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2002 Camry - Idle Issues

Our 2002 Camry is in very good condition with ~75k miles. The other day we went to start the car up and it wouldn’t turn over. The car would turn a couple of times and then start clicking. We jumped the car and I hopped in to take it to our local mechanic. I instantly noticed during the entire trip to the mechanic that the idle was very slow and chugging. Like it wanted to die anytime I was stopped.

I got to the mechanic and pulled in the lot. The car died. However, I was able to start it up again with no issues. A day later I get a call from the mechanic telling me that they had no issues starting the car whatsoever. They said the battery was a little weak so they replaced it (it was the original battery). I was also told that I might consider changing the spark plugs in the near future. Otherwise they said the car was running great.

After getting the car home I am once again noticing the low/chugging idle. It doesn’t seem anywhere near as bad as before, but it is there sometimes. I really would like to hear from the Car Talk community before I consider bringing the car in again. Is it possible that this is a spark plug issue? Is there something else I should look into prior to brining it in again?

Thanks so much everyone.

Jake

Yes, it is possible that this is a spark plug issue. And/or a filter issue. it’s also possible that the EGR valve is sticking open. It’s also possible that the ECU has stored a fault code or two that might help. By all means bring it in again.

I doubt it’s a spark plug issue. A spark plug issue will usually cause a misfire which would then cause the Check Engine light to come on.

The problem might be with the Idle Air Control valve. The IAC valve is mounted on the throttle body and it’s function is to allow air into the engine anytime the throttle plate is closed so the engine can idle. Sometimes the IAC valve can get carbon deposits on it where it sticks and fails to go to the proper position for the idle condition. The first thing to try is to remove the IAC valve and clean it and the idle air bleed port on the throttle body of any carbon buildup with throttle body cleaner.

Tester

Thanks Tester and Mountainbike. A quick follow up question if you don’t mind. When I brought the car in originally I described what was happening pretty clearly. Car was dead. We jumped it and it idled roughly as I drove it over. It died in your parking lot.

They replaced the battery (which I am fine with as it probably needed it), but they also drove it around. Seeing that one of the main issues I described is still happening (the odd idle) should I expect a discount when I bring the car back in? Is this something you would be comfortable asking for? The way I see it, they were on notice of the issue and simply didn’t address it. It costs me time and money to bring it back in.

Thanks again,

Jake

A discount? Hmmm… maybe… ?

I’d ask what made them think that a rough idle would be the battery, but then also recommended that you may need spark plugs.

I could be WAY off here, but it sounds to me like your mechanic only heard “car wouldn’t start … jump start … it died here in your lot.” And he then said to himself, “BATTERY SALE! I wonder if I can get them into the super expensive one that is guaranteed to cold start when it’s 500 degrees below zero. I also wonder if I can sell these spark plugs to this guy. They’ve been sitting here NOT being sold for a long time now.”

I think Tester was closer to the right answer with the IAC, but the IAC will not work unless the computer is sending it a signal, and the computer will only send it a signal when it thinks your foot is off the gas, and that is where I think the problem is. I’ve seen this in Camry’s when the throttle body gets just a little dirty. It keeps the throttle from completely closing so the computer thinks your foot is still on the gas pedal.

The clicking when starting was almost certainly caused by the battery. Clicking isn’t caused by an engine problem usually, other than sometimes a bad starter motor will cause clicking. Since a new battery solved the clicking problem, then it wasn’t the starter motor. Either the battery was dead, or the connections were corroded. Assuming the battery was around 5 years old or more, changing out the battery is a good idea in any event.

The low idle speed/chugging? That can be causeD by quite a few things. It is usually a sign of a fuel/air mixture problem. This problem shows up at idle but often disappears when the rpm is increased. It is often worse when the engine is cold. Either too much air, or too little gas is making its way into the mixture. The cause could be the IAC (which means Idle Air Control), but that mostly operates when the engine is cold. It is the thing that causes the rpm to increase when the engine is cold, but idle down as the engine warms up. It is also the thing that ups the idle rpm when you turn on the headlights or something that loads-up the engine. Do you notice the engine will die if you turn on the headlights on high beam?

If this low idle speed/chugging problem remains when the engine is hot, and the car ran fine prior, my guess, it probably isn’t the IAC. More likely this is either a vacuum leak somewhere, or there’s a problem with the fuel pressure regulator,( which could also be due to a vacuum leak). A shop with Toyota expertise shouldn’t have much trouble figuring it out in any case.

Another possible cause is that the car simply needs its routine maintenance. Have you been following the schedule in the owner’s manual for all the suggested items? Maybe it just needs a tune up. If in doubt, ask your shop to put it on their ignition analyzer.

There’s some possibility this could be a more serious problem too. Has your car ever overheated in the past? Is there any sign of oil getting into the radiator fluid? Any sign of coolant getting into the oil? Any sign of coolant coming out the tailpipe? White smoke out the tailpipe?