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1996 Toyota Corolla doesn't turn over (after a rainstorm?)

I have a 1996 Toyota Corolla (5-speed, manual transmission) that has never had any problems until the past month or so. About 80% of the time now, the car does not turn over at all upon turning the key first thing in the morning. The dash light indicators (seat belt, brake, etc) come on, but that’s ALL. No sounds come from the engine. I turn the key all the way back to the starting position and immediately try again, and the engine starts right up on the second try, almost every time (a couple times it has taken a third try). It will start the first time the rest of the day.

Three things to note that may or may not be related:

  1. About 6 months ago, a large tree branch fell on the hood, causing some damage to both front fenders and some dings in the hood.
  2. It SEEMS to mainly occur on mornings following a rainstorm, but I can’t be sure that is always the case.
  3. My key is the original, and occasionally will not unlock the doors (manual locks) on the first try, but when this happens, the key will not turn at all until I mess with it for a bit.

I do quite a bit of camping and am concerned that one day when I’m out in the middle of nowhere, it will finally give up completely and leave me stranded. Does anyone have any idea what the problem might be, or if there’s something I should be looking for/trying?

Any help would be great!

Excellent post. Excellent detail.

My first thought was the key cylinder, but note #3 makes me suspect the key may be just worn out. With your VIN number the dealership can probably cut you a new key. Assuming the new key works, take that key to the hardware store and have a copy or two made for daily use. Keep the dealer copy for a “master”

I would look at battery cable connections, at the battery, ground, solenoid if you have one and starter motor.