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Help...long trip ahead

Help!!! (please)‏

I have a 1986 Toyota Camry. I just replaced the battery,4 tires, wheel barrings, wheel cylinders, tie rods, brakes, hoses, had a radiator pressure check and transmission service. Pretty much everything has been gone over, The only thing left to do was to have my exhaust ?pipes (the whole assembly under the car) welded back to the body as it has come loose. I spent everything I had to get this car in good shape so I can drive home (Oregon to So.Calif) to care for my dad who’s very ill. I will be traveling through the mountains, in snow, alone and, other than the minimal roadside assist. i have through my (cheap) insurance, I’m on my own (a 52yr.old woman who’s never even changed a tire)…

Other than the rattling, the car was running pretty good until I parked it for three days and it rained and dropped below freezing a couple nights (or got really cold). I don’t have much antifreeze in it yet (mainly because the radiator is full and I didn’t know how to fit a gallon of antifreeze in there).
anyway, when I started it, it started fine (great battery) and if I don’t apply any gas it idles somewhat ok (drops in idle speed alittle but picks back up) BUT as soon as I apply the gas pedal, it dies. I have tried to warm it up a while, I’ve babied it, I’ve pumped it -tried everything and it still dies as soon as I apply the gas. I can go a few hundred feet maybe then it will die but as long as my foot is not on the gas, it’s ok. I’ve never driven this car in cold weather and it’s fuel injected so I never thought it needed to warm up before driving it…

The check engine light comes on only when I’m starting the car but goes off as soon as it starts. The idle doesn’t change much when I put it in gear until I apply that gas. I’ve had a (mechanicly inclined) friend look at it and he said it wasn’t misfiring nor did it have any visible signs of bad hoses or leaks or bad plugs (even tho. one plug does have black tape around it???) he said it looked good. He did replaced the fuel filter that day as the old one was pretty plugged. I blew through both and could tell the difference somewhat. So, thinking it was fixed, I drove him home (about a mile) without stalling and it sputtered some but seemed much better (or it didn’t die) but in one mile, the temp. guage moved quickly to HOT. I got it down by turning on the heater. I had already checked the water and it was full, couldn’t figure that out either. Could it be frozen (deep inside the motor) and get hot like that???. I have had a new thermostat put on as well, about 4months ago. So, I came home and I again left it parked for two days while it rained and was pretty cold until today, I got in it and it did the exact same thing…would start, idle then die when I applied the gas…

So, obviously, I still have to get that exhaust thing welded and I called my mechanic (who lives about 20miles from me and is without transportation himself right now). He said that the exhaust system (specifically the EGA valve or sensor) comes after the engine and shouldn’t affect the motor like that. He suggested maybe the O2 sensor but what is baffling is that the problem occurred after the car sat for days…it ran fine before I parked it and it rained and got cold so I’m thinking ?? maybe the water is frozen in the motor? or maybe theres some water in the gas ?? Nothing really broke while driving. It all began after being parked for several days in the rain and first (real) cold days since I’ve had it (and, what really is upsetting is this has only been a week since getting it back from my mechanic after all that money I spent on “getting it reliable” for the trip).

So, please, if you have any ideas, DIY preferably, starting with the cheapest and easiest solutions, please tell me. I am so stressed about this trip and I’m suppose to leave by the 1st of Dec. and I’m praying this is something easy and cheap to repair… Please, any and all suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

That overheating could be because it has an air bubble in the cooling system. Ask your mechanically inclined friend to help you ‘burp’ the system:
You park the cold car slightly up hill or on ramps but in lieu of that, put the front wheels on the curb, back wheels on the street. Make sure the car is cold and it hasn’t run because you’ll have to open up the radiator cap and you can’t do that safely with the car being hot.
Start the car and look into the radiator neck. Rev it a little but do make sure the car does not overheat. You’ll note bubbles burping out and the coolant will drop a bit. When it does, add coolant. Do this until you don’t see bubbles anymore and it won’t take anymore coolant.
Put the radiator cap back on and see if that fixed it.
If you’ve spilled coolant, be sure to hose the area where it spilled on the street down with water: cats and dogs like to lap it up and it is poison to them.

Hate to suggest this but in light that you have to travel soon and definitely have to get there without incident, perhaps look into renting a car this time.

Train Or Bus ?

Sorry, sounds like a short range car for a long range trip to me. When cars reach a certain age, this one’s a Senior Citizen in car years, and they are inquestionable repair (poor condition) then often they are ready to be “put out to pasture” and should stay close to home.

Since you’re already worried about making it there and back with this car, leave it at home as a project when you’ve got more time to do repairs and experiment with short trips.


Yup, you both make perfect sense. As usual, I’m thinking a day late and many dollars short. I put all of my $$ into this dumb car-even traded a perfectly good (gas guzzlin) truck for it as I was told it was in “great shape & definately would make it to LA” when I had to go…that was about 4months and $1,600. ago. Now, I’m sort of stuck.
anyway, seems like it would be related to the fact it has no antifreeze in it. It only JUST turned winter here in the last couple of weeks, while it was parked, so I just didn’t have my priorities in order eh?
I will try the antifreeze and the burp and maybe sputter my way to AutoZone to see if they’ll do a diagnostic test.
Thanks for your advice.
Had a feeling I’d get a few of those “rent a car” suggestions…:-l

& Remco, -I’m definately with you on the antifreeze on the ground. Had a dog die from it 10 years ago. Now I’m overly paranoid and never let my dog even smell a parking lot-nose UP! I will be very careful of that. FYI “Sierra” is ok and safe and what I will try to find when buying it today.

