Finally a major failure 2002 Sienna in Mexico, need advice

My first major failure on my 2002 Toyota Sienna. We drove back through the mountains from Corboba yesterday, no problems at all.

This morning my wife wanted me to drive her to the market and the car would not start at all. And, there was a loud clicking that kept on even after I turned the key off again. I had to disconnect the battery to stop it.

When I reconnected the battery, 12.46 volts on it. Radio works. Lights all work. A/C blowers work. With them turned on, battery drops to 11+ volts.

When I turn key to start again, the loud clicking, partly by the starter, partly by the right front corner of engine compartment. Battery drops below 9 volts, but jumping up and down, I assume as clicking occurs. Again, one has to disconnect the battery to stop it.

My theory is the solenoid on the starter has a short so when it enables the first time, it self-enables itself via the short, and keeps on turning on and off. And, the clicking is the solenoid engaging over and over again. And, there is no sign the starter actually turns over.

I do have mechanical help. A cousin and his grown son are very clever men, and with the Toyota shop manual and Haynes, I think we can get it out and another one back in okay. At least I hope so. It would be a 50 mile two hour haul if we need to take the car in.

I did some odds and ends. Once we had the Starter relay out, but when I hit the key it started clicking again. Which would seem to eliminate the relay as a problem. Also, when it was clicking I felt no click in the Starter relay. I would assume we should be able to feel it. I know on the son’s old Ranger you can feel the fuel pump relay click when you turn the key to operate. I need to have someone turn the key while I feel that relay.

Any ideas which would be different than the starter itself?

Autozone says over 2700 pesos, have to go and prepay, then wait a week for the part to come. I haven’t called Toyota in Puebla year. I am guessing it would be much more expensive, not sure how long I have to wait.

But, it is more the time to wait than the cost that makes me seek assurance or lack of it as far as being the starter. Thanks for any experience on this sort of problem.

That’s what happens when the battery no longer has the cranking amps to turn the engine over. The battery voltage drops off quickly, and once it reaches 10.5 volts or lower computers/modules can start freaking out.

If possible have the battery tested for cranking amps.


I would suggest pulling the battery and the starter and have both bench tested. Puebla is a big city, and there will be several auto / electric shops that will gladly rebuild your starter for you in a day, if that’s the problem - which it sound like it probably is. I’d go in the morning and drop off the starter, get some “tacos Arabes” for which Puebla is justifiably famous for, and probably be back on the road by nightfall. No big deal and no need to wait for a week for the dealer or Autozone.

That battery really needs to be looked at. Nine volts is pretty bad so I’d remedy that first.

Tester’s reply was the first thing that came to my mind - classic case of the voltage dropping off from the starter current draw (once the start solenoid makes contact). Now the voltage is so low that it can’t hold the solenoid, so it releases it, allowing the voltage to rise enough to close the solenoid again (repeating the cycle).

What’s puzzling, however, is how you said this kept “cycle” going even though the ignition key was turned off, and that you had to disconnect the battery to get it to stop. I can’t help but think something is going astray in the solenoid circuit which is causing “unswitched voltage” from the battery to get bridged to “switched voltage” from the ignition switch circuit of the solenoid.

As Tester recommended, start with a cranking/load test on the battery.

You could rule out the battery by trying to jump start it with some cables and a healthy car. If it won’t jumpstart, you know you have deeper problems. I’ve also used jump cables to bench test a starter. These are a couple of ideas, since getting to town is such a hassle.

I can’t help but think something is going astray in the solenoid circuit which is causing “unswitched voltage” from the battery to get bridged to “switched voltage” from the ignition switch circuit of the solenoid.

Joe Mario describes what is happening. There has to be something wrong in the solenoid circuit to cause this. Otherwise, the instant the starter relay opens, the thing will stop no matter what the voltage is.

But, since several of you insist somehow low voltage on the battery can cause this self-actuating solenoid, I will see if I can find someone to test the battery. Or borrow a battery. If that is it, it will be a really strange phenomenon to me. I obviously would be pleased to get off for $100 instead of several hundred dollars.


How about this?

Hook up the booster cables directly to the starter and the engine ground strap

If the booster cables work. I am not sure I have a good set. Out here for the most part you are on brain power, not using hardware. I do see what you mean, I think. I have a battery charger, but loaned it quite some time ago to the man who will be working with me tomorrow. He has a diesel compressor for quarry work, and it has no battery charger. I have told him how to install one, but to date he has not bothered.

Thanks for added tip. As new info comes, I will pass it on.

It sounds like you HAD a battery charger. Your friend hasn’t figured out how to add a one-wire alternator to that Diesel? And a decent set of booster cables is priceless when needed, as you are finding out. Good luck, my friend.

Your battery is toast. Don’t remove anything else until you rule it out. Charging is not likely to help at this point. You need a jump or new battery to find out.

