Burnt my wiring - starter issue


Hi, I was having trouble with my Toyota Corolla 99 where the car wouldn’t start after turning the keys. The AAA guy gave me a workaround to hit the key real hard a few times and the car would start. This worked, so I took the car to a local Firestone immediately. They could not replicate the problem and checked the car’s electricals. They asked me to come back when I experienced the problem again (and recommended starter change in writing but not verbally). One of their comment was there was a lot of dust inside the hood due to nearby construction. About 3 weeks passed and I got into the problems intermittently so was planning to take my car again to the mechanic and a weird thing happened today. There was a shrill noise coming from the enging almost some kind of rattling noise of metal. I stopped the car and pulled out the keys, the engine would not stop! So I started driving again towards Firestone. While waiting on a light, my hood started spitting a lot of smoke and I had to get out. The smoke stopped after a bit and I had to get my car towed.

The Firestone folks now blame me for not chaning the starter! They tell me all wires are fried…I could observe the damage on the visible wires and also the smell. They are asking to replace wire harness as well as starter and only after I do so they’ll tell me what else to replace. I have two questions

1. Can you make sense of why the electricals got burnt. What could be the root cause

2. Is Firestone being reasonable in asking me to spend 1200 dollars in replacing wire harness and starter and then looking at rest of the damge to other wiring? I would rather get an entire quote in one shot.


First of all, “hitting the key real hard” is not a proper solution for a starting problem, and was bad advice (very bad) in the first place.

Having said that, the burnt wires under the hood may have nothing whatsoever to do with the key.

I’m guessing that what happened is the starter solenoid stuck, and the starter continued to engage the flywheel even after the engine was running. That would account for the shrill noise you heard; it was the starter spinning much faster than it is designed to run, and for much longer.

As long as the starter solenoid is engaged the starter is still drawing current from the battery. This continuous heavy current draw is what overheated the battery cables and melted the insulation.

There may be a connection between the heavy accumulation of dust under the hood and the starter problem, but without seeing how much dust there was I can’t be sure.

It sounds like you need a new starter, new cables, and perhaps more. If you don’t like the estimate the people at the tire store gave you, I suggest you have the car towed to an independent mechanic and get another estimate. Tire stores are a great place to buy tires, but I don’t like to take cars there for repairs.

The Firestone guys are going to replace the starter and cables, then try to start the car and see if there is anything else wrong. They may find more and they may not.

It is possible that the ignition switch is worn and contributing to the problem. It’s common on older Corollas. Again, until someone tests it there’s no way to know, but hitting or forcing the key in any way is not good for the ignition switch.