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Why does it die?

Hiya fellas,

Let me start off by saying I’m a big fan of the show, not a big enough fan to listen every week but when I find myself in the car and scan by one of your familiar voices I always stop and listen. I drive an '08 V6 Toyota Tacoma. So, here’s my problem. When I start my truck, it runs for a few seconds then it just chugs out, it dies, as if it’s not getting fuel or it can’t breathe. The last time this happened, I heard what sounded to me like air releasing, as if something had sucked a container shut and the air was releasing slowly. This phenomenon typically happens very rarely though, like once every two to three months, it’s just started becoming more regular, about once a week now that I’m driving it to work daily. After it dies it usually dies one or two more times, then either I can pump the gas and get her going after she turns over or it won’t start at all, the starter is turning though, just not firing the motor up. If I get it started it starts and runs fine, no hiccups or issues for another several months. If I can’t get it to run right then and there, I walk away for a few minutes, 5-10 and try again, at which point she fires right up and runs great for several months. What the hell is going on? I called the dealership and the chuckle head I talked to in the service department said he couldn’t even venture a guess as to what might be causing this, said he’s never seen or heard anything like it in the 8+ years he’s been working there and told me I could bring it in but if it didn’t do it there I was pretty much SOL. I politely thanked him for his input and hung up. My truck isn’t throwing any bits, no lights, I just turned over 125,000. I’ve replaced the spark plugs and wires once in that time, I’m hoping a regular old tune up will fix my issue.

Thanks so much for your time,

Jeremiah from OKC

There is not much to as “Tune Up” with newer cars and trucks. No points, rotor and few even have a distributor cap and wires. As a matter of fact the Tacoma 4.0 has coil over plug so I’m not sure what wires you replaced with the plugs.

This problem could be a lack of fuel, or spark or fresh air to the intake system.
It could also be a problem with the primasry ignition failing from a faulty ignition switch.

When was the last time you replaced the following.

Air filter
Fuel filter

And what type of maintenence has this engine seen while you have had it.


First of all the (chucklehead) as you called him did the right thing by not guessing over the phone. He is correct if it did not show the running signs when you brought it in they might have to run tests to find the problem at your expense. You might have the codes read at AutoZone and if any show up post them here.
As a side note you are not contacting the brothers Click and Clack here and the show has been in reruns for sometime.

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I think you have some right to complain about your conversation w/the shop tech. While they can’t diagnose your car over the phone, they should have simply and politely invited you to bring it in and they’d take a look at it. Which means they’d connect their diagnostic machine to your car’s engine computer and probe the diagnostic information your car’s engine computer may have registered in its memory. There’s no need for the car to be having these symptoms at the time do do that. They’d also assess where you stand on the routine maintenance items, and suggest what’s the most important to do now. And they’d probably do a visual/test instrument inspection of the engine compartment looking for problems like split vacuum hoses, leaky brake boosters, gunk on the mass airflow sensor, and they might measure the fuel pressure. All that can be done w/out the symptoms happening at the time, and might well diagnose the problem.

But if you said you wanted a guarantee this would fix the problem, no shop – who’s honest at least – would guarantee that. But if you asked, I expect they’d be happy to work on it anyway if you’re willing to pay their hourly fee. Eventually they’d figure it out. But the cost to do it this way might be a problem. I expect that’s what the shop tech meant, that the most economical way to diagnose this is for you to bring the car in when the symptom is happening. That’s what they should have told you in my opinion.

If I had to venture a guess, I’d say from among these

  • unmetered air leaking into the engine, vacuum leak, failed vacuum device
  • a problem with the idle mechanism, your tacoma probably has electronic throttle body, so something wrong with all that
  • the throttle position sensor is failing
  • failing ignition module or coils
  • edit: if your car uses an egr, that’s a suspect too

I SERIOUSLY doubt OP actually talked to a mechanic over the phone

I’ll bet you lunch he talked to a service advisor, or maybe even a receptionist . . . !

Well, he called the dealership and talked to a “Chucklehead”, That doesn’t narrow it down much but no dealerships I know has the mechanics answer the phone. They are actually working and don’t get paid to answer the phone. The receptionist does and they direct you to a service advisor so no one who does any physical work is hindered any more than the service advisor usually hinders them.

Diagnosing it in failure mode is the best way See if you can figure out a pattern to the failures and have a mechanic at the ready to look at it before the magic time before it starts elapses. Did this with the wife’s van, had her stop by the dealership every pass by, stop and see if it starts. After 5 or 6 stops and starts It failed at the dealership, they jumped right on it, was a bad fuel pump in her case.