Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Crank, no start - Timely suggestions appreciated

94 Camry, 4 cylinder. 204,000 miles. New fuel pump last year. Timing belt replaced 30K ago. Plugs and plug wires, as well as distributor cap and rotor, about 2 years old. New ignition coil about 300 miles ago. Generally very well maintained and in good shape. Today it died on the NJ Turnpike, 200 miles from home; started missing and it got progressively worse over the span of about 30 seconds to the point that the motor died. Towed to local Pep Boys (I know, but it was the only choice on a Saturday and I don’t know the local area). Mechanic says no spark but was unable to fix it. As things now stand the nearest Toyota dealer is scheduled to move the car to their shop on Monday. All the dash lights come on, including chimes and such. It will crank like a champ but will not fire up.
I know this isn’t giving you all much to go on, but I’m wondering if what happened could be related to the coil. Is it likely to have failed? Would replacing an old coil cause anything else to break down in the distributor? Any ideas are welcome. Since the dealer is located some distance from home and I’ll have to be negotiating with them over the phone, I’m more than a little paranoid about being sold a bill of goods. If anyone has suggestions of things to focus on I’d really appreciate the help.


Check the distributor shaft for wear. Remove the cap and attempt to wiggle the rotor from side to side. If there is discernible play it is the likely cause for no start/no spark.

if i remember correctly there is a small resistor like piece in the distributor that will cause a no-start

Something like that strikes me as more likely than distributor wear, if only because the way things happened it was like a component was failing. One moment everything was humming along, then very quickly the engine shut down, but not all at once as would happen with a timing belt. Would something like an igniter give those symptoms when failing? Wouldn’t something like distributor wear be constant as opposed to relatively sudden?

It takes just a few minutes to check and costs nothing…

Excessive distributor shaft wear is not uncommon for any car with 200k, but it usually manifests itself as an intermittent problem at first. But it does cause the engine to suddenly shut down and not restart. A few hours later, it will start and run just fine for awhile and then do it again.

A problem with this issue is that things like the ignitor and coil start to fail at about this age, and right after you replace those things, then the distributor shaft wears out and you end up buying all those things again in the form of a new or remanufactured distributor.

Anyway it is an easy thing to check. Pull the distributor cap. Turn the engine until one of the vanes on the shaft line up with the vertical line in the center of the ignitor. Then get a .010 feeler gauge, brass if you have one, and slip into the gap. Now move the shaft back and forth. If you can see the gap grow and shrink, you have wear. If the gap grows an additional .007", you have too much wear for the engine to run reliably. Anything over .005" consider a new or reman distributor.

BTW, you do need to use the feeler gauge, otherwise you may not see the change in the gap.

A no spark condition might be caused by a failed igniter/ignition module in the distributor.


Verify that power is getting to the plus and minus connections of the coil. If that is ok then check to see if pulses are getting to the minus side of the coil by placing a test light probe on the connection point with reference to ground. Most likely no pulses will be seen since you aren’t getting spark. If there is a crank sensor or pickup loop used that needs to be checked along with the ignitor. The way if failed I wouldn’t be surprised if the ignitor is the problem.

I don’t know what’s wrong but you did the right thing by getting it to a dealer. At least several times I’ve had to abandon a car some miles away at a dealer (GM and VW) and haven’t ever been scammed. I even had an engine put in 200 miles away and the work was good and the labor cheaper than my home area. Just keep in touch with them by phone and show your mechanical knowledge by updating them on the work you already had done.

All these suggestions are fine and all but the OP isn’t going to be able to use any of them since he doesn’t have access to the car.

Except for Bing. He responded to the actual question.

Finally got word from the dealer. It’s the distributor that needs replacing. More than I care to pay, but not as exorbitant as it could have been. Thanks for the suggestions.