You folks are my last hope

I own a 1997 Toyota Celica. It’s been problematic for months and I’m desperate for help. I’ll do my best to simplify.

Car has been malfunctioning for 6 months+. Performed AutoZone code read, taken to Firestone for diagnostics twice, taken to local mechanic, spoken to another mechanic and am very confused. Here is what has been replaced/performed:

  • Fuel Pump (has been replaced, and have observed latest one pumping fuel well)

  • Fuel Pump Assembly (has been replaced; suspicion now is that there was never anything wrong with original pump nor assembly)

  • In-line fuel filter located close to air filter box (was replaced)

  • EFI relay (was replaced; repair shop found it as faulty)

  • Spark (was checked when changing spark plugs recently)

  • Spark plugs (just changed, seemed to run OK for a couple drives after this)

  • Replaced alternator about a year/year and a half ago.

  • Compression test yielded adequate results.

  • Ordered and installed new ECU (originally believed I ordered from a scam site, but the ECU seems to work, as the car sometimes starts).

The symptoms have been mostly the same the entire time: The car will start and run satisfactorily for a few days. Then it won’t start. Leave it alone for a week and then it might start again. Or not. Jumping it may have worked originally (I can’t recall), but eventually it did not. A fully charged battery PLUS starter fluid worked at one point, then that failed also. After waiting months for my ECU and installing it a few weeks ago, the car ran for two weeks with no apparent problems. Then, I got into the car, turned the key partially (had an open-door light on the dash) and there was a little click noise, and everything died. No lights, no engine turnover, nothing. We jumped it and it ran for another few days. Then, while driving home and literally on my street moving towards my house, the car completely died (again, nothing electrical worked, no engine turnover, nothing). I was able to immediately jump the car to get it the rest of the way to my house and there it sits.

Long post but it’s been a long journey. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

A car this old is bound to have problems, if the body is in great shape and you are in love with it keep plugging away. I am not sure why you got a new ECU and fuel pump. Is the check engine light on? If it is or was what were the codes (P1234) A bad crankshaft position sensor could be causing your troubles. If you can get the car going by jumping it I would take a close look at the battery and charging system. But if the body is rusting away this might be a good time to consider another car

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Firestone said I had a faulty fuel pump. The cost was outrageous, so decided to replace it myself. Then on my own accord I discovered the fuel pump and assembly was satisfactory. Later I was advised (over the phone) by prestigious local mechanics that a faulty ECU was the best bet.

There originally was a check engine light. I’ll have to call up AutoZone and find out what it was for. That was at the beginning of this fiasco and a quick fix.

I think a bad crankshaft position is unlikely but I’ll keep it it mind. I’m leaning more towards battery/charging system. And, yes, it is time to dump the car but I’m broke and desperate at the moment so fixing it is (hopefully) ideal.

There may be lights that stay on and kill the battery. Do interior lights go off always. Glove box light trunk light and under hood light things to look at also. Had one car the brake light switch was bad and the brake lights stayed on and would kill the battery. The open door light on the dash leads me to believe it is a door switch or something of a little gremlin like that.

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For no crank, no lights and stalling while driving it sounds like your battery cables are loose or there is a poor connection.

The parts that you replaced would be for a crank/no start condition. You did not describe the original condition other than the engine will not start.

BTW you should be able to drive with all of the lights on without the battery going dead.

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Really if it doesn’t start, it shouldn’t be that hard for a good mechanic to figure out why, but of course you have to pay them. For a car that old though I’d be wondering about the quality of the wiring, including connections. Sounds like every time someone messes with something it works again for a while.

I also suspect the battery cable connections, both at the battery post connections and the ground connection. Autozone and Advance around here will both perform battery and charging systems for free. I would stay away from any national chains, like tire chains, Pep boys, and chain muffler and transmission shops for general repair. A good local repair shop is your best bet. The best ones will be very busy.

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Just like what was already said, I wonder if the open-door light isn’t a major clue. At that time, it sounds like your battery was discharged, which might have been due to an open door! It doesn’t sound like you have done a full battery charge since then.

