'84 Camry was running so great

Hi Car Talk community,

I love the show and would love to see if you guys are interested in my most recent car problem.

I have an '84 Camry with ~190k miles which recently made a 1800 mile drive across the country! However, after the drive it started suddenly shutting off (electric and engine) at stop lights, or when the rpms were really low (.5-.6k). The engine would almost skip a bit. The accelerator cable was really loose, so I thought it was just stalling out because of the low rpms, and I never had any problems once the car was warmed up or at high speeds. As soon as I would throw the car back in park it would start up again.

However, now that it is winter, the tachometer started suddenly jumping a few minutes after I’d start the car, and then the car would die. It didn’t seem to want to start immediately after this happened – no turning over, but I may have flooded the engine trying to turn it on? But it would always start again and be okay to drive. I didn’t drive it for two weeks, came back, and it started immediately (impressive, as I live in Minnesota), but the tachometer immediately jumped around, reaching 6k rpms, and then the car died. This happened a few times yesterday, and each time the car died before I even tried to drive anywhere. The engine isn’t actually reaching those rpms, as it stays quiet. The car generally runs a little rough, but I thought that was due to the loose accelerator cable and resulting low rpms. The two problems (1. the car simply turning off at low rpms and 2. the tachometer jumping, and then it turning off) seem to be separate, but I have no idea.

I don’t have any maintenance records since before I bought it, but I think it was due for a timing belt, and that it has the expected slow leaks associated with an old car. It burns oil a little bit, so I generally add an STP product to increase viscosity and that seems to help it burn less oil.

Any advice/trial and error thoughts would be much appreciated! I wanna keep this guy running.


You might as well pretend nothing was ever done, so go ahead with air filter, fuel filter, new plugs or even go to a mechanic that can properly diagnose the situation,

How are the battery connections? Clean and tight. How old is the battery? Also, replace plugs, wires, cap and rotor.

Besides making sure the maintenance is up to date, I would clean the throttle body

The idle air control valve may also be suspect, but I’d clean that throttle body first

I may be wrong, but I believe on your car, the cap and wires are not separate, meaning the wires can’t be separated from the cap . . . ?

Offhand it sounds like a problem with the ignition system; meaning the distributor, ignition module, etc.
This is only a guess without car in hand but the tachometer needle jumping can often point to worn distributor shaft bushings in the distributor. This is very easy to check.

Just pop the distributor cap loose, grasp the rotor, and try to rock it sideways. There should be no or barely noticeable movement sideways at all.
If there is very noticeable movement the bushings are gone and this means a distributor replacement.

Over time the bushings can wear due to oil holes clogging up with coked engine oil which in turn cuts off all or most of the oil supply that keeps the bushings lubed.

It might be the ignition module, if this engine had one instead of points and condenser. I have a 90 Honda Civic, granted a different brand and year, but it has an ignition module that has failed a couple of times over the years and each time the engine dies and will not start again until it cools down. It could run a couple of days before it would stop again. The ignition module probably controls the tach, so since you were seeing the tach go crazy, it might be also indicate this problem. Mine would always go to 0 when the ignition module would fails and that is how I tracked it down. The ignition module is inside the distributor on all of my cars that have it, but might be in a different place on a Toyota

I agree with OK, but the amount of movement it takes to cause this is very small and for most of us, not something easy to see. Align the ignitor with a vane and put a 0.010" feeler in the gap, then rock the shaft. With most of the gap filled, the change will be much more noticeable.

The 84 should be the same as the 83 with plug wires and cap & rotor that can be changed. The plugs should be changed at least every 20,000 miles. You can check for puffed up plug wires and coil wire. It usually happens at the ends of the wires. Work on this car is easy.

Thanks to all – I’ll check up on this stuff and see what works!