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2013 Toyota Corolla wouldn't start, just one time, then returned to normal.

Battery was fine, starter turned over but no ignition. After about 10 or 20 seconds of intermittently trying the starter, there was some coughing or sputtering. It reminded me of an older non-injected engine that was over-choked or flooded with gas then starts sputtering and eventually starts. When this car started sputtering I tried stepping on the gas pedal (which is normally not required to start the car) and that improved things a bit and eventually the car started with some shuddering and lots of smoke. Really it all resembled a much older engine with carb/choke issues. After about 10 seconds it was running normally and the behavior never returned ... the car starts and runs perfectly now.

I'm thinking maybe a clogged fuel line that became unclogged, or some other problem with fuel delivery that somehow fixed itself? I'm worried there might be some soon-to-be intermittent issue that I should get ahead of.

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There are several things that could cause issues like this, and fuel supply is definitely one of the top possibilities. The first thing to do is check for OBD codes, which are diagnostics which can be read by a cheap bluetooth reader and a free phone/tablet app, alternatively many auto parts stores will check them for free. These may point to an issue, although you have to be careful in jumping to conclusions as these codes can remain in the system for a long time so they may be historic. Write down the codes and clear them, next time you read them they will be new.

Besides checking codes I would check the plugs, leads and anything else that is easy. If that doesn't turn up anything I would do nothing but monitor the situation and see if it happens again. It could have been fuel contamination, and you don't want to start tearing into a perfectly working car on the basis of a fluke. Check your codes, if you get one or start to have performance problems or high fuel consumption you know there's more to look into.

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  • Good answer, good call on looking for codes. I actually have a scanner so I did that. The only code is amusing in how correct and unhelpful it is at the same time: P1604 "startability malfunction" which tells me the car had trouble starting. Yay. :) But it did lead me to this video on how to diagnose this problem if it is ongoing. In my case I think your advice is best, to not rip apart a car for what might have been a fluke. Of all the causes, the one most likely to clear itself is fuel line debris that dislodged and burned up.
    – jay613
    Jan 5, 2023 at 17:09
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    I love it, a code from the department of the obvious @jay613! Just thinking that if you did have some contamination adding some good quality fuel system cleaner may be a good idea.
    – GdD
    Jan 5, 2023 at 17:14

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