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98 Camry does not "hold" start

I have a 98 Camry (4 cyl, 141,000 miles ) that I have been driving for the last 7 years. For about a year, when I start a cold engine, the engine does not rev, the rpm barely reaches 500 rpm (as opposed to the initial 2000 rpm for a usual cold start). When the weather is cold (as it is these days in New England), the engine will stop altogether in a few seconds and then ?oil? light will come on. (This problem does not seem to have been related to lubricant since it continued unabated through several periodic oil changes).

I did find a work around. If I pump my gas immediately after I start the engine and keep my accelerator lightly pressed to attain the usual 2000 rpm for a minute or two, the engine ?catches? at some point and it can do the rev on its own. However, this is becoming more and more annoying, and I am getting worried that two many false starts in a row will leave me stranded with a drained battery at some point. Any suggestions?

One thing to check is to make sure the coolant temp sensor for the computer is working correctly. This sensor tells the computer how cold the coolant is. From this the computer makes adjustments for a cold start so that the cold start injector operates and the engine goes to the proper RPM’s.


Your idle air control valve may need to be loosened up. Get a can of spray recommended for this and spray it into the intake (after removing the boot) while the engine is running. Make sure some gets into the bypass which is a little opening a short way into the intake.

Click this for a picture of the coolant temperature sensor,15900113/shopping/partTypeResultSet.htm The temperature sensor, usually, screws into the engine near where the large radiator hose goes into the top of the engine.
When the engine computer receives the engine temperature signal, it sends a control signal to the idle air control valve (iac) and fuel injectors (FI). If the iac can’t respond correctly, because of accumulated carbon build-up on the iac pintle, poor idle rpm can result.
Clean the iac valve (and the throttle body bore and plate) with a carb and throttle body spray cleaner. You do this by taking the large plastic intake tube off. While doing that, also, use an MAF (Mass Air Flow sensor) spray cleaner on the MAF (just past the air filter).