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94 Camry - I'm stumped. Ignition?

I’m trying to keep the old girl out of the boneyard, so any help diagnosing this would be great. Here’s the skinny. I have a 94 Camry, 4 cyl, with 262K on the body and about 180K on a replacement Toyota engine. Because I commute on a motorcycle, I rarely drive it lately, and she’ll often sit idle for weeks at a time, but she always started right up and ran great when I needed her.

The problem surfaced one morning on the way to work. Because I hadn’t driven her in quite a while, I pulled into a gas station about 4 miles from the house to check the tire pressures. As I turned into the station, she shut off. Dash lights on, but no go. I initially guessed she had maybe just idled too low and stalled, so I tried restarting. Cranked strong, but no ignition. I pushed her into a parking space and walked home. Came back later to tow her home, but she started up just fine, and I drove home.

About a week later, thinking maybe the problem was a fluke, I took her to work again. Same thing. About 4 miles from home (different route), the engine quit. This time I was going in a perfectly straight line down a highway. Again, I coasted into a parking lot and stopped. Having my laptop with me and things to do, I decided to try waiting. Sure enough, after about an hour, she started; and I headed for home. Didn’t make it.

I made it, in fact, to almost home. She died again one block from the house. Again I waited, and again, she started after 45 minutes. Apparently there was a finite and predictable distance she could go. About 4 miles was it.

Discussions with a few frinds suggested it might be a bad fuel filter that allowed me to drive as far as the downstream fuel would take me. Waiting allowed more gas to get through until she’d start again. I replaced the fuel filter. That wasn’t it.

Now she won’t start at all. Cranks strong, but won’t fire, even with ether sprayed into the intake. Nothing, not even a pop. So now I’m wondering what component of the ignition could have gone bad. I’m also thinking that the symptomatic distance limitation was a result of engine temperature.

Any help here? It’s not as if this car owes me anything, and 262K isn’t bad run; but if I can swap out an electrical part for not much $$, I’d do it.

“won’t fire, even with ether sprayed into the intake”

That probably rules out a fuel related problem.
Is this coil-over-plug or does it have a distributor?
If the former I suspect a failing crank position sensor, if the later a failing ignition module.

Sounds like classic coil failure. Could also be crank position sensor. The next time it happens pour a glass of cold water over the coil and see if it starts right up.

Alas, I’ll be betraying my ignorance here but…the plugs are deep set in the block with long tube-like connectors from the wires. What looks like a distributor is mounted horizontally on the left side of the engine.

Are either of these issues visually observable, or is it a case of put in a new one and see if it works?

You can get a new crank angle sensor for $20. I’d try replacing that first since it’s the least expensive component in question. If that doesn’t work, then replace the coil, which is maybe $50 for an aftermarket part. Both are pretty simple to replace and shouldn’t cost much labor if you pay a mechanic. You could also do it yourself.

Thanks. Looking at the cost of the parts online (which is a lot cheaper than I expected), I was thinking of doing the crank position sensor, the coil and the module at the same time. I mean, if I’m gonna do it, I may as well commit.

Is there any reason to think it may be the distributor itself? Does the apparent temperature-related occurrance rule that out?

You can take the distributor cap off and check for cracks, corrosion on the terminals, etc, but it’s unlikely a distributor problem, IMO. Temperature sensitivity means more likely the coil or crank angle sensor.

May as well go whole hog like you said. I’m betting it will start once you swap those parts.

The Crankshaft Position Sensor and the Cam Position Sensor appear to be inside the distributor. My information shows that the distributor must be replaced if there is a problem with either. Also look for excessive >0.005 " play in the distibutor shaft. There may be a rebuilt distributor available from the parts store. You can also scope the signels of the G+ G- and the NE+ NE- terminals but who has a scope nowdays.

I am wondering if the distributor was transferred from the original engine when you had the engine replaced at 82K. If not, that is a long life for the distsributor. You might be able to find a fairly low mileage distributor at a recycle yard for a lot less money. You would also get the coil with a complete distributor but not the ignition control module. The 5S-FE was a fairly common engine that ran for a number of years.

