Problem With Corolla Dying and Starting

Hi. I got a 96 Corrolla with 140k miles that I’ve been keeping alive as a second car. Two months ago, the car wouldn’t start and made a clicking noise when I turned the ignition. This car eats starters like snack food, so I replaced the starter and the battery as it was old. All worked fine for 2 months. Now it won’t start without a jump. When it’s running, if I turn the headlights on the car dies. When off, a voltmeter says my battery is at 12.3 volts and when running it’s at 14.3 volts. My alternator has been making some noises recently and it is original. Is this an alternator problem or an electrical system issue I should be looking at?

Remove the alternator, take it to an auto parts store, and have them test it. If it’s faulty, replace it. Call the store first to make sure they can test it, of course.

Get yourself a battery charger that can put out at least 10 amps. Your battery will drain with the car just sitting. That click click you heard is far more likely a low battery, not a bad starter. Chargers are cheaper than starters. :wink:

If the car just sits it needs to periodically be charged. Better yet, leave it on a battery maintainer but I would guess this car doesn’t sit in a garage so that may be impractical.

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Thanks, that was second on my list after first going through and tracing the battery cables to make sure they were all properly connected and grounded.

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The car does get driven several times a week (has been this way for years) so I’m thinking the problem isn’t with the battery just shedding charge over time.

What is “shedding charge”? That would refer to the battery. That said, I’d do a parasitic draw test to see what electrical device in the car is drawing too much current when the car is off. And yes, there are a number of things that draw current when off. Search YouTube for how to do a test… Eric The Car Guy and Humble Mechanic have good videos on this.

If the car has an aftermarket radio, alarm, sub amps or remote starter assume one of these is the problem. Start there first.

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I feel a little silly now. Finally got back to the car today and did a more thorough load test on the battery and alternator (both with engine off and and running) and all came back within the normal range. Next I pulled the battery connections and thoroughly cleaned them (I didn’t clean them when when replacing the battery a few months back), hit the battery connectors with a fine grit sand paper (a little rust on them), applied dielectric grease and I unplugged and reconnected the starter electrical inputs. Voila! The car started without a jump. I drove it a few miles to charge up the battery. I’m going to let it sit overnight and see if it starts without a jump in the morning. Hopefully it was just my oversight in not properly and thoroughly cleaning the battery / starter connectors.


We’ve all been there… the beater gets little love and less service at times!

driven several times a week

This is a pain, but disconnect one battery terminal when you park the car for the night/days. If the problem goes away, but comes back when you stop disconnecting, then you have something draining the battery.

Finding a slow leak can be a real pain. In my car, there are 3 control modules with a 9 mega wire plugs. If I was searching for a leak, I would unplug one plug at a time, let the car sit while watching the battery voltage and hope one of them is the winner. Then you have to figure what that connector connects too.

Another pain, but a cheap “fix” (since it sounds like this car sits a lot) is to install a cutoff switch to disconnect the battery when it’s going to sit for a while.

You could also just hook up a battery maintainer, but it will use electricity to keep the battery full.

I have a similar era Corolla, few years older than yours, 200 K miles. You are right about the starter motors … lol … this was a topic on the CT radio program as well, Ray said to be the result of the SM’s gear-reduction design. Not sure if that’s the reason, but Corolla’s starter motor seems to have been redesigned on later model years, different part numbers, not nearly as many failures reported as before.

When I have this symptom here’s what I do

  • Clean & de-oxidize both battery connectors and posts and make sure connections are snug.

  • If symptom remains, this test: battery should measure about 12.6 volts before first start of the day, then 13.5 - 14.5 volts immediately after starting engine.

Note that if SM is used with discharged or faulty battery, or high resistance connections, that may cause SM coils to overheat and lead to its early demise.

  • If I think SM may be bad, I measure the voltage on its “s” terminal during cranking. If 10.5 volts or more during cranking, and it doesn’t crank, I replace the SM.