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2003 Toyota Camry - dashboard lights flicker, loud buzzing sound when I try to start (won't turn on)

Hi all! Longtime listener, first time caller. (So to speak.)

I have a 2003 Toyota Camry with 100,500 miles on it. However, it has been through many brutal New York winters and lived through three years of the West Virginia hills and mountains, so it has been through a lot.

Last week my check engine light came on and stayed on. (When this happened to me before, it would go on and off, and ended up being a gas cap issue.) My diagnostic read from Autozone was P0446. I was assured that it was not an urgent matter by Autozone, family members with the same car, and the two service centers I contacted–they said my main issue was that I’d likely fail an emissions test.

Well, this morning I go to turn on my car, but when I turned the key the dashboard lights started to flicker and there was this loud, stuttering, buzzing sound. It eventually did catch, but I got nervous and turned off the car. I tried a few more times and it did the same thing, only this time wouldn’t turn on at all. Here’s a link to a video of what it’s doing.

I keep trying to search this issue but I’m coming back with a million different results it could be, and none seem to fit my symptoms quite right. I haven’t noticed a huge difference in my mileage, but I primarily drive in the city so it has never been great. My gas cap is tightened. I’ve noticed that I’ve had to rev more a little more than usual recently to kick the car into gear, but this has been the case for at least a year. I had an oil change at the end of June.

The one thing I can think of is that earlier this week I had a hard time turning my key to turn on the car, like it felt locked, almost.

I’ve been saying that I’d like to keep this car until December to buy a new one, but I just have no clue if that’s feasible, if I’d have to sink a lot of money in it to make it last until then, or if it’s even worth it.

Thank you! I so appreciate any guidance.

EDITED TO ADD: I can still turn on the car so that the lights and radio turn on; it’s only when I try to start the engine.

The flickering of the lights and relays when you try to START the engine is a classic sign of a faulty connection to the battery or a problem with the battery itself. The first thing you want to do is remove the battery connections and clean the battery post and the cable connections preferably using a battery post cleaning brush. After that is done hopefully things will be back to normal and it would be idea then to seal the battery connections using a battery post sealer. If that doesn’t help fix the issue then having the battery checked out for a problem is the next step in the process.

Battery connections are the first place to begin when you have a “No Crank” situation. Even

if you have a new battery, if the connections are loose, dirty or corroded, you will not be

allowing the full flow of current to pass thru the connections. The connection may be

enough to turn on the lights, but not enough for the huge flow that is needed to operate the

starter. This is where many people say that they know the battery is good….”because the

lights come on”. This is no more a battery test than licking a 9volt battery. It only tells you that there is electricity…not how many volts or the amperage that flows from the battery.

Jump starting may have wiggled the terminal just enough to allow the current to pass and start the engine, but tomorrow you have the same problem.

First remove the cables from the battery and use a wire brush to remove any corrosion and dirt from the battery posts and the cable terminals. There is a tool with a round wire brush for this purpose, found at any auto parts store for less than $10

Before connecting the cables, apply a coating of di-electric grease to the battery posts this will keep oxygen away from the connection so that it will not corrode as fast.

It is just as important that the other end of the cables also have a clean connection. Remove the negative cable from the battery again so that you do not short anything out. Follow both cables to their far ends, remove this connection and wire brush the connection and the cable terminal clean and retighten these connections.

If there was work done recently, there may have been an “engine to body” ground that was not installed following the work. These grounds normally run from the rear of the engine to the firewall and are uninsulated and most are a braided wire. If any of these are found unattached…reattach them.

Remember….this is not a “Sherman Tank” don’t over tighten the connections.

Tight…tight………………too tight…broke!!!