96 Toyota Camry, manual trans - Just quits working

I have a car problem that my regular mechanic cannot solve. I have a 96 Toyota Camry, almost 200 thou mi, with manual transmission. Lately it has been exhibiting abnormal behavior and is driving me nuts. My car is doing 2 things that need repair; I don’t know if they are symptoms of the same problem or different problems. First, my car will quit. Just quit running. I will generally be slowing for a stop light and, with one foot on the break and the other on the clutch, I will disengage the clutch and coast to a stop. The RMPs will go from about 1500 or 2000 to about 800. Most of the time the car will idle until I put it in gear and drive away. But it has developed a tendency to just die. I cannot predict when, nor can I reproduce this for a mechanic. My mechanic has not reproduced it, either. It happens at the beginning of my drive; it more often happens after 15 or 20 minutes of driving. Some times after stopping and starting, sometimes only once on a long (over 30 minutes) drive. Sometimes it will happen twice on my 35 minute drive home but seldom on the drive to work.

This behavior began in November 09 and happened only once. Then once or twice in January, if I remember. Then in March it started happening enough that I could not put it down to bad gas or lousy weather. There are no ‘idiot light’ warnings, no error codes when checked on the computer.

The first time I had it in the mechanic looked at all the obvious culprits (I am assuming, of course) said that the radiator was leaking on a sensor. So I had the radiator fixed. Two weeks later, it happened again. Then it was checking out the clutch (I had that replaced in October 09) and replacing something there. Three weeks later, he tried the air hose replacement. I have had it in at least 4 times. The only other abnormal behavior is that the car will occasionally rev when out of gear. Just the opposite of the car dying, it will act as if the gas pedal is being depressed. But this is only noticeable when I am either stopping or changing gears. The car will generally run at 1800 or 2100 RPMs. Occasionally it will just stay at about 2000. I can go from third gear to fourth and just coast for a while. The RPMs do not slow down. My mechanic was the one that found this behavior. I don’t really know how long this had happened.

I like my car, I’ve driven it for 5 years and kept it in good repair. I get 30 mpg, and would rather fix it. Does anyone have any suggestions for me to try out?

When was the last set of spark plugs replaced? Air cleaner filter replaced? New plug wires? Does it stumble a bit just before it quits? On an older car lots of things could cause this symptom. A old decayed vacuum line is one possible cause. A bad or dirty mass air flow sensor is another possible. Just not getting enough spark from old plugs and plug wires is another possible.

I did let the car go two and a half years between tune ups, but I replaced the spark plugs, wires and distributor last Thursday, and it quit on the way to work today. It does run better now that the new spark plugs are in place. But it ran just fine, actually better than it had, all weekend and I did a lot of stop/start driving. I’ll speak with my mechanic and see what he has checked; part of my problem is that I don’t know what to ask, and I’m not sure what he is talking about when he does answer. I think he mentioned the ‘air flow sensor’ earlier - something I will check. Thanks

I had similar problems with my 96 Camry, when my Idle Air Controller and Mass Airflow Sensor got coated with crud. I used some CRC “Throttle Body and Air Intake Cleaner” spray in there, and no more stall-outs. I just Google’d the items and got pictures I could use to guide my efforts - you do have to remove the large diameter air intake hose to get the spray into the right items.

I’ll try that. Is the air intake cleaner the same as carburetor cleaner? A friend recommended I clean any wires to and from the gas petal. I hope it is as simple as dirty wires or air intake.
I can tell you that it is NOT the fuel pump. The car quit in traffic at a busy intersection, as I coasted to a stop. But yesterday morning it did not just start back up as it always had before. I had to wait for a tow. It was taken to the garage and they were able to take a look. It started right up for them. They did drive it and then let it idle. It did die for them and they were able to find that the fuel pump pressure was down to under 10, when it is rated for over 30. Several hundred dollars later I was happy and drove it home with no problems, except losing a day of work.
That evening when I took it to go shopping, it felt good and started and stopped just as it should. Until I was driving out of the parking lot. I stopped for a stop sign, on an incline and it died. It did not start right up, but I was able to coast backward into a parking place. After a couple minutes it sounded like it wanted to start. I actually had to wait a half hour. But then it started and I drove it home. I’m going crazy.

What repairs were done for the “several hundred dollars”? Ordinary carb cleaner can remove/damages the coatings on the throttle body and MAF. Use a spray cleaner specifically for throttle bodies.

Ed B.