4 Runner Starting Issue

Ihave a 97 4 runner 4 WD, manual transmission that has had a strange problem with starting for quite some time. Attempts to fix it have all seemed to work, but only for a while. Initially, it started in the morning when, upon turning the key, there would be an audible click but the engine would not turn over. The engine would then start the next time. It would then work fine all day, and often for the next few days, then the problem would re-occur. This slowly became more frequent but it would never demonstrate this more than once while at my mechanics.

One morning, while camping in the middle of nowhere in northern Washington State, I went to start the engine and it wouldn’t start, then it did but with a terrible grinding noise from the starter motor. This noise lasted for 10 seconds before normal engine running noises took over. Leaving the engine running, we quickly packed up and drove back to town and left the car at the garage. I daren’t turn off the engine as I did not think that it would go again. However, Monday morning, all was just fine and the engine started as normal and behaved okay all day.

Slowly the problem became more frequent, and started to need more than one attempt before it would go.

Then a change happened. I went to turn off the engine and it did not turn off. It ran for 20 or 30 seconds before stalling. At this point the ignition switch was suspected and was changed out. Unfortunately, the old switch was dropped and fell into pieces upon removal so could not be examined. The car worked fiine for several weeks then the starting problem began to reappear and became more and more frequent and took more and more attempts before it would go, sometimes 60 -100. Most of the time, however, it would still start first try. On some of the failed starts the ebngine would partially turn over at notmal speed then stop, or turn over very slowly once before stopping.

Then something very strange happened. I turned the key to start and the engine started turning over but would not catch. After several revolutions, I turned the key back to off but the starter motor did not cease turning. I tried several things at this point. With the keys in my hand I was able to drive up and down the driveway. With the key in the run position I pressed the gas peddle and the revs increased nicely but it did not sound like the engine had caught. Upon returning the gas to zero it was clear that the engine had not started but the starter motor kept turning. This I repeated, the engine would neither start, nor stop. I also tried pressing the cluttch start cancel but that made no difference. Finally, I left the car in neutral and went to find a flashlight and wrench so that I could disconnect the battery. Upon reattaching the battery all went back to normal, or at least as normal as current. My mechanic did not beleive that this was possible until he discovered that the power in the 4-runner goes straight to the starter motor, not through the ignition switch. The ignition switch controls a relay only. He changed out the relay and all was well, for a few weeks. The problem is now back to full strength with one repeat of the engine not turning off and a brief episode of the starter motor not wanting to stop after the key was removed. This time, however, applying gas dis not increase engine revs and, fortunately, after a 15 - 20 seconds the starter motor turned off by itself. Startig is very hit and miss, sometimes first try, sometimes after 40 or 50 tries. On each failed try, there is a loud click suggesting that the relay is working just fine.

Any ideas? Once the engine has started, all works very well. Shortly before this problem began, I did experience one other problem while driving but this has sinice disappeared. While driving I would get the very brief sense that I had lost power. It was like the brakes had been tapped for a very brief pulse, much faster on and off than I was capable of. Another way to describe this would be as thought I had just driven through a short patch of ice but there was never any change in engine speed, a little noise but not enough to tell if I had actually lost power. I do not know if this was a real initial symptom or totally unrelated.


Ian Scott

I forgot to mention, the first thing that I tried was to change out the battery, this did not help. The problem re-occurred immediately.

I would like to correct one of the observations. I mentioned that upon turing off the engine at the ignition switch, the engine kept running. What I should have said is that the engine turned off but was accompanied by the starter motor turning on to try to stop the engine turning off.