Who wants to play "guess what caught fire"?

my 94 camry died on a sunday afternoon on the I-95 onramp – no power whatsoever. there was some fresh-looking fluffy white ash near the alternator. no burning smell. the car had been slightly more sluggish than usual before dying, but its pick-up/acceleration has been deteriorating for a few months and it didn’t make any weird noises before expiring completely – no power whatsoever.

other possible red herrings (all i know is how to check my fluids, so laugh if you must):

-a month ago i took it in to my mechanic because it felt like it didn’t want to accelerate, and all of a sudden it sounded like an old car – sometimes it felt like it was slipping between 2nd and 3rd before catching, but my mechanic said the transmission was fine.

-it’s been 65k miles since the timing belt was replaced, but the mechanic said my timing belt was fine

-the plastic tray that i think holds wires under the car tore off about a year ago

-warning lights for the battery and the tail lights come on seemingly in response to my driving (always both lights at once), but the battery is only about 9 months old and the tail lights work.

-my car has 181k on it and i wanted it to live to 250. it doesn’t make any weird noises.

i’m about 400 miles from my usual mechanic.

also, i’m taking it in to a mechanic here on wednesday, and i know no one can diagnose anything over the internet, but this is the first remotely interesting problem my car has had and i would be grateful for any guesses or speculations!


The warning light was not for your battery. It’s for your alternator (see owner’s manual). You had fair warning that it was failing.

There is no way to inspect a timing belt to know if it is good or not. It may look perfectly good up to one second before it fails. If you want to keep the car, replace it.

Is it a v-6 or a 4 cylinder engine?

Have the alternator tested anyway.

Could be the MAF sensor unit.


I had an older Camry in which the warning light for the tail lights would come on. Replacing the alternator fixed the problem.

With the litany of other symptoms you have it’s a good bet you’re looking at the same sort of fix.

My guess is your alternator was going bad and as you kept driving it eventually something in the electrical system shorted out. The battery can produce plenty of juice and in a shorted out situation dramatic results are possible. Excess heat and current can cause burned out chips, melted wires, and yes even a fire.