Hope this helps.

It can be the distributor. It all depends on whether the distributor has an ignitor in it or if it contains a camshaft position sensor. If it has an ignitor, then the gap between the tips of the vanes and the ignitor is critical. If the shaft bushing wears out and the shaft can move side to side, then it will start dying intermittantly. If it is a cam position sensor, and in 94, that would be more likely, I’m not sure that it is as sensitive.

If your distributor has the coil piggy backed on it, the coil lead is built into the distributor cap. It could be going bad.

You need to pull your distributor. Take the cap off, inspect the coil. It shouldn’t have any melt marks or black marks. Now , when the coils out , you can see a small cylinder with a lead that connected to the coil. We call that the condenser, but it’s really a capacitor. Those usually melt plastic out of one side. It’s an $8 part. Very common. Now, half the time, when they melt, they melt onto the coil. Then, save yourself the headache and put a new coil in as well. Inspect the cap and rotor, just so got don’t miss it. And you’ll be good to go. Very common ignition failure.

I took a look under the hood of a 1996 Camary LE with the 5S-FE. The coil and igniter are over on the driver’s side strut tower. The distributor has the Cam Position Sensor and the Crankshaft Position Sensor inside.

Since the coil and igniter are remote from the cylinder head they would not heat up that much in 4 miles so it is probably not one of those. The CmPS and the CkPS are closer to the head so it could be one of those.

One thing to do is to make sure that you do have a spark problem. If you have a clip on timing light you can clip over the #1 spark plug wire and see if you get a flash on cranking. If you do get a flash check the basic timing to see if it is close. If you don’t get a flash, move the clip lead to the coil wire and see if there is flash there. That should narrow down the trouble shooting.

The CmPS and the CkPS send their signel to the PCM. The PCM sends the firing signel to the igniter. Clean and check those connectors as they are exposed to the elements.

Hope this helps.

If the coil has an internal turn to turn short in the secondary, it will heat up quickly no matter where it is located. It could operate with a secondary turn to turn short for a little while.


I’m a little confused

A few years ago, I did a timing belt on a 1996 Camry with the 5S-FE engine. On that particular car, a California model, by the way . . . the crank sensor was pretty much behind the harmonic balancer

I suspect the igniter might be the culprit here since the description of the problem is a common complaint with them.

Okay, I failed. Today, I replaced the ignition coil and the rotor; and she started right up. I let it run for a while & it seemed okay. I was feeling pretty good about myself, so I went for a short ride up to the local gas station. Filled the tank, & bought a car wash. Went to leave the station, and the SOB wouldn’t start again.

Called the wife to tow me back home. Not long after getting underway, she started up again while under tow, so I disconnected and drove it. Made it exactly to the end of the driveway before it died again.

I’m telling you, whatever this is, the distance it will drive is very finite.

FWIW, this is a 4-cyl and does not have a crank position sensor.

I’m still stumped.

Maybe the electrical part of the ignition switch is failing. Those can be intermittent and in a no-start condition can be easily checked.

Given the age and mileage a failed switch wouldn’t be out of the question.

I think @OK4450 hits on a good point. After looking through the previous postings it seems that the most important step to do when having trouble like this hasn’t been done yet. You should always verify power is getting to the ignition system as a first step when trouble shooting this kind of problem. Check for power on the PLUS side of the ignition coil while the trouble is happening and cranking the engine.

It does have a crankshaft position sensor.

Well let me ask this question… The car seems to be able to travel almost exactly the same distance every time. Three times, it’s died, and upon restart, has made it back almost exactly the same distance home. Given the variations in engine temp and time of travel, what is the symptom/component that would be indicated by this very definite indication? It goes “this” far, and no farther. Are we looking at electrical of fuel?

If the trouble was due to a fuel problem the engine should have fired up when you used some ether. The trouble almost certainly is due to some sort of electrically related issue. I suspect the igniter causing the problem. If you haven’t already made sure that power is getting to the ignition system while the problem is occurring you need to do that.