Sticky problem with my 94 tercel

i’ve been having trouble getting my tercel to start since i bought it about a month ago. it would turn over fine but wouldn’t actually start. traced it back to the ignition system (starter fluid did nothing, got no light at all on a spark tester), took the distributor cap off to get at the coil and then had to put everything back together so i could try to get it started in the morning and drive to work

however, now it won’t even turn over. additionally, the only dash lights that come on when i turn the key are parking brake and oil pressure. anyone able to point me in the direction of what’s wrong and how to fix it? i’m assuming it’s the starter motor, but i don’t see how the work i was doing would’ve affected it

First guess is your battery is discharged enough it won’t crank the engine.

That would be my first guess too. Previous attempts to start the car May have drained the battery to the point it only has enough power to give you a couple of dash lights.

that’s definitely not it. i spent all day yesterday lugging that battery around so i could get it charged at the parts store. also it was cranking fine before i took the distributor cap off, now it won’t crank at all

Then my next guess is loose or dirty connections at the battery.

guess i’ll check that when i get off work, thanks y’all

You have two issues here, one with the distributor and one with the starter.

I suspect that the only thing wrong with the starter is the wire from the ignition switch to the solenoid has slipped off the starter contact. The contact inside the connector has a habit of slipping back into the body of the connector and not connecting with the spade on the solenoid. But it could also be the clutch safety switch (manual transmission) or Park/Neutral safety switch (automatic transmission).

As for the distributor, they have two weak spots. The ignitors are notorious for failing, they aren’t too expensive but you have to know what you are doing if you replace one. You will also need a BRASS feeler gauge 0.010. If the engine has over 200k, then the other thing that causes a problem is the shaft bushing. It is molded in the body so you will need to get a new or reman distributor. It’s not a DIY repair.

There are other things that occasionally cause an issue such as a bad cap, bad rotor, bad coil etc, but the ignitor is most often the source of issues.

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also there are wire connections going to the distributor. make sure it did not come unplugged.

I’ve had fails to crank problems on my similar vintage Corolla several times over the years, usually caused by a faulty starter motor. Ray has mentioned on the Car Talk radio show about this symptom associated w/Toyota gear reduction starter motors in fact. Suggest to ask your shop to measure the voltage at the “start” terminal of the starter during attempted cranking. It should measure at least 10.5 volts. What do you get? If above 10.5 volts and it doesn’t crank the engine, good bet the starter motor needs replacement. If so try to find either a Toyota or Denso unit to use for the replacement part. I haven’t had very good luck with the less expensive no-name replacements.