The repeated clicking might be a master relay that is cycling because the load is dropping the batt voltage enough to reset everything over and over.

The solenoid short theory is unlikely. Its a coil and contactor. Even if the control coil was constantly enabled or the contactor fused, your starter would be cranking the engine if the battery was OK.

Once you get it running again, be sure to verify the alternator is working correctly or you may fry the new battery.

I agree the battery is suspect.
The repeated clicking is common - but only when the ignition switch is turned to the “start” position.

What do you believe is causing the “repeated clicking cycle” that never ends, until the battery is disconnected from the vehicle?

Current from the ignition switch is what feeds the “pull down” coil in the solenoid against spring pressure. If that source is removed (by turning off the ign switch), where is the current coming from that causes that circuit to continually “pull down” every time after it releases?

Most cars now have a feature like Retained Accessory Power where the PCM controls power to various sub-systems. My suspicion would be that under brown-out conditions, these controls are not operating normally and reliquishing control or power to the user. As mentioned, I’d bet the relay noise is not from the starter solenoid or relay but a main relay in the box that controls everything.

Proving one is never too old to learn new things: It WAS the battery. None of us had ever seen that symptom before. As you say, Twin Turbo, it apparently was not hot enough to bring up very basic relays having nothing to do with starter. All battery failures I have seen involved a worthless click and nothing else happens. This was new to me.

Yesterday, it did nothing wrong until I hit the starter switch. Then, it started very loud clicking which did not stop until the battery was connected. It did fire off the alarm at the instant I connected the battery.

Today as soon as we hooked up the battery, it started less noisy clicking without the key or starter relay in. And, the alarm did not fire off when the battery was connected. I took that as a sign that the battery was continuing to deteriorate.

The new LTH battery was more or less $80. And, I can’t blame Toyota for this one.

I was sure glad it failed in my driveway with help and wheels at hand, instead of on the tollway in the mountains in the fog, coming from Cordoba. That would have been very expensive and even dangerous.

After installation, the battery voltage was 12.4 with motor not running, and went to 14.1 when I started the motor. I am taking that as normal alternator/regulator operation. I will check it again after driving it a while.

The cousin’s son is a very handy man. Once we got the battery bought and installed, he asked if maybe he could restore my headlights. I had the kit from Advance Auto Parts, so, sure, why not? He gets around $25 a day labor, which is actually high here. But, as I said he is a very handy man. We actually like to give him work when we can afford it.

Plus his two eldest daughters, 4 and 7 and incredibly sweet, and I, have a mutual admiration society…

Anyway, it was interesting with me translating the headlight restoration instructions in English, into Spanish, but we figured it out.

Those headlights look as good as new. I had no idea those kits were that good.

Then, my wife decided to use the rest of the day’s pay for helping her clean up. He doesn’t much mind what he does as long as he gets paid. And, it’s better than horrid quarry work in the hot sun.

Thanks for steering me to the problem. I was sure glad it was the battery. It could have been a lot worse.

I’m glad you got the car going with the battery replacement but I’m a little concerned about the clicking noise you are hearing when the battery is connected. I am wondering if something is causing an excessive current drain on the battery that shouldn’t be. Keep an eye on the battery voltage while the car is parked. If the voltage drops more than a half of volt while the car is parked for a while then check the current drain on the battery. There should be no more than about a 60 milliamp draw on the battery when things are in the sleep mode.

With the new battery all the clicking went away. I did not realize I had not made that clear, sorry.

This same thing happened to my Dodge minivan. I was sure it is not the battery, but before calling AAA, just tried a jump and it worked. So drove to the shop and got a new battery.
Last week my friend called with similar symptoms from a Honda Accord, was sure it is not the battery. Went and jumped the car and it just needed a new battery.
With the new electronics, the symptoms of battery failure are different I guess.

My Corolla’s starter requires 9.6 v minimum (measured between the starter main power terminal and the case) to crank. For reliable cranking, best to have 10.5 volts or more. If you are reading below 10 volts, you need to figure out why before considering other possibilities.

@GeorgeSanJose, your early '90s Corolla is a different animal than the Sienna @irlandes has. The electronics in your Corolla are like an old 286 computer running DOS 5.0 with a 14.4k dial-up modem, and the 2002 Sienna is like a dual-core 2.4 Ghz computer on Win XP and a 10 mps network connection. The electrical loading is way different. A true Apples-to-Oranges comparison.

Edit: I just looked it up. The '93 Corolla only needs a 360 CCA battery, the 2002 Sienna needs a min 585 CCA battery. The Corolla uses a 70 amp alternator, and the Sienna uses a 100 amp one. A lot of changes in car design needs a lot more power than the old days.

Good point @BustedKnuckles, OP should refer to the shop manual for that particular car for the minimum voltage requirement at the starter terminals during attempted cranking.