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'89 Celica occasionally not starting

My 1989 Toyota Celica ST has been periodically not starting. The pattern I have detected is something like this: I start the car (it starts just fine) & I drive somewhere. I turn off the car, then try to restart it maybe 20 minutes later–but it won’t start. The engine does nothing (no cranking, just maybe the tiniest little click sound) yet the radio works. I check to make sure it is in park, and maybe wiggle the battery cables. Nothing happens.

There have been times that I wait 30 minutes and it starts just like there was never a problem. Other times it still hadn’t started 3 hours later. But eventually it has always started, and then drives just fine. This little scenario has happened at least a dozen times in the past year. It seems very sporadic. I thought it was overheating, but this happens in the dead of winter too (like today).


I have taken it to at least 2 mechanics. They have checked the solenoid?, the starter, maybe some other things. So I’ve paid them money with no fix. I’m not about to do that anymore, but what’s wrong with my baby? It seems so simple because she’s fine 99% of the time.

I’ve had this car 10 years myself, 10 years old when I bought it, only 145,000 original miles but a ~29,000 mile engine replacement about 1.5 years ago (when my timing belt blew : ( . I do not want to get rid of a (mostly) perfectly good ugly as sin car that I know and love like a mother loves a child ; )

If anyone out there has a suggestion, I would be so grateful to hear it. This is my first time on this website ever, but I love click & clack when I’ve heard them–they know everything, so I’m hoping some of their other listeners would be so wise.

Again, thanks a million!

The three things that come to my mind are a corroded battery cable end, the starter solenoid and the key cylinder.

A corroded cable end can introduce enough resistance into the circuit to reduce the voltage enough (resistance “drops” voltage) that the radio will run but not the starter. Radios take just a wee bit of power.

If the starter solenoid is failing due to heat it can test fine cold and the sindings short when it gets heat soaked. The solenoid is an inductive devide that both engages the starter gear to the flywheel and completes (via contacts that it physically engages) the starter motor cicuit.

An intermittant key cylnder would be just plain ol’ wear & tear.

I’d suggest first cleaning the battery cable connections. If that doesn’t cure it you’ll need to check when it’s malfuntioning to see if you have 12VDC at the starter with the key on “start”. If you do, your starter assembly is toast. If you have zero, start thinging about your key cylinder.

Actually, the Denso gear-reduction starters in this car tend to fail this way. The solenoid is built into the starter case, and the guts are rebuildable. The most typical fault is the contacts within the solenoid getting knocked out of level with each other after years of use. Then, the starter only works intermittently. With the age of the car, I suggest you replace the starter instead of rebuilding just the solenoid.

to “the same mountainbike” & “bustedknuckles” thank you very much!!! that key cylinger thing sounds familiar, like that was tested. And you mention the solenoid contacts being off-level. i know the engine replacement was less than perfect (gas spew from the engine, etc). i know every hiccup of that car & the first time i started it after the engine replacement i knew it was different. i’ve been having the problems since then. So some contacts being off-kilter seems very possible. i guess the trick is finding a good, trustworthy mechanic–at the moment the car is NOT starting. and i’m curious, how would i test the 12VDC? autozone-type place? mechanic only? i’d have to tow it there i guess? or is this something i can do out on the road?

You all have been very helpful–THANK YOU!!!

This is a very common problem with 4th generation (st162)Celicas. My daughter drives an 87 celica and had the exact issue that you describe. I logged a similar question on another board ( and received a very helpful response from a board member there that helped me to completely solve this issue on my daughter’s car.

The problem is with the small wire going to the starter. As this generation of Celica ages, the wiring in the starter circuitry builds up resistance. To solve the problem, you need to get a 12V, 4 prong relay from a stereo shop or auto parts store along with a 30 amp, in-line fuse. I bought one for 5 dollars at Autozone. The relay is wired in between the ignition and starter. Once installed, it acts as a power booster for the small wire that connects to the starter.

This will solve your problem. We have never experienced starting issues with this car after making the modification.

There is a great write up about this fix on the forum along with a wiring diagram to show you how to add the relay. This forum is specific to the 4th generation Celica, so it’ll be a great source of information for your car. If someone you know is at all mechanically or electrically inclined, you can do this job for less than $30, including the wiring, relay and connectors. It took me about an hour to install the relay. I’m sure a mechanic or auto electrical shop could easily make this fix in that amount of time or less, but you’ll have to pay for their labor.

Here is the link to the technical article:

If this link doesn’t work, then go to the main web address, click on the Electrical forum in the Archived How-To’s section,and then click on the 4th Gen Starter Problems topic.

Good luck!