Having trouble starting a Toyota RAV4

My mother and I own a 2001 RAV4 and over the past few weeks/couple of months we’ve had 4 instances where the car wouldn’t start. Everything works - lights, radio, windows, etc. but when we try to start the engine it just makes a repetitive ticking sound and won’t turn over. The first 2 times it happened the car eventually started but the second two times we had to get a jump. I suspect that there is a loose connection somewhere in the battery, but when it happened again the other day my mother got a jump and drove to the dealer for a look; the repairman said that the battery was fine and couldn’t offer any other explanation for it. I’m hoping someone can offer some advice, maybe it’s happened to someone else too.

How old is the battery? A “repetitive ticking sound” while the key is held in “START” is classic for a weak battery or poor connections.

I can. And, much to my dismay, it isn’t an uncommon problem for Toyotas this age.

When you turn the key to ON, it enables a solenoid that does two things: (1) it slides the starter gear into engagement with the flywheel ring gear to allow the starter motor to turn the crankshaft, and (2) it connects contacts within the assembly to provide full battery voltage to the starter motor. These contacts arc every time they engage and disengage. Over the years, they become fried. The clicking is the solenoid sliding the mechanism, but if the contacts are fried the batteries full voltage cannot get to the starter motor through the fried contacts. Typically the problem will begin as an intermittent problem.

If the shop checked the battery cable connections when they tested the battery, than you need a new starter assembly. There are some regulars here who disassemble the motor assembly and just replace the contacts, but with labor being as expensive as it is most shops won’t do that. It just isn’t worth it. It’s cheaper to put in a rebuilt or aftermarket starter.

Most likely the starter is going bad. If you know where your starter is next time this happens tap the solenoid portion with a stick, if the car starts while you are hitting the starter it’s time to replace it.

What TSMB and Steve said. If all connections and the battery are good, then it’s likely caused by worn starter solenoid contacts. While you can replace just the contacts, after 14 years a new (rebuilt) starter would be my choice.

Agree with the posters above, assuming the battery has been load tested and passed and the battery contacts are tight and clean, this is likely a starter motor solenoid contact problem, which means a new starter motor is needed. Not that big of a deal, the starter motor is a wearing part, and designed to be easily replaced.

I’ve had this same problem happen a couple times with my early 90’s Corolla, and fixed it by replacing the starter motor. Actually I had the solenoid contacts replaced, same thing. For some reason this seems to be more common w/Toyota starter motors than other brands. My 40 year old Ford truck still has the original starter motor.

There are other possible causes that are less likely. Ignition switch, starter relay, clutch or auto trans safety switch, etc. I think it is always wise to disprove these as the cause before replacing the starter motor. An auto-tech can measure the voltages at the starter motor during attempted cranking for that.

Having owned several Toyotas myself over the years . . . and so have various family members . . . I’ve replaced quite a few Toyota starters over the years

The symptoms are exactly as you describe

In most situations, the starters failed before 14 years. So you did quite well

Excellant advice all.

@RodKnox Agree! My wife’s Nissan had identical symptoms and it ended up needing a new starter as well .

From what I understand, the real problem is not Toyota, but the manufacturer of the starter, which happens to be Denso

I also have heard, that other car manufacturers using similar Denso starters also have similar problems

Then again, 14 years for a starter is pretty good

There is even a company that specializes in selling contact kits for these Denso starters

14 years ain’t bad IMHO.
I suspect that iridium contact points would be forever, but the cost of the assembly would probably not be acceptable to the car manufacturers.

We have used Bosch rebuilt starters and alternators with great success. They actually come with a roadside assistance warranty if their stuff is causing these.