoid.

The ignition cylinder or switch may be worn or your key may be.

On behalf of the mechanic, I agree, IN PART.

Toyota starters have a long history of gradually wearing out.

For instance, as the starter gets older, it takes more cranking to get the engine to fire up.

When I bought my used (2004 Matrix XR) I found it turned over three times before it fired. I got the salesman to get a key for a brand new Matrix and it fired on the first turn.

Talking to one of their techs, I found the story to be true. It takes a long time for the starter to die though.

You need to have the keyswitch tested. If you start the car will it have problems if you jiggle the key in and out a bit? It may or not due to the power relay that notices the on(not run ) position. Does anything work that normally would be off with the key off? You said the lights were dim, which lights?

When the key is turned the radio plays, dome light on, headlights on. Turning the key to start car and all interior power dims.
I spoke with a Toyota tech that said the starter contact were probably bad. Parts only $20 ($160 total with labor). I did that. I’ll report tomorrow how it starts after being cold.
Thanks for the replies!

First attempt this morning after sitting all night and it fired up immediately. Replacing the contacts seems to have fixed the issue. Thanks again for all replies.

Great show! You replaced the starter electrical contacts (in the solenoid?) and it started right up! The clue, “… the lights dim when the key is turned to START”, was a fairly good clue to a starter which was allowing current to flow through it, but, not turn the starter motor. I’ll take an inexpensive fix any day, and buy ice cream with the remainder.