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Corolla Trouble Starting

My wife’s '01 Corolla is having trouble starting. It doesn’t turn over. At first I thought it might be the alternator, but when I prime it by pushing the gas, it starts right up. I’m thinking fuel pump or fuel line. It was also having some catalytic converter / 02 sensor issues, so wondering if that could be it too. Any suggestions?

Do you mean the starter doesn’t run? The phrase “turn over” has several meanings.

Or do you mean the starter runs (whirr-whir sound) but the engine doesn’t “catch”?

mileage? any trouble lights on? Once it starts, does it run OK?

“pushing the gas” ? do you mean you depress the throttle and release it? then it starts every time? In that case, it does sound like a fuel problem.

I turn the key, nothing happens. No “whir, whir whir”. I press the accelerator a couple of times and it starts. The check engine light does come on and off again and I’m thinking that is from the catalytic converter, but not sure if this would be a related issue or not.

Sorry, still don’t understand.

The starter doesn’t run at all initially, but you press the throttle and try again and then the starter does run and the engine starts?

The starter operating or not should have nothing to do with pressing the throttle.

Initially, do you hear a click, or no sound at all?

I don’t think it’s the starter at all. The car just doesn’t start.I’ll turn the key and it just makes a “whirmp” sound. I press the accelerator three times and it will fire up like nothing was wrong. Then it starts as it should.

OK, sorry. This is important. Above you said the starter doesn’t run, now you say it does.

“whir” is usually the description of the sound of the starter rotating before the engine starts. It usually only takes a second or three of the starter “whirring” before the engine starts.

It’s easy to diagnose a problem when you are standing next to the car. Via the internet, we need accurate information.

I think pressing the gas and the starter engaging are a coincidence. Next time keep trying to start but do not press the gas pedal. Release the key each time to give the starter a moment to reset itself. I’ll bet the starter catches at some point. The whirmp sound you hear is the starter spinning but has not engaged the flywheel and does not turn the engine. Eventually the solenoid kicks in and makes the starter work the way it should. Time for a new starter. Also head over to an auto parts store and get the codes read and post the exact number back here, they will be in a format like P1234 or something similar. That will help narrow down what else is going on with your car. But since you are not familiar with how a starter works, knowing what the codes mean may not help you much. Take a look at the ‘Mechanics Files’ at the top of this page and you can locate a recommended mechanic in your area, take your car to them to have them look at it.

This intermittent no start can have several causes. Pushing on the gas is just a coincidence, nothing happens when you do that (it doesn’t ‘prime’ the system). Toyotas often have worn starter solenoid contacts (google it), they’re pretty easy to replace if you can remove the starter. Or it could be loose/dirty battery connections, a bad neutral safety switch, a bad ignition switch, a corroded battery cable. But my bet is worn solenoid contacts.

Thanks for your help. I’ll check it out.

Corollas are indeed susceptible to faulty starter motors. I own a Corolla myself and – if I understand the OP’s slightly ambiguous complaint – I have experienced this same symptom. Replacing the starter motor fixed it.

I’m a Toyotaphile, and even I recognize that Toyotas when they get older seem to have a tendency to suffer fried contacts. The good news is that other makes have by that time suffered much greater maladies.

The contacts fry for a simple reason. When you turn the key to START, a solenoid-operated lever mechanism (often called a “Bendix assembly”) slides your starter motor’s gear into engagement with the flywheel ring gear and enables the starter circuit by closing electrical contacts. As these contacts engage and disengage, minute arcs travel between the contacts. Eventually, the arcs cause erosion of the contacts through vaporization of the metal and leave carbon residue on the surfaces. It’s minute with each start, but eventually the erosion and/or carbon accumulate to where it interferes with the connection to the starter motor circuit. Fifteen years of daily use seems to be about right for Corollas to suffer this fate.