I’m a long time forum reader but never a contributor. I have a 1995 Lexus ES300 with 130,000 miles. This car is basically a rebadged Camry of the same vintage.
Occasionally, when the car sits for extended periods (overnight or while I’m at work) and I try to start it, I get nothing. Not a click–nothing. This will never happen if I pop into a grocery store or other errands that are an hour or less.
I’ve tried jiggling the floor shifter to see if it was the neutral safety switch and no luck. I’ve also tried putting the car in neutral with no results. I can also move the steering wheel rapidly left-right and push hard down onto the brake pedal with no obvious results. Eventually after 10 tries or so the starter motor will engage and it just starts.
Any thoughts? Could it be the ignition (where I put the key in)?
On the surface this sounds like the symptoms of a bad starter. You will need to confirm by checking for power at the starter small wire while someone else holds the key in the crank position.
If you have power at the small wire during cranking then you most likely have a bad starter or bad power or ground to the starter.
If there is no power to the small wire during cranking then your problem likely upstream of the starter with ignition switch, transmission range sensor, starter relay or bad connections.
Of course I know you might not have a second person or a test lamp at the time the car decides to act up, but such is the world of diagnosing intermittent electrical problems.
I agree with @rattlegas
This car uses a Denso starter, which has exactly your symptoms when it’s on the way out
This is a common problem with Toyotas of that era. My '96 ES300 did the same thing, it was caused by worn contacts in the starter solenoid. If you’re handy you can buy just the contacts at the dealer, pull the starter, and replace them, or have a mechanic do it. Google ‘Toyota starter solenoid contacts’ for more info.
But first make sure your battery/cable connections are good and tight.
My own preference would be to verify the problem by checking for power on the S wire as described during a no start. But while you’re hanging around waiting for the next one to occur, I would at least pull the battery cables (both ends), clean up the terminals and such and make sure they are tightened down well. If it’s reliable enough that you don’t have to wait around, then by all means, check for voltage.
I have to leave town for work later this week and I’ll be driving to the project site (I’m a civil engineer) . I plan on then going directly to visit my family for Easter (maybe a total of 600 miles). Needless to say, I’d like to not be stranded. I called around to a bunch of places and to get the solenoid contacts (or a solenoid) would take 7-10 days (after I would get back) as no one had one in stock and they needed to be ordered out of Virginia. I ended buying a starter/solenoid for $130 and installed it (myself) this afternoon. I hope this does the trick. If it doesn’t, I’ll be sure to write back and look for more help.
Oh and I didn’t add it to my original post but my battery has cleaned terminals and they are well tightened down. It is a tank. I live in Minnesota and it started reliably all winter, even after leaving it outside the night that the air temperature (WITHOUT WINDCHILL) got to -26F at my house.
texases-- I looked around online per your suggestion and saw pictures of worn out solenoids/ solenoid contacts. When I pulled apart my old solenoid it looked exactly the pictures of defective ones I had seen online. Thanks
Good luck, I bet you solved the problem.