Toyota Camry Won't Turn Over - Potential Starter?

A month or two ago I noticed my car starting to turn over a bit slower. Then finally woke to car that would not start. I tapped on the starter and it turned over. I took the car to local AutoZone store, tested the electrical system while the car was running…Starter - Good, Alternator - Good, Battery had a few dead cells. I also took out the alternator and starter to have them bench tested. Both passed. So I put everything back and got a new battery. Seemed to have fixed the problem for a couple weeks. Then today go out to start the car and the same thing. Car won’t turn over…pop the hood a little tap on the starter and it turns over just fine. Same cycle all day…Turn off car, then wont turn over unless I tap the starter. So I take it out again, and take it to the local auto store…Starter passes again.

It seems like it must be the Starter if the tap works, but I thought the bench tests were pretty accurate? All the cables and connectors look to be in really good shape and if it were the Starter Relay, Alternator, or Battery I wouldn’t think that tapping the Starter would make any difference. I hate the idea of spending $200 for a Starter and it not to resolve the problem.

Looking for any thoughts that might help.

Bench testing is horribly inaccurate and is only done at the DIY level. The starter, battery, alternator, cables, switches, and wiring are a system and need to be tested as such, testing needs to be done to see how these pieces all work in concert with each other. The true test of the starter is to see if it functions in the car if and when it has the proper voltage and ground available. Unfortunately, intermittent problems can be hard to duplicate. However, this problem is easily diagnosed with a simple voltmeter if the car acts up.

But it sounds like you have all the symptoms of a failing starter.

Check all grounds and look for rusted or broken ones. Tapping the starter is a good way to test for a bad starter. You may have one. You can test for a bad engine to body ground by making a cable out of wire and alligator clips. Attach it to some metal on the engine and to a bolt or nut on the fender or strut studs. Leave it there and if the problem goes away you have to clean up that ground wire.

Just some food for thought but maybe the problem is related to a faulty neutral switch and tapping the starter is coincidental. Shaking the car while getting out, slamming the door, jolting the hood while opening it, etc could be jolting a faulty switch into action.

Offhand, it does sound like a flaky starter motor and I’m just throwing the neutral switch scenario out there as a what-if.

I’m also not a fan of benchtop starter testing as I feel it leaves loose ends so to speak…

Toyotas use Denso Starters…and Denso starters are basically my favorite. These Denso’s will last a Very long time and are Rebuildable. The most common issue I see with Starters on Toyotas is that the contacts inside the Starter Solenoid wear down and get eroded over time. This is why I purchased a kit to rebuild 100 Denso Starter solenoids… It repairs them every single time.

When the internal contacts of the solenoid begin to erode you will not be putting all of your available voltage and amperage thru to the starter motor itself. Replace the internal contacts as well as the “plunger” inside the solenoid…button it back up and you are off to the races again. Ive done so many I can literally do this with my eyes closed. Works like a charm… Do NOT replace that nice Denso starter with some kind of disposable crap from an auto parts store…it will be a downgrade at best.

Go online and look up Toyota Starter rebuild kit…or Denso Starter Solenoid Rebuild kit. The ONLY time this does not solve the problem is when the starter motors brushes are worn down…this is not very common until about 25 yrs of use. My money is on rebuilding the “rebuildable” Starter Solenoid and move along down the road with pride of a well repaired Starter.


What Honda BB said. I replaced the solenoid contacts ($14 at the dealer), fixed the problem.

Toyotas use Denso Starters...and Denso starters are basically my favorite.

I haven’t had to replace a starter since my 84 GMC pickup at about 80k miles. The vehicles I buy seem not to have any problems with starters or alternators.

@Honda_Blackbird is very likely right. The only problem that I had was the amount of labor (mine!) it takes to get to the solenoid and rebuild it on a 98 Tacoma. It’s very easy to decide that replacing everything once is better than going in twice.

If you do your own work, and you have the time and the starter is accessible, then try the solenoid rebuild.

I agree with Honda Blackbird as well. I have owned many Toyotas for many miles and the only thing I have had to replace is the contacts, never the whole starter. Those Denso OEM starters are indestructible.

All, thanks for the help. I’d like to replace the contacts and brushes but I’m having a hell of time actually getting to them. Wondering if anyone has had experience with a 2002 Camry Starter and replacing the brushes and contacts. I’ve got the starter pretty much torn apart, just can’t get to where I need to be.

There are some great pictures and instructions at the link below.

Don’t worry about the brushes, it’s the contacts I’d do. What engine?

It’s a 2002 LE 4 Cylinder. The link Bloody_Knuckles gave was great, but the starter in the 2002 is different and doesn’t have the simple plate to remove to get to the contacts. The starter is a Denso Starter with Toyota p/n 28100-28041. Here is a good link to the Starter and an example of another person that was trying to get to the contacts and ultimately only replaced the brushes. I tore the Starter apart, but couldn’t get to the contacts nor could I remove the frame on the motor to get to the brushes like you see in this link.

I put the Starter back in this morning and so far seems to work great. The power coming from the starter is significantly more than I have seen in years…so maybe it just need to have a bit of dirt knocked out of it. Ultimately, I would really like to replace the contacts, so any help that anyone can provide will be appreciated.


The starter solenoid is available as an assembly. Rock Auto has it for $64.

The “tap the starter” cure is actually more indicative of worn brushes.

@insightful Yes, when I drove very old cars on a budget I carried a sawed off hockey stick in the trunk. A quick jab usually allowed the starter to engage. This was obviously a very temporary measure.

The solenoid has changed, like you said @Cagoo - that link indicated the brushes solved the problem, I’d just go with them like you are. If the problem returns it looks like you’ll need to replace the solenoid assembly that Nevada listed. Good luck!

My feeling is that when a starter needs to be gone into it should either be rebuilt or replaced.
Burned contacts can be caused by repeated key cycles over the years and/or excessive current draw by the starter motor due to wear in the armature bushings.

With bushing wear, contacts, brushes, the iffiness of servicing the armature commutator and so on, it seems best to just replace the starter motor and be done with it rather than swap one part and have another fail at some point.

Take the starter back and tell them it doesn’t work.

But I doubt that the starter is your problem. You may have a cable that is so corroded under the insulation that it will not carry the amps to turn the starter.


It’s working fine now, so just keep using it. If the starter fails again, I’d replace it.