86' Toyota Electrical problem

I have an '86 Toyota Forerunner with an “intermittent” electrical problem. First of all, the engine is new [3 years old]: battery 1yr. old: alternator tested OK: new starter. Once in a great while the car won’t start: intermittent as I said. When I turn the ignition key, there is no sound except a tiny “click” coming from behind the drivers side in the car panel. I was told it’s a “relay” switch for the rear window which doesn’t respond to opening with the key any more. It too was replaced last year. The mechanic I brought it to says as usual, when this happens again [won’t start] have it towed so they can test it. But you know “Murphy’s Law” something will “jiggle lose” from the tow and it WILL start then. And of course when they tried to reproduce the problem it started for them every time! The starter was going bad so I did have it replaced. The button on the console to raise & lower the rear window doesn’t work either. That relay for the rear window was replaced too. However, with jumper cables I can start the car. The car “sits” a lot because it is NOT dependable. I have access to another car. Could the “sitting” have anything to do with this intermittent problem? The battery evaporates water so I have to put water in it, because it “sits.” I drive it maybe once/twice a week. Would drive it every day if it was dependable. This is the only problem, this weird electrical thingy. Could the battery cables be corroded [they have never been changed in the 22 years]. I’m going to bring it in and have the cables cleaned by a professional rather then just using the simple battery wire cleaners we all have used.

If there is any additional info you need, let me know. I can call you all too. Would LOVE to solve this. Electrical problems ARE very tricky and time consuming in solving.

Thank You SOOO much, you guys ARE the greatest,


WHEW! my A.D.D just kicked in reading that, sorry I cant HELP. others will though.


The battery connections could be the trouble here and just need cleaning. A simple battery brush is all that is needed and that is what the pros use. The trouble could also be internal corrosion in the cable to the starter or ground from the battery.

By loosing battery acid it could mean the battery is being over charged. Have the alternator checked for any AC voltage at the battery while the engine is running at around 2,000 RPM. AC voltage will damage a battery. Also have the battery load tested to see what shape it is in. Also have the elecrical system checked for an excessive power drain while the car is parked.

The other problems should be easy to track down since they are a continuous problem.

If it will start with jumper cables, then the battery is suspect. Have it load tested to determine if something inside went bad. Most places do this for free. We had a similar problem with the wife’s truck. I took it to the place that sold me the battery a year earlier, and, sure enough, the battery had an internal problem. They replaced it right there with a new replacement under the battery warranty.

If you are not getting a starter solenoid click sound and the vehicle has an automatic transmission you may have a bad neutral safety switch. That’s a common fault on any auto trans equipped vehicle.
Try shifting into neutral to see if the engine will start. If it does, then the neutral switch is bad.

If the vehicle has a manual transmission then the problem could be related to the starter relay or clutch safety switch (the manual trans equivalent of an automatic neutral switch).

This is what the neutral switch looks like.

The price makes me cringe. 200 bucks! OUCH in capital letters. For that kind of money I’d probably be hitting a salvage yard or eBay up.

Another less likely possibility could be that the electrical part of the ignition switch is bad. All of these items are easy to test but one has to have the vehicle in a no-start condition first. At least wiggling the shift lever could make a reaonably educated guess out of it. Hope that helps.

This is a simple electrical circuit! There aren’t, even, any electronic components in it. One has to wonder about the qualifications of shops such as this. Such “disabled” shops seem to be legion. One, further, wonders if they have any understanding of electrical circuits. Do they even know how to use an electrical meter? Tell me if I’m being too harsh.
The problem doesn’t have to be happening “right now” for it to be competently troubleshot by a competent mechanic in a competent shop.
It’s a simple procedure of following (and measuring) the voltage, and/or resistance, from one end of the circuit to the other. Any voltage drop, or resistance, indicates a problem where the drop, or resistance, occurs.
Here is the wiring diagram of a 1985 model. The 1986 model will be very similar. Click on this link: http://www.autozone.com/az/cds/en_us/0900823d/80/18/99/71/0900823d80189971/repairInfoPages.htm . Click on Fig.60. See? A simple circuit to the starter solenoid!

Is this a Forerunner or a 4Runner? Because I think the Forerunner was manufactured for golfers and you might need a 9-iron to get it started… or a putter for driving short distances.

Anyway, since you’re getting a clicking sound, there might be power getting to the starter, but not enough to make it crank the engine. Are the thick cables that attach to the battery corroded? They might need to be replaced. Corrosion can be hidden under the plastic jacket of the wires which may inhibit the starter from drawing the current it needs from the battery. Either cable could be corroded… the black (negative) or the red (positive). Perhaps the black one is more corroded which might explain why it will start with a good jump (the donor battery/car/power pack is making a good ground connection). Good luck!

