1998 Toyota Corolla: WHAT DID I DO?

The starter on my 1998 Corolla was behaving badly, 9 times out of ten it wouldn’t start. I had replaced the battery and terminals to no avail. I took it to a mechanic, they confirmed the starter was going bad. Finally the starter refused to turn, only clicking when I turned the key. So I took the starter out. I was going to get a new one, but just in case, I had it tested first. And according to NAPA’s machine, it still WORKS! I saw the spindle pop out and the gear spin vigorously. So, I put the starter back in the car and it continues to work. Not sure why, maybe the 10 times I had to hit it with a hammer to get it out of the car knocked something loose.

However, now I have another problem. Now the starter turns the engine over, but the engine stops as soon as the starter does. I think I must have made some bonehead rookie mistake. I had to take out a bunch of stuff to remove and replace the starter, including the upper radiator hose, the spark plug ground (I think???), several air hoses, and the set of metal tubes that connect the air filter to the engine. But I don’t know what I did wrong. Any ideas? What should I check? What are common bonehead rookie mistakes I may have made?

Does the engine start and then die as soon as you turn the key back? Or does it just turn over and never start? If so, is the engine turning quickly and doesn’t even try to catch, or does it cough a little here and there but never start?

the most common rookie mistake I see with starter installations is where they put the cables. You must have more than one wire with a large terminal. If so try putting all the large terminal wires on the same stud.

You may have simply had a bad connection at the starter. If you clean all the terminals and make sure they are making good contact, it should work fine. The worst offender is the small push on terminal. Sometimes the pin or socket inside the plastic housing backs out and doesn’t really make good contact.

Occasionally, while messing under the hood, I have knocked a hose off the bottom of some piece of the airbox, symptoms are the same, starts but dies right away. The few seconds it runs there is no rough idle, no lights on, but it dies almost the second I am off the starter. Could be that simple. It has nothing to do with the starter at all and I have no idea what it looks like under your hood, but if you could have bumped the airbox or a hose coming from it, I would start there.

However, as far as I can tell, the engine doesn’t actually catch at all, and stops immediately when I turn the key back.

I’ll have a look at the hoses. Is the airbox that thing to the right of the air intake pipes that has like 10 hoses connected to it?

What with it snowing every day, it took me while to get around to messing with all those hoses on the back of the airbox. Boy they are hard to get at! If I had pliers for fingers, maybe… Anyhow, one was loose, I put it back on, and, well there was no difference, but at least all the hoses were attached to the airbox now. I then checked the ground for the EFI. It was corroded, so i brushed it shiny with steel wool, re-installed it, and tried again, and after about a minute of cranking the engine sputtered to life, and immediately revved up to like 8000 rpm and stayed there, regardless of what I did with the accelerator. I figured more than a minute at that speed would be bad for the engine, so I shut it off again. I’ve examined the accelerator and accelerator cable, they both seem to be doing what they’re supposed to. I’ve fiddled with a few other things, no help, the engine seems determined to run away on me. So, um, what’s wrong now?

Am I experiencing the famous “runaway Toyota” syndrome that was all over the news last year, if (luckily) in the safety of my own backyard?