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Have a 1989 Toyota Corolla 4 door manual, 190k miles. Runs great once it starts. Problem is it has an intermittent no start (no crank) problem. Relevant facts:

  • When it happens, I clutch in (in neutral, too) turn the key, and hear one click, but that's it. Lights work, etc.

  • Sometimes I try a few times and it works. Often it "cooperates" more with my wife, and perhaps she does something slightly different when starting it?

  • I have noticed that sometimes if I briefly disconnect the negative battery cable and reconnect, it will start. It doesn't always work, though. For all I know, this is superstition on my part, since it might have started anyway. But for a while there, it sure seemed to do the trick.

  • Took out battery and brought to AutoZone. They tested it on the counter and it read 100% charged. Battery is 1-2 years old, 550 CCA. They also now cleaned the posts really well. I need to get out there and clean the inside of the connectors better today.

  • Happens more frequently in colder and damper days. Problem had not been happening recently since it was last cold (in about Feb/Mar), but kicked in again in November when it got very cold here (like 15F), but can happen at 30F or 40F. Seems worse when it is damp as well as cold.

  • Seems more likely to happen if sits for a week without being driven or started.

  • Jump starting the car will sometimes get it to start. (But again, the battery read 100%).

  • Once it does start cranking, it has a some trouble "catching" and I often have to pump the gas quite a bit. Sometimes I wind up flooding the engine and have to wait a while before trying again. I also often have to flutter the gas pedal to keep it running. Once it is really going, though, it stays running fine indefinitely.

  • The (original!) alternator was replaced last year.

Today it started fine. But it is always a bit of a roll of the dice the last few weeks when it is cold. Sometimes it won't start for hours, and then my wife tries it and bam, starts up fine.

What might it be? I don't want to bring it to a mechanic and have them replace the whole starter if it might be something else (an outcome I've read online a number of times today), particularly since this car is so old and I don't want to put more $ into it now (would probably rather buy a newer used car).

Thanks.


EDIT: I scraped the battery connectors on the inside with a knife. The negative connector is still loose enough that I can easily pop it off with my hands (can't get it to tighten on well). But even so, started right up now. My concern is that if I bring it to a mechanic, will they be able to diagnose the problem even if it happens to be starting well when they try it?

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    This sounds like a problem with the positive lead to the starter, probably at the starter end. – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Dec 8 '14 at 19:24
  • @Paulster2 What makes you think that, and how could I proceed? – Chelonian Dec 8 '14 at 19:31
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    There is a lot of current required for the starter; perhaps the battery is only connected well enough for all the other stuff to work, but provide an insufficient current to the starter? Also, have you tried doing the free tests at Autozone et al? I think their portable battery testers do the whole thing -- battery, starter and alternator testing. – cnst Dec 9 '14 at 2:24
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The starter solenoid on that engine (I have the same car) is inside the starter motor, which is a pain to get to (on the back of the engine.) As it gets old, arcing between contacts erodes the copper material until the contacts begin working intermittently. There is no way to buy or replace th solenoid or solenoid kit (unless you can find a scrap one) without buying a whole starter.

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Considering your edit, I'd bet all you need is a new terminal, or at least one you can tighten on the post. Since it's now starting correctly with the terminal cleaned up, this should be an easy fix. If you leave it loose, it will continue to cause you issues in the future of the same type you were having.

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Have same problem same car. Replaced battery terminals with new. Battery good. About to get rebuilt starter put in. It's due & not messing with used on old car 200k even if it's just the solenoid the location of the starter is hideous to get to & winters coming quickly. Agree you could start with new terminals on the battery under $10.. the loose negative may be your only problem but replacing them will rule that out if it isn't.

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