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My 97 Corolla won't start. The battery, spark plugs and high tension wires are all brand new. When I try to start the car, it cranks until the carburetor eventually "coughs" and white smoke comes out of it (smells like gas). At this point, I just stop trying.

We had a mechanic check it out, and they did this trick where they covered the carburetor with the palm of his hand while cranking, and after a few attempts the car started. After a few days, car didn't want to start again. I was able to start the car by doing the same trick the mechanic did, by covering the carb opening while cranking. Again, same symptoms, carburetor coughing out fuel and white smoke.

Few more days, and the car refuses to start again! I'm pretty sure there must be something wrong, but I'm not knowledgable in cars.

I live in a tropical climate and we don't experience cold weather too often.

  • dirty fuel? fuel filter cleaned? carburetor dirty? – Solar Mike Jul 22 at 6:08
  • Fuel filter is fairly new. I do refuel at a cheaper gas station. As for the carburetor, I dont know how to tell if its dirty. – demiglace Jul 22 at 6:30
  • Welcome to Motor Vehicle Maintenance & Repair! – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jul 22 at 10:18
  • The "trick" as you call it acts like a "choke" to enrich the air-fuel mixture beyond what the carburetor is doing on its own. This is usually an indication of a problem in the carb itself such as being plugged, a problem with the fuel supply, like the fuel filter or fuel pump, or possibly a vacuum leak in the intake. – jwh20 Jul 22 at 11:21
  • Does it run fine when warmed up, or do you have the same problems? – GdD Jul 22 at 11:58
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The shape of a carburetor creates low pressure inside, fuel jets spray fuel into the chamber where it is mixed thoroughly and pulled into the engine's cylinders. The fuel to air mix needs to be a certain ratio for the engine to run, too much fuel to air means it is too rich, too little fuel means it is too lean. Putting your hand on the air intake restricts the flow of air, increasing the fuel to air ratio, if your car starts when you do this then you could have one of a few problems:

  1. Dirty carb jets: if the jets get clogged up, and they always do eventually, then there won't be enough fuel supply and the engine won't run. This is especially true when the engine is cold. Sometimes this sort of problem can be fixed by spraying in carburetor cleaner and running a can of seafoam through the gas tank, if that doesn't work the carb may need a rebuild

  2. Faulty choke: An engine needs a higher fuel to air ratio when it is cold, most carbs have a system which closes a flap when cold to restrict airflow, which then opens as the engine warms. If this breaks then you'll have trouble starting the engine when it is cold, but then it will run fine when heated up

  3. Broken carburetor: there are mechanical parts which could have broken inside the carburetor, in this case you would need a repair/rebuild or a replacement carb

  4. Vacuum leaks: engines rely heavily on suction to operate, if there is a leak in the vacuum system you can have hard starts and rough running. One trick is to spray carb cleaner at the base of the carburetor when the engine is running rough, if it smooths out temporarily it could be the carb is loose

One note: be careful with carb cleaner, it's extremely flammable!

I would invest in a can of carburetor cleaner and a can of seafoam first, see if you can clean things out and get it working again without major investment. Failing that it is digging into the carburetor and vacuum system.

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