In general, your post seems to indicate a general problem we all have. You have done a little bit of everything to the car, without focus. Sometimes, you are too close to the trees to see the forest. There are YouTube videos on generalized steps to diagnose a non-starting car. Charge up the battery and go through those steps in order. Don’t just get the car started and then ignore the symptoms.

I may have missed it - what, exactly, happens when it won’t start? Does the engine turn over, or is there nothing happening?

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I’m hoping a general reply is seen by all those who responded, and I don’t need to individually reply to each of you. A sincere thank you for the responses. I found some notes I took and the original problem began with a check engine light for a distributor cap. Replaced that promptly 6+ months ago. I don’t believe that’s relevant to the current situation.

Barkydog- When the car has been dying recently, all power and lights are off. I may have mislead you with the “open door light” comment. To the best of my memory and for clarification: I opened my door and sat in my seat and put the key into the ignition. The open door light was on (as it should be) for those brief moments. Then, I turned the key and all power shut off (the open door dash light turned off). It was as if I turned the key and something shorted and the entire car lost power. Not long after we attempted to jump it and were successful.

Nevada- I’m going to look at the charging/battery system. As for the “original condition” when these problems first manifested, I can’t entirely recall. That was 6+ months ago and a lot has happened since then.

Bing- Wiring/connections/charging system are my guess.

Oldtimer- thanks for the recommendation.

Oldnotdeadyet- I believe I mislead you about the open-door light. I don’t think believe a door was left open. See my reply to Barky. I will, however, look into those Youtube videos. Thanks.

Texases- If the car has JUST died (as in, the car was running and now it’s dead), then there is no turn over and no clicking. If I return to the car hours later, I might get some clicking or even some engine turnover, but no start. I can jump it and it will start.

I have a difficult time imagining anything wrong with the battery/starter/alternator, but I’ll be taking it to AutoZone regardless for some free testing. This hadn’t even crossed my mind after all the (allegedly) thorough investigations performed previously by Firestone and the local mechanic.

After reading about the issues I also would start the hunt for the trouble with the charging system. Make sure that the wiring doesn’t have a intermittent problem.

When you turned the key ON and the lights died it was because the battery was in a very discharged state or there is a bad connection between the battery and the main panel under the hood. Tapping on suspected areas of trouble using a screwdriver handle may help track down the problem. You may also want to invest in a voltmeter so you can check voltages. A very useful tool to have on hand.

If you need to recharge the battery that often,the alternator is not doing its job and you are running on battery power only.

That’s my view. Got enough battery to run lights but the minute you put a load on, it won’t take it. Battery, cables, connection, charging.

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I concur. This sounds like it could be a faulty ground. A car this old may have rust issues that will interfere with a proper ground. Check battery ground and any and all engine ground straps. I’ve seen one small engine grounding strap that rusted away - and it caused a lot of engine starting and running problems.

Bad cables due to corrosion of the wires inside their plastic casing is possible. The copper turns green and eventually to dust.

A lot of good recommendations, especially concerning battery connections and grounds. There is one thing missing from the recommendations and that the main power fuse. Make sure the connections to this are good and while most are sealed, look for corrosion internally.

It could also have a hairline crack in the element that can be difficult to impossible to see, but will open up under certain conditions. You might consider just replacing it or using a very fine wire to short around it. The very fine wire, like a strand of speaker wire, will act like a parallel fuse. Should the main fuse open even momentarily, the fine wire will not be able to take the current needed and will "blow immediately. That will be your tell tale sign to replace the main fuse.

Sorry for the late response everyone. A sincere thank you for all the advice. I appear to have fixed the problem. Long story short, the battery’s positive connection was loose and the battery itself was loose (you could grab the battery and rock the battery back and forth). Why? Don’t know. I tightened both and the car is now running well. This certainly wasn’t the problem when we replaced the parts previously mentioned, but those are likely solved. I’m guessing I’ve just had a cascade of separate and unrelated problems.

Thanks again for everyone’s help.


If you bend internally corroded cables you can feel the brittle wires crackling and breaking inside.