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Issue Three Mechanics Failed On (so far)

Not really sure what’s going on with my car, but it’s a long and pathetic story.

About a year and a half year ago, my car started having problems starting. No sounds, just put in key, nothing happens when I turn kind of thing. I thought it was a battery problem, so I had the battery replaced. It worked till around January of this year, and the problem came back with a vengeance.

So far, I’ve replaced 3 batteries; thank goodness for warranties and a completely drained battery each time. None of that “I’ll charge this for you while you wait 4 hours.” I’ve taken it to three mechanics in my area, but either due to incompetence or dishonesty, none of them were able to figure it out. I started by thinking it was an alternator problem; I was reassured that it wasn’t by 2 mechanics. Apparently the voltage was correct when they measured it. I thought it was a starter problem, but it’s never made any starter problem symptoms such as the sounds of grinding or whatever. Tapping on it while someone turned the key did nothing. It would randomly not start, and then two hours later, start again. I’ve carried a Black/Decker portable jumper, but it has never worked even when fully charged.

The lights turn on on my dash, and nothing dims when I turn the key other than my clock and one of the warning lights. That seemed to be a consistent question that I’ve been asked. At one point two weeks ago, the car just completely stopped turning on. I had apparently drained a battery by cranking the key too much, so I had it walked to the nearest shop to get my replacement. Once replaced, the car still wouldn’t start. I had it towed to another mechanic, and they were able to start it somehow by “disconnecting the alarm” by touching something near the starter. Not sure what they did, and they were unwilling to tell me. After about an hour, I was charged 100$, and had a working car that they said had a disabled alarm system. Yet, the alarm still worked, so I’m not exactly sure how they disconnected the alarm.

Then this week, while driving, my headlights went out. I’ve had this issue before a year ago, and it fixed itself if I pulled over and turned the car on/off. Not sure what was going on then. But this time, pulling over and turning the car off… resulted in the car not turning on. The headlights were off, the dashlights, radio and AC were all still working. Had to get it towed again.

When I got to the third mechanic, the car started working again. But on the way back home, headlights went out again, and I knew I had a problem. Drove it back to the mechanic… and the car wouldn’t start after I turned it off. Left it overnight.

Next morning, was called by the mechanic, who told me he couldn’t replicate the issue. Took public transportation and took it back, and now I’m scared of driving it and either having the lights go out in inopportune times, or have it not start when I need it to.

All the mechanics told me that without the problem in front of them, they can’t test what the issue is. I’m lost, and feel like it might be a better idea to just sell the piece of junk. 2000 Camry, 4 cylinder. Any advice as to what’s going on would be greatly appreciated.

If they wouldn’t tell you what they did, maybe they don’t know what they did and charged you for their time.

Can you get a mechanic to come to you?

From your description there could possibly be more than one issue here.
The randomly not starting (no starter motor operation, click noise, etc) could point to a faulty neutral safety switch (I’m assuming an auto transmission) or next in line, a faulty ignition switch.

The other issues could possibly have something to do with a failing fusible link. Links are like heavy duty fuses and all power for various main circuits go through them. Sometimes with age and repeated applications of current the solder can start to melt and cause a faulty connection inside the link.
(Current is the amount of electricity required to operate something and more current means more heat.)

Without a wiring schematic handy I can’t be real specific here but a VERY careful examination of the fusible links (underhood) should be done. They should look like this and any flaw can be seen with the little plastic lid popped off of it.

The above is all theory of course without schematic in hand. Some problems like this can be a bit difficult to sort out sometimes but in the majority of cases it turns out to be something quite simple. This usually leads to the inevitable question of why didn’t I think of that in the first place?

I had a similar problem some years ago, it was a loose wire under the car that kept discharging the battery and driving me nuts. Good luck


In addition to the previous advice I recommend you or your mechanic test the voltage drop across the battery cables. Put the probes on each end of a battery cable measure the voltage with and without the headlights on. If you read more that a couple of tenths of a volt the cable or terminals are bad. (this also work for the fusible link) I had a similar problem. The battery repeatedly went dead but the charging voltage checked out fine. With the battery fully charged the car would run OK for a few days, but there were times when the car would die if I turned on the headlights. It turned out that one of the battery cables, which looked like new, had corroded to almost nothing under the insulation. The cable acted like a giant resistor limiting the charging current into the battery and and causing a large voltage drop when the headlights were turned on.

I’ll 2nd MTraveler. I think with the age of your car your battery cables are deteriorated to the point they can’t handle the high load demand of the starter dependably. Wires are funny critters and you can get a start one time and nothing the next. I’d have both the main positive cable and main negative (ground) cables replaced. If the problem doesn’t recur, then you’ll have your answer.

Wow, this one is really challenging. You are probably not going to get an answer from over the internet. You are going to need to find an automotive electrician who is willing to spend some time on this problem.

If I were going to start looking, the first thing I would do is check the ground straps between the engine and the chassis. This used to be a bigger problem in older cars but newer ones generally have multiple cables so it is less likely to be the proble, but it is a starting point.

Next, I would remove the bolts that secure the underhood fuse panel and check underneath it for a loose wire or corrosion. Also check the connection from the + battery cable to the underhood fuse box. I have seen this connection cause problems in Toyota’s, not like yours but loose connections tend to cause unpredictable problems.

Are there any electrical items in your vehicle not working, like a power window or power door lock? If so, repairing that might solve this problem too.

The headlight issue also give me a clue. In most vehicles, the headlights are a ground switched system. That is, the headlights always have power supplied to them, when you turn on the switch, you connect the other side to ground, thus completing the circuit. There could be an issue with the wiring at the head lights or the headlight relay located in the underhood fuse panel.

The no start problem is common with Toyotas, such as your Camry, and is caused by worn starter solenoid contacts. You can either replace the contacts (have to remove the starter and disassemble the solenoid, it’s not hard) or put in a new/rebuilt starter. Google “Toyota starter solenoid contacts” for more information.