1997 Toyota Corolla won't start unless jumped

I have a 1997 Toyota Corolla that will not start unless it is jumped, but it’s not as simple as that.

Once it’s jumped it runs well after a few minutes to warm up. The gentleman from AAA informed me that the battery is bad and needs replacement, but when I took it to the store where I purchased it (and it is still under warranty) they informed me that they would charge it first to verify it was still working before offering a replacement. Forty-five minutes later they assured me that battery was fully charged and would hold a charge. I took it home and put it into the car and it still will not start.

But it’s not as simple as that… Here’s the odd thing thing. When I put the battery in, and place key in the ignition the usual check engine light, door ajar light, dome light (etc.) work. When I turn the key to start the car I hear a single click then… nothing. If I take the key out and reinsert it, the usual check engine light, door ajar light, etc do NOT work.

Stranger still. If I disconnect the battery and then reconnect it (or just wait 20 minutes) the check engine light, door ajar light, etc do work, until I try to star the car and then the single click returns and the process repeats.

To ad insult to mystery there is moderate corrosion on the battery terminals.

What is wrong?

We don’t know what’s wrong or we would tell you. In your case you need a complete electrical checkup by a competent mechanic. Battery retailers don’t know how to do that. The typical charge for this is about $50+ as I recall. There is obviously something more the matter than simple battery trouble.

This type of thing has happened to me in the past and it does not take a good mechanic long to identify the problem.

Good luck!

Have your battery and charging system tested at any parts store. When you get the new battery installed, and I’m betting you will, apply some battery terminal anticorrosion crease (dirt cheap in a tube at the parts store) to prevent future corrosion.

I think you’ve already figured out that the used car “store” where you bought the car BS’d you to keep from having the replace the battery. Never ever trust a used car salesman…before or after the sale.

How old is the starter? Toyotas are known to have a no start because the solenoid contacts wear out. Those can be replaced (dealer parts department) or replace the starter. That’s if all connections and cables are good.

That’s very true, texases, but that type of malfunction doesn’t respond to a jump start. Reading the thread, I got the impression that the battery and perhaps the alternator were the likely culprits.

Thanks for the info thus far.
I’m not certain if this will help, but the following info may be of use:

The battery is 1 year old, the starter is about 9 months old, and I seldom drive the car any more (I have a 2001 Corolla that I drive on a daily basis).

From what I know (which obviously isn’t a great deal) the car shouldn’t run for very long if the alternator is bad (just until the battery’s charge is gone). Is that correct?

EDIT: Now the check engine and other lights aren’t lit up either. I’ll try disconnecting and reconnecting the battery shortly to see if that changes things.

There’s a half dozen possibilities. Ask your mechanic to consider the battery connections, the ignition switch, and the starter motor solenoid contacts. I had a similar problem on my early 90’s Corolla and all three needed repair.

You have a classic bad connection somewhere in the high-amp starter circuit. You need to clean corrosion at both the battery and the connections at the engine block and starter. If the battery is grounded to the chassis, consider relocating the battery ground to the engine block, then to the chassis. I’ve seen starter problems like this if the battery ground doesn’t go tp the engine block first.

You understanding isn’t totally correct. An alternator can be bad in such a way that it doesn’t keep the battery charged to its full voltage. The battery will weaken as you drive, but the vehicle can run (albeit not necessarily well) beyond what one would expect.

I can tell you from experience that on a typical Corolla you can get about 25 highway miles just on the battery alone once the cars has been started. Been there, done that.

Thanks to all who’ve offered advice.

Also I should clarify one thing. I haven’t had the car jumped per se, the gentleman from AAA actually uses a portable battery charger. i don’t know if that’s a significant difference however…

I’ve now noticed the check engine lights, dome light, and radio do work when I reconnect the battery, but they stop when I attempt to start the car. I can wiggle the battery leads and (at night) see a small spark, and usually, after that the internal light process repeats. That leads me to believe the battery is holding a charge. I’m also inclined to believe (since the starter and battery are both less than 12 months old) that the battery terminals are more corroded than I thought and need replacement.

