Strange Starting Problems

I have a 1994 Toyota Camry with 160,000 miles on it. It runs fine, but when starting the car after it has been sitting for more than 4 hours, it usually takes 3 or more turns of the key to start.

After it has started, though, I can turn it off and it will turn on again just fine. The battery doesn’t appear to be the issue, because all the lights are bright and the wipers/radio work fine. The neutral safety switch is not the issue because it still requires multiple turns when I switch the car into neutral.

Could it be the starter? It seems if its only a cold start problem it couldn’t be the starter. Could it be from a gummed up engine? A bad solenoid? I don’t know what fits these symptoms.

It hasn’t been a major issue so far because it always starts after a couple of turns, but I’m worried it will just completely die on me one of these days.

Thanks for your help!

Look at fuel. It sounds like you’re not getting enough fuel until the pump has gone through 3 cycles. Once you’ve been running it and then turn it off to start it again, the fuel is already there and so the pump doesn’t have to pressurize.

Oh forgot to mention! sorry this probably is important. It doesn’t turn over when I turn the key at first, it only turns over the third (or more) time and that is when it starts. Turning the key multiple times is required for it to turn over on a cold start.

If you are saying that the starter motor doesn’t work when the trouble happens the problem is most likely with the starter solenoid contacts. They are wearing out and need to be replaced. This is a common problem with older cars.

but why would the starter solenoid contacts only not work on a cold start, and work fine during a hot start? I can’t seem to make sense of that.

Metal expands with heat. Perhaps this slight expansion adds enough pressure to the contacts to make this work? It is very common for electrical problems to be heat or cold related.

Ohhh. Yeah, that was important :wink:

If you determine Cougar’s suggestion to look at the starter solenoid isn’t what’s wrong, look at your ignition switch. It’s probably got a bad solder join on the starter wire. When you turn the key on and off you jiggle it and it makes contact. It’ll probably get progressively worse as time goes on.

Cougar’s right, this is a common problem with Toyota starters (happened to me). If you have a cooperative mechanic he can pull the starter and replace the side and center solenoid contact for ~$50 in parts. Or he can put in a new starter.

Thanks! Is there a definitive test to see if it is the solenoid contacts? or do you just need to try it and see if it makes a difference? Is there anything I could have done to help avoid this?

I know of no test. If this is the original, or even first replacement starter, it’s not at all unusual at 160k miles. It’s the result of normal wear, nothing you can do to avoid it. Pulling the starter is not that big a job (I did it in my garage, I have a good set of tools).