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Toyota wouldn't start on Utah mountain top (aired 10/30/2010)

Caller states that after she and her husband ride in their 1989 Toyota to top of mountain, the car wouldn’t restart until an hour passed. She mentions an individual who came out of nowhere and told them to retry starting the vehicle and “miraculously” it works. Tom and Ray confessed to being stumped. Was the cause of the car coming back to life a result of divine intervention or the laws of physics?

Maybe just overheated.

I owned a 2001 Saab 9-5 wagon that had over 100K miles on it when it started having the same behavior as the Toyota caller from the Utah mountain top. If I drove the car over 60 miles at 60 - 70 mph speeds and stopped to get gas and then went into the store associated with the facility to get a beverage, I would not be able to restart the car for at least 10 minutes, sometimes longer. When turning the ignition key, there would be no response from the starter motor, acted like the solenoid coil had died. No click or clack, just silence. The problem appeared to be heat related, and after several experiences of raising the hood to inspect and wiggle wiring, the car would just start normally. Moreover, the behavior was intermittent, so each time I stopped after a relatively long drive, I never knew if I would be able to restart the car immediately after or have to sit and wait for the cool down period.

Searching on-line at Saab user forums, I found two possible causes. One was a Park/Neutral switch assembly on top of the transmission that would start failing, especially when hot and the second, less talked about, was a corroded wire harness connection pin that was located under the battery box, just above the transmission housing. As the connection joint heated up the resistance of the corroded pin would increase to such a degree that the signal from the key switch couldn’t pass to some computer chip and the entire starting system was effectively dead. When the connection cooled down, the car would start normally.

I my case, not wanting to spend about $400 for a new transmission switch, I disconnected the wiring connector and scraped the pins to remove the corrosion and then applied some WD-40 to the pins and then reconnected the connector. The problem never returned afterward in the 3 months that I owned the car, so I don’t know how permanent the fix was. (I unexpectedly traded up to a 2007 9-5 with 30K miles when I returned to the dealership for routine maintenance (oil change) and the service manager asked if I might be interested in a car the was just returned from a two year lease in immaculate condition. I offered to consider it if I could let my wife see and drive it. They sent me home with the newer car and to my surprise my wife encouraged me to buy it. While the newer car has some nice new features, such as the radar backup sensors and the automatic windshield wipers, I miss the ole 2001 and hope whomever acquired it enjoys it as much as I did).

Was the “individual” wearing a robe, with a long white beard and stone tablets in his arms?

Seriously, it was probably just an ignition component that got hot and needed to cool down. Left unrepaired, it’ll happen again.

I think Ray touched on the real answer to the trouble when he talked about the ignition switch as the source of the trouble. My suspicion is there was a faulty power connection before the switch causing the trouble. Possibly a fusible link connection for the ignition system if there is one. The trouble could also be a bad pin connection like the previous poster had discovered.

Wonder what kind of Toyota this was? Some Toyotas (Tercel, some pickups, etc.) and when climbing to altitude the vehicle will run hotter than normal. Once shut off the engine will start vapor locking within a few minutes. Allowing it to sit for a hour or so gives the engine time to boil off that excess gasoline and clear the flooding problem up.

Some Toyotas back in the 80s even had small fans mounted on the carburetors as a method of at least trying to keep the gasoline in the float bowl where it belongs.

The above is all predicated on the assumption that a no-start condition meant the engine turned over but would simply not start.
If the engine will not turn over then that falls back onto something like an ign. switch, neutral switch, or a heat soaked starter motor.

The caller stated the car died while driving and there was no reaction from the starter or even the solenoid when the key was turned, along with other electricals I think. So a main bus electrical issue most likely.

Clearly an “x” Files thing.

I think it was a Camry

The 89 Corolla had a carb. The combination of a hard climb and high altitude gave it vapor lock. Pouring cold water over the fuel line in the engine compartment would have let it start instantly.

This is going on right now with my 2006 Grand Caravan. I pulled the starter twice to have the parts store check it and it worked fine. I’d put it back in and it would work fine for a few weeks/months then Ka-putt. After replacing the starter, everything seemed fine for a few months, then bub-kiss. I finally figured that there was a lot of corrosion on the lead to the starter and by removing the starter I was breaking off enough of the corrosion to get a good electrical flow again.

What our mountaineers might be facing is a lead that is starting to corrode and experiencing the same on again / off again behaviour that we suffered through for the last 2 years.

My advice would be to pull the lead to the starter, do a visual for corrosion, sand it down anyway, apply a thin layer of grease, and re-install.

Only the base 89 Corolla had a carb. They all used the same engine but there were two higher horsepower versions that had fuel injection. Wikipedia is your friend.

The car died while they were driving it. A connection problem in the starter circuit won’t cause the engine to die. The bad power connection is in the ignition circuit most likely.

Thinking back on the vehicles I have been involved with that died while driving they were either run out of fuel due to an inaccurate system(not the case here) or dare I say “mechanic induced” most times the damage was not noted by the mechanic. I have seen stuff like vice grips left on fuel lines so the mechanic could change filters,suprisingly the car ran,for a while.