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Help needed where the dealership cannot

I have a 1997 Toyota Camry with 231,000 miles. Never a problem til now. It starts perfectly except about every 1 1/2 to 2 weeks. I turn the key in the ignition, it revs up like normal for a few seconds,idles down like normal, then it sputters, all of the alert lights - battery, check engine and oil light come on and the car dies. Sometimes when I feel the idle dropping if I give it a burst from the gas peddle (causes a heavy fuel smell), it will catch on and then I go about my business. It never dies when I am in idle, not even a hint of a problem, just at start time. The dealership has tried everything they can think of. And of course it has never had the problem in the 3 times I have had it there. Help, I love my car and do not want to replace it at this time.

What’s the “everything” that the dealer did so far?

I will get my paperwork from home to be very specific, I know the 2nd time it was in they changed out the ‘idle control motor’ I think that is what it is called.

They changed a part but probably the wrong one. There is a chance that the engine control computer isn’t sending the signal to speed up the idle. Wiring could be bad. Your car could be too old. It is sometimes better to quit the car at that kind of mileage. Most of the parts are in doubtful shape. One good thing; you can get parts at junkyards. Especially computers because a new one costs twice what the car is worth.

Don’t be surprised if it’s a bad O2 sensor. Had a friend whose Olds did this same thing and the dealer mech was stumped; so was an independant mechanic. I’m not a SAE mechanic, BUT, I put the OBD tester on it and it said O2 sensor was the cause. My friend went to the AutoZone and they told her which O2 sensor. We replaced that O2 sensor and BLAM! no more troubles. Wouldn’t have been able to fix it without the OBD tester and help from the AutoZone guy. Cost - $86.00+ including tax. Took 1 hour for us to replace it. BTW, dealer wanted to replace the Body Control Module (for $2000.00) but , thankfully, my friend didn’t fall for that scam. Problem has been cleared up for over a year, now, so I guess it was the O2 sensor we replaced.

Post back when you read over the paperwork. Until then we can only guess, and that won’t really help you.

Tell us what the dealer tried.

It’s way too early to be thinking of giving up on the car.

I would guess that you could be looking for a TPS (throttle position sensor) or MAP (manifold air pressure) sensor, something like that.

It could be an O2 sensor, however before the engine goes into closed loop (i.e. let’s the O2 sensor do some controlling), the sensor and engine have to be up to operating temperature, so if this happens when cold I doubt the O2 sensor is the problem.

The problem with an intermittent situation is that sometimes parts replacement is the way to go. Another possibility is to start the engine, then start pulling/shaking on wiring harnesses until the problem occurs (if there is a loose connection involved).

Okay, I have my paperwork. The first time I took it in they replaced the 02 sensor and did ‘fuel injector and throttle service’. Checked the car over ‘thoroughly’ and took care of a few other non related repairs and replacements. The second time they ‘found the idle control valve to be going out’, ‘seezing and sticking’, removed entire T-body assembly, replaced - reinstalled all. The third time, no paperwork because they said they took all previous work apart to recheck parts as well as the work of the tech that performed it and found nothing. SO, there you have it. As far as the engine being hot or cold, there is no pattern.

O2 sensor has nothing to do with a cold start.and never will.

so someones telling a TALL TALE.

Well, the first time they were shooting in the dark, or throwing parts at the problem, hoping something would work.

As others have mentioned, the O2 sensor does not come into play during cold start, and the “fuel injector and throttle service” is basically nothing. It makes some profit for them, but it doesn’t help you very much, as you now know.

Second time was a better guess, but I still think they are guessing. The Idle Air Control valve controls idle speed, and if it’s dirty or sticking you can have an uneven idle, or no idle at all. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to solve your problem.

You didn’t say whether or not the Check Engine light is on. You said it comes on when the engine is about to stall, but has it ever come on and stayed on?

I suggest two things:

First, find an independent mechanic. The dealer mechanics are no better, but they are more expensive, and you don’t need to be paying extra to service a 12 year old car.

Second, have the fuel pressure checked. I’m wondering if the fuel system is losing pressure while the car is sitting overnight. If so, the engine may not get enough fuel to keep running.

A good habit to develop when starting a car is to turn the key to ON, wait 5 seconds, then turn the key to START. Try this for a month and see if it makes any difference.

You say your starting problem occurs every 1 1/2 to 2 weeks. If you use the above starting procedure for a month without the problem happening you have found the cause. There is a check valve in the fuel line, which allows fuel to flow TO the engine, but does not allow it to flow back toward the gas tank. It holds pressure in the fuel line even when the fuel pump is not running.

If the check valve is worn a bit, it may allow some fuel to pass in the wrong direction, lowering the fuel pressure, and preventing the engine from starting normally or running correctly immediately after start-up.

At 231K miles, the check valve could easily be starting to wear out.

Make that ASE mechanic (which I am) and the scan will not tell you that the “02 sensor is the cause” it will tell you that it is not seeing the expected signal from the 02 sensor,could be a wiring,or connection issue,or it could be telling you the truth. I am seeing a rich condition,I am seeing a lean condition you need to figure out why the 02 sensor is making such a report, or in the case of a upstream sensor, why when I compare the upstream value with the downstream value why am I saying there is a problem with the cat efficiency?

I like the fuel pressure theory, I also like the idea of a dirty / sticky throttle body that is occasionally holding the throttle open a little and messing with the computer’s initial TPS reading.

Thanks to all who responded. It has not happened since the 9th. So if it going to happen again it should be in the next day or so. Would changing to premium fuel help?

It’s not clear whether they replaced the idle air control valve (iacv), or not, because you state, “…removed entire T-body assembly, replaced - reinstalled all.” The point is, that a thorough cleaning may (or, may not) have remedied the “sticks and hangs”. Further, an independent shop would charge you about $375 for an iac valve ($250 at Auto Zone parts store),15900207/shopping/partTypeResultSet.htm The dealer price was what? $500 plus labor?
Seek out a good independent shop. You could benefit fiscally.

“Premium” gasoline is NOT superior to “regular” gasoline. The only difference is in the octane rating. Use the octane rated gasoline you have use satisfactorily for years.

When it was in the first time when they did the ‘fuel injector and throttle service’ they did the thorough cleaning. When I took it back the second time, he explained to me that sometimes the cleaning works and sometimes not. So then they replaced the IACV. Since it had already been in for the same problem, they charged for the part only. With tax $259.83. I do not know a good independent shop. The guy I used for years before I bought the Toyota, is no longer in business. With the dealership, at least I know they stand behind what they do. If you know of someone in the Cedar Hill - DeSoto area, let me know.