Hey, thanks guys. Tomorrow, I’m taking the car in to have the battery cables “professionally” cleaned [just tired of dealing with this any longer!!]. Also, when I get my rebate check, I’m making an appointment with a diagnostic center and have them test the electrical system. Hopefully they will find the problem. Hey, I live in Sequim Washington, anyone know a GREAT mechanic in the area? I used to have the GREATEST mechanic when I lived in Auburn CA. BUT then he moved to Oregon. This guy was BORN a mechanic, the greatest that ever lived. Miss him!! And not happy with the ones I’ve found so far in this area [Port Angeles ~ Sequim].

[i]Again, thank you ALL so much for your insight, advice and help. Hey, don’t ya love forums, don’t know what I’d do without them.[/i]


Hi again,

Went to a Service Mechanic this morning. He cleaned the battery terminals and tested as much as he could. Meaning, Seeing if there was a “load” on the electrical system when the car is turned off [using good ol’ “Fluke” test equipment]. Bottom line, the battery is good and the cables are fine. Corrosion was at the battery posts [thought I had cleaned them enough ~ oh well, not good enough!!]. He said the system could not be put on [one of those fancy] analyzers, because the car would have to have the problem “enacted” to be able to “trace” for it. Anyway, let’s see how the car performs now. Have a funny feeling the “electrical” problem may have been “zapped.” Love this car, it’s been the best investment vehicle wise, EVER!!!

[i]Thanks again guys, “see” ya on Car Talk with the “Mariachi TwinZ.” You should read their book, a GREAT read!!


You are very welcome for the help Ellen. Thanks for the follow up feedback. I think you will be trouble free now. You may want to invest in one of those battery post cleaning brushes. They are inexpensive and easy to use.

You have two wires going to the starter, one is the battery cable and the other is from the ignition switch (via any safety switches) The one from the ignition is a spade type connector. It has a habit of backing out of position in its plastic housing, something you can’t see when its plugged in and will usually go back into position when its unplugged. Check this connector real close, you may need to replace it.

For Keith & Cougar,

When the starter was replaced, hopefully the mechanic checked those wires [ya think, maybe? I hope??]. Also, for Keith, I have 2 of those battery cleaning post “thingys” but just didn’t do a good enough job.

Now, I wish I could figure out how to open the back window. The electrical button on the console doesn’t work and the key for the tailgate to open that window sometimes works but mostly NOT!! If you have the tailgate opened, you can see the mechanism on the left side of the tailgate that when pushed in, will permit the window to roll up / down when the key is turned. [Know this from a passed experience when the car was stolen in '90 and had to replace ALL the locks & ignition]. The relay that “works” the window supposedly is fine. [i]Anyone got any ideas how I can get the window down and at least “check” the mechanism in the tailgate?[/i]

I haven’t been able to use the back area for storage, ya know like shopping? Throw & stack the groceries in the front. Bummer when the tomatoes get smashed and “drool” over everything else! LOL ;>)

If anyone has any suggestions on “fixing” the “back window problem” Hey, I’ll be your friend fo’ eva’


Since the engine was changed: Sometimes they leave the ground wire to the body hanging. There is a useless looking ground wire or small strap that goes from engine to body. If you don’t see one anywhere, you might want one installed. A dirty connection used to do the same thing on older Corollas.

Thanks, but I think the electrical problem may be solved [hope a’ hope a’ hope!]. If you read the previous post, I’m now more concerned with fixing the problem with the rear window not opening [responding] with the key. Got any suggestions?


I would suspect the switch in the console controls a relay that routes power to the motor. I would think the relay has a problem since they are the usual suspect in this kind of thing but the switch may have a problem also. The problem may also be with the safety switch you mentioned. To check things out you really need a test light probe to see what is getting power and what isn’t when things are switched. You sound like you are pretty savy Ellen and if you don’t have a probe I suggest you get one. I would also try to get a factory service manual for the vehicle. It will save you a lot of time in tracking the trouble down. You may be able to find one on Ebay for a good price. You should be able to get the information you need from your local library if you go there. The relay for the window may be under the dash or in the engine compartment. Armed with a wiring print, the proper test equipment and testing procedures, you will knock out this trouble.

To move the window you can apply power directly to the motor using a long jumper cable from the battery, if you can get access to it.