Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

'96 Camry 4-cyl intermittent starting problem, low idle, stalling, power flucuations

Bought '96 Camry LE 4-cyl 2.2L automatic, just under 65k mi a year ago (now 72k mi). No service records, seller not honest. Had far more problems & service to do than I & a mobile mechanic could discern when test driving before purchase (quick visual inspec too). (Timing belt & water pump, transmission svc, radiator, rear struts, front axles, motor mounts, front brake pads, sway bar link problem, tires, no A/C…as well as the parts below.) At first re-registration of car with DMV, their data showed that dealer never released car–hmmm. I shouldn’t have bought this car.

I’m not a mechanic, but I’ve had low idle-stalling, heavy vibration, power fluctuation and intermittent starting for at least 6 months. It’s been in the shop 3 times now for all of that (2 times car did not demonstrate problem, no charge & or service ticket written). Last recommendation was to replace Idle Control Sensor. This based on problem identified as ‘air’ (no codes came up in computer scans). Replaced: battery, distributor cap, rotor & o-ring, and spark plugs. Checked: fuel pressure, ignition & starter. Mechanic didn’t clean any solenoid contacts, throttle body parts, idle air control or other valves–all the things I see people discussing in the auto talk forums. Also, I don’t know if the anti-theft system is factory or after-market (wired directly into ignition wires) but the horn is disabled, the passive ignition lock function works.

My driving is all on the street (10-50 mi per day) stop & go with an occasional short stretch up to 50-60 mph, hilly, and in warm weather climate. I’ve just switched from leaving the car in OD to OD Off.

- Intermittent starting–first start of day or after driving and being parked for hour or so

- Get ignition, then idles low and almost (or does) stall out ; tapping gas stalls it

- Low idle (almost stalling) when stopped in traffic; tapping gas stalls it

- Power fluctuations when starting, stopped in Drive (Neutral as well), and just driving

- First time car would not start at all 3 months ago (towed to shop), there was no ignition, just clicking noise; mechanic said he started at shop by flooring gas pedal while holding key in Start position for a while. He said system reset itself.

- The other day, and 2nd time, car did not start up at all–but did have ignition. I held the gas pedal all the way in with the key in Start position. That worked.

When I talked to the mechanic about all of the things that can be cleaned (per comments in online forums), he said the computer didn’t indicate those things, that the problem is air. I asked him to clean the throttle body and idle air control first, before replacing the idle air sensor. He said he’d get back to me with an estimate to do that, and that he’d have to price out a gasket/seal(?) that’d have to be replaced if cleaning the throttle components. I?m not knowledgeable enough to be conversant about the problem though–was awkward with mechanic.

Because we’re in a remote rural area, mechanic gets many parts from Toyota dealer so they can be returned locally if defective. I’m holding off on the Idle Control Sensor because it is a $400 part through Toyota according to mechanic.

Do you have any suggestions? If you think the ICS is reasonable, is there a reliable after-market manufacturer I can buy it from directly (knowing the mechanic couldn?t guarantee it)?

You made at least two mentions of a problem your mechanic describes as “air.” What the heck does that mean? Please ask him or her, and post the response back here. Be as detailed as possible. Tell us exactly what the mechanic says.

Alternatively, tell the mechanic to solve the “air” problem so that the car runs correctly.

Do you have any options as far as repair shops go? Is the only shop in town? You need to take the car somewhere else and get another opinion.


Mechanic said he did clean idle control valve (was very accessible and easy to do). He said when (at the different times the car was in shop, they didn’t get codes, they looked at other screens that showed voltages to identify what was happening. I went ahead and scheduled appointment to clean air intake chamber/throttle body. He estimated 1.5 hours labor (where the industry standards set it at 2.2 hours). He said that he thinks the gasoline formulas are creating sludge and carbon problems, and agreed that because I don’t do any high speed driving, could building up (since the car has low mileage).

Today my mechanic removed, inspected & cleaned carbon from the idle air control valve and inner throttle body & plate. After the job was done, when I went to start the car up to leave, it stalled–repeatedly–got ignition, turned over in very low idle, then stalled.
Perhaps the mechanic had it right…replace the idle air control valve. Who can I contact on the mainland to find the part from a reliable after-market manufacturer?

There is a real possibility that your codeless computer is dead. That is a really expensive guess. If it were $100 like my 85 Cadillac, I would change it immediately and hope for the best.

I will admit that that was a lot of info and I can’t promise to have digested it all. That’s not bad - most people give almost no info, so more is good.

I’ll first second mcp’s suggestion that you get someone else to look at it. A good mechanic shouldn’t have to just guess and toss parts at a car - esp. $400 parts.

Second, do you know if s/he did a simple check for vacuum leaks. It goes in as an “air” issue - as in too much air - and a decent size vacuum leak could cause many of these problems. However, it should probably trigger a code - but then again so should the way the car runs no matter the actual source of the problem. Ask about the check for vacuum leaks. The generally definitive way to do this is with a “smoke test.” You can poke around yourself if you like by taking a piece of tubing or hose, sticking one end in your ear, and poking the other end around any of the small black hoses you see under the hood. Listen for hissing. (This isn’t a great method, but if you want to take something into your own hands this is simple).

Third note - if it does come to replacing the IAC it is really not hard at all even if you’re not all that mechanically inclined. You can easily order one via the internet for about half what the mechanic wants and then pay no labor. I wouldn’t worry much about the “aftermarket” aspect. Just order from a well known parts company - avoid the obscure E-Bay types & what-not.