However, I still don’t understand why the portable AAA charger works to start the car.

Any other thoughts before I have the terminals replaced?

Buy a battery terminal brush and clean those battery terminals. After you clean the terminals tighten them, you should not be able to “wiggle” them.

The jumper box that the AAA service guy used has strong clamps that made an adequate connection on your dirty cable ends.

TSMB - actually it can respond to a jump, or seem to. It happened to my '96. It may just give the slight extra nudge to the solenoid to make contact. I put in new contacts, solved the problem.

Are you sure the battery posts and terminals are indeed tight? Just because the nut holding the terminal is as tight as it wants to go does not necessarily mean that the terminal is making contact.
A lot of battery posts on aftermarket batteries seem to be smaller in diameter than the battery it came with so the battery terminal may only barely make contact.

When you grab hold the post, can you wiggle it around such that it moves or turns around that post?
If so, you may have to change terminals or - when that isn’t possible - put something over the post to encourage good contact. A way to do that is to get a bit of copper plumbing pipe, cut a ring of about the same length as the post, cut a slit in it along its length, bend it open slightly so it slips it over the post. Then put the terminal over that and sock it down.
That will definitely make good contact.

If you can wiggle the battery terminal and see sparks, that battery terminal IS YOUR PROBLEM. They should not do that, and the fact it does points straight to the bad connection. Replace the battery terminals, and it will fix your problem.

My Camry did this I needed to put new cable ends on the battery cables. Over the year the corrosion had eaten the factory ends so that they just wouldn’t get tight enough any more…

I agree totally with @bustedknuckles. Terminals sound like a very likely suspect.
On some cars (newer Hondas for sure), terminals are really expensive to replace because they are all moulded into a cable assembly so don’t cut the terminal off to replace it too quickly. Try that^ copper ring trick to see whether that works first. All our Subarus and our Accura required it, after I replaced the batteries so it is fairly common to happen.

Also, don’t drive with a bad battery contact. It may actually do damage to your alternator and other parts of the electrical system on modern cars.

Nothing about your cables connections should wiggle - they should definitely NOT spark. So I’m thinking along with BustedKnuckles that this is your basic power cables issue. With that new info I wouldn’t bother with anything else until those have been checked and cleaned and perhaps replaced.

It would also be really helpful here if you have access to an electrical meter - just some way to measure the battery voltage. If one is standing at the no-start car with a meter it is pretty easy to tell if the battery is a likely culprit.

Concur w/above, this might not be the only problem, but something is clearly amiss with the connection to the battery. Any sparking caused by wiggling the connections means it isn’t a good, solid connection. Not good enough for what the starter motor needs anyway. A starter motor draws close to 100 amps, and it won’t crank if there is more than around 2 volts of voltage drop, which means that the resistance has to be 0.02 ohms or less all the way from the battery to the starter motor.

The AAA guy is simply charging up the battery? Even to quick charge a dead battery, that would usually take 1/2 hour or more. Is the guy there waiting that long? If he isn’t there 30 minutes waiting, I think what he may be doing is connecting up his starting gadget, which then starts to charge the battery, but it also supplies enough juice to crank the engine. It works because he’s made a good connection to the connectors, not just to the battery posts. Those connectors then must have a good connection to the starter motor. So he’s bypassing the bad connection problem between the battery posts and the connectors. Those starting gadgets these services use often output more than the normal battery voltage, sometimes 20 volts or more, so it’s sort of super-charged, and that could be the reason it cranks right up with the gadget. If so, there could be an add’l problem. But getting the battery connections clean and tight is first priority. Mechanics have a gadget that does this, takes less than 5 minutes. A DIY’er can buy the same gadget at an auto parts store for less than $5.

It is also possible there’s a problem between the connector and the wire it is supposed to connect to. Less likely if this is the original part and hasn’t been damaged from leaking battery acid.