Toyota Previa inconsistent starting problem


I have a 1995 Toyota Previa that is having a hard time starting up consistently. Most of the time it starts like a charm, but about 15% of the time the vehicle won’t start. It will crank away, sounding like it’s out of gas, but just won’t start up. BUT if I wait a couple hours and try again it will start up on the first time.

Mechanics have looked at it twice now and are stumped- and of course it starts up fine when it’s at the shop. A new battery and a new relay device haven’t helped. Any ideas?


When you turn the key to the position just before the start position, do you hear a slight ‘whirr’ from the rear? It lasts for about a second and then stops.
That’s a function it is supposed to perform, as that primes the fuel lines, getting it up to proper pressure. If you don’t hear that when it doesn’t start, the problem could be in that direction. It could be the fuel pump but the fuel pump relay is probably the first thing to check.

Sounds like a bad, or going bad, fuel pump.

Actually, as a former Previa owner, I would say that you should check the fuel pump relay. It is in a weird place up front and hard to get to. This could also be a fuel pump or filter but I would start with the relay and then try the filter before replacing the pump.

Thank you very much for the feedback.

I have listened for the ‘whirr’ sound and can’t say that i hear it.

A couple weeks ago, in an attempt to fix this problem my mechanic replaced the EFI relay- I am not sure if that is the fuel pump relay, but I assume so. If it is then we can scratch bad relay off the list of possibilities. I will contact my mechanic and ask about the fuel pump, sounds like that is the next logical step to look at.

The most curious thing to me is how time seems to solve the problem- temporarily. On Sunday afternoon the van wouldn’t start after several attempts, but on Monday it started up on the first try. I did notice that a puff of white smoke poured out the tail pipe when I started it up, but seemed to clear up within a minute or two after driving.

thanks again for the feedback!

There should be two relays. Make sure that your mechanic has replaced both.