The easiest way to change the coolant is to loosen the lower radiator hose from the radiator (or engine) and drain it that way…Now you have room for some anti-freeze…A long trip in a 26 year old car is always a crap-shoot…Have plan two ready to implement…If it continues to overheat, forget the trip. Sell the car and fly down…

I have a theory. It sounds like you have not driven the car for more than a mile or two at a time since you had some of this work done. When you do this, a lot of moisture can build up in the exhaust pipes, muffler and the catalytic converter. You don’t let the car warm up enough to evaporate all the moisture before you shut it down. The temperature goes below freezing and turns to ice and plugs up the exhaust. This will cause the exact symptoms you are experiencing.

I am going to suggest that the cat may already be partially plugged, but you can’t just remove the cat if you are going into California. Thats almost a capital offense there.

You do need to get some antifreeze into the car or you can end up doing major damage to the engine. If it only has water in it now, there is a petcock (plug) on the bottom of the radiator that you can open up to drain just the radiator. Then close the petcock and refill with pure antifreeze. It will mix with the remaining water and provide you with the proper protection. Just be sure to start the engine up right after filling and replacing the radiator cap and drive it for at least 7 miles to dry out the exhaust and get the coolant all mixed up.

One more thing, just before you leave on the trip, check and fill your tires to 35 psi for the road. It will help them run cooler and reduce the risk of tire problems along the way. Get a car charger for your cell phone and then enjoy the trip. I think you will be ok.

Sputtering if probably going to be due to an ignition miss, vacuum leak, or fuel pressure problem.
Given the clogged fuel filter, a failing fuel pump is not out of the question. Without car in hand I can’t be too specific about the problem.

Seeing as how this problem surfaced after rain appeared you might consider the possibility of moisture inside the distributor cap. This can occur on a warm engine after it’s shut off as moisture is attracted to heat. Problems like this can be made worse by aged spark plugs and plug wires.
(Think of a window in a house sweating on a cold, damp winter day as an analogy.)

At this point I would consider popping the distributor cap loose and noting if there is moisture in there.
If so, wipe it off and spray the cap down with WD-40. If the plugs and plug wires are aged then this would be a good time to replace them because both should be cheap actually and will pay for themselves with fuel savings.

Keith & Ok…you guys are speaking to me now. Thanks so much. These are things even I can do -process of elimination. Been on phone w/local shops and they’re all so negative…I have total faith that my long time friend and mechanic who has been working on this for the last month would NOT have overlooked the MAJOR issue’s I’ve been discouraged with by some of these guys today. I had a gut feeling it has something to do with moisture/exhaust (being that it’s disconnected) and/or dirt or water in gas and definately the antifreeze (which I just picked up). These are logical as the car was sitting when the problem(s) began, during our 1st real week of “winter” and, yes, I only have driven it a few miles, around town…oK. I’ll see what happens and will post the results…thanks for everyones help. I love this forum. I may even learn something about cars ya know…
Bless you all! Much good info.

Let me clarify something, the moisture that I mentioned in the exhaust is simply a byproduct of combustion, it is not from a leak of any kind. When gas burns completely, it makes H2O (water) CO2 carbon dioxide and some CO carbon monoxide. If you don’t warm up the exhaust system completely, the H2O will condense inside the cat, pipes and muffler.

These guys have provided a lot of great suggestions. I’ll add more.
There’s a possibility that the fuel pump is weak and unable to maintain fuel pressure when the demand is higher (when you press the pedal.
It’s also possible that the rain froze and cracked something, like perhaps the distributor cap that OK4450 suggested, or the ignition coil housing (I believe in that car the coil is located uder the distributor cap).

I also wanted to point out that an exhaust system doesn’t get welded to the body. It gets hung from the undercarriage with rubber hangers. It needs to be able to expand and contract seperately from the body.

Thank you. I will tell my mechanic what you said (if I ever see him). He did put a clamp and new grommet on before realizing it was all the way loose under there. Oh well, he’ll fix it (he’s already been paid. SO, YOU’RE GOING TO LOVE THIS! I went out right after I posted last and drained the fluid out of the radiator and filled it with 50-50 antifreeze…then, a neighbor came out and was grabbing to see if the distributor cap would come off (easily-which, it’s pretty well on there) and he was holding a metal cup of coffee in his other hand. While jibber jabbering, he screamed and flew back. He was shocked so bad that he left a deep burn in the shape of his thumb on his cup. ouch! So, it turns out, the covering over one of the plugs was cracked and that was the problem. I bought some plug wires and some seafoam, filled the gas tank and washed the car and it feels so much better. In fact, never better.
I was beginning to think I’d never get home to see my Dad but I’m leaving this week. I will have my Dog and my cell phone and plenty of cat litter (for snow). Can’t wait to get to LA (ug-not really). It will be a relief to get out of this rain for a while though.
So again, thank you all for your help and I will definately check in when I return or maybe from down there to let you know if I made it…
God Bless you and have a wonderful Christmas!

I might add that a split in the spark plug wire boot will not cause a no-start condition. If a spark is jumping through the boot then that’s also not a cause; it’s a symptom and that symptom is usually a failing spark plug. This means the entire set of plugs should be changed or the new wires will probably fail prematurely.