My 1994 Toyota Camry died while driving, any ideas why?
December 23, 2008 7:43 PM   Subscribe

My 1994 Toyota Camry died while driving, any ideas why?

On my way home from work my car died while idling at a light, and wouldn't stay running unless I kept the goosing the gas pedal. It also sounded like it was having trouble turning over when I as trying to start it again. To get it going again, I had to gun the gas and pop it into drive, and give it more gas than usual.

I'm going to have someone look at it but I was wondering if anyone could posit a theory on what the heck happened.
posted by jackofsaxons to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total)
Fuel problem possibly - I had a similar problem with my 1989 Honda Accord, turned out to be the carburator (yeah, they were still using carbs in 1989 ... that LX-i was the fuel injected model - went from 150+ parts to ~4 parts - not your problem, yours is injected).

Try fixes in order of least cost:
(1) Fuel additive - rarely a solution, but so cheap and easy that it's worth a shot. I suggest:
(a) Chevron Fuel System Cleaner (not the "Injector Cleaner" ... that's also good, but more limited)
(b) Marvel Mystery Oil - don't know why it sometimes works, but, well, sometimes it works

(2) Check wires, spark plugs, etc for charge, good connections.

(3) Fuel lines / pump

(4) Fuel injectors

(5) etc

Check out the Mechan-x-files from Cartalk, great resource for finding a good mechanic!
posted by unclezeb at 7:56 PM on December 23, 2008

Throw in fuel filter and maybe check the idle adjustment.
posted by 517 at 8:02 PM on December 23, 2008

Is it wet where you are? I bet it is. I'd put a bottle of Heet, or some such fuel stabilizer (I once knew of a Festiva with over 300k miles on it, the secret according to the owner was Heet and oil change, every 3k miles religiously). Then I'd go under the hood and look at two things: the wires and the distributor. My '90 CRX gets cranky like this when the humidity is through the roof.

First the plug wires wires. THey're thick and black. You might find that they have funny-looking cracks or spiderweb patterns on them. This would mean they're fried; you can replace them pretty cheap and really, it's cake.

If not the wires, the distributor cap. The wires run from the plugs, which run down the length of your engine, to the cap. Use nail polish to mark the wires and their locations on the cap (don't worry about the hardest to reach; process of elimination!). Remove wires, and use a screwdriver to loosen the couple screws that hold the cap in place. On the inside of the cap, there are four posts that are probably corroded. Use a file, or the end of a Craftsman flathead screwdriver (ridged for her pleasure) to scrape off the corrosion. WHile you're at it, the cap fits over the rotor (which upon inspection...turns!) and the tip of the rotor is probably corroded too. Scrape it clean, put it all back together using the markings from disassembly, and you should be good to go.

All that said, it may still be a fuel problem. Longshot, you may have overheated and cooked the rings - no weird noises or temp gage thru the roof, right?
posted by notsnot at 8:16 PM on December 23, 2008

2nd the fuel filter. It's also very easy to check and replace so good to eliminate it early, if nothing else.
posted by Rumple at 8:27 PM on December 23, 2008

I had a car once that did this exact thing. I had to put it in neutral and goose it at lights. Fun fun. Replacing the thermostat cured it. It was an 80's vintage Chevy, though.
posted by hecho de la basura at 8:42 PM on December 23, 2008

Response by poster: No wierd noises or gauges going kooky. A little googling mentioned an EGR valve or an IAC valve. Which, I have no idea what those are.

It is in fact raining and cold here right now, but it was much colder the past few days, with no issues.
posted by jackofsaxons at 8:55 PM on December 23, 2008

I had a 1993 Toyota Camry crap out a few was always the alternator, but this sounds quite a bit different apart from the trouble turning over problem.
posted by DOUBLE A SIDE at 8:56 PM on December 23, 2008

a little more information would be really helpful here.

when the engine does run, does it feel rough? does the car seem to shake a bit? how about acceleration? does the car feel unusually sluggish? when you try to start it, does it sound like the starter is cranking normally and the engine just isn't catching, or does the starter sound like it's turning too slowly to start the engine?

anything else you can tell us will help to narrow the problem down. there's tons of reasons a car could randomly die.
posted by TrialByMedia at 8:58 PM on December 23, 2008

The IAC valve is probably an idle air control valve, which would regulate your idle speed. If it is not working, you would have exactly the problems that you describe - it's what popped into my head reading your problem, but I'm not up on Japanese cars.
posted by rfs at 9:02 PM on December 23, 2008

Response by poster: It's always been a little weak on acceleration, and it's hard to tell how well the engine runs because the exhaust pipe is broken at the flex joint about 1 foot or 2 from the engine, so it sounds like death on wheels :D When I attempt to start it the lights dim slightly and struggles to start. It doesn't seem to get to the "cranking" stage, it seems to turn really slowly and get progressively weaker. It also has somewhat of an oil leak, requiring a couple quarts every month or so.

Just before it died, it just sort of idled down to stop, no alarming noises, it did in fact go quietly into the night. Hopefully this info helps some, I'm not much of a car guy.
posted by jackofsaxons at 9:07 PM on December 23, 2008

I'm voting it's a clogged up, gasping fuel filter.
When was the last time it was changed?
posted by artdrectr at 12:02 AM on December 24, 2008

I had the exact same problem on my Saab and on my Volvo, and in both cases it was a bum distributor cap/rotor. It's an easy fix and you can do it yourself for about twelve bucks- just put the spark plug wires back on the right terminals!
Wet and cold weather can really push a bum distributor over the edge.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:26 AM on December 24, 2008

And while notsnot's idea to scrape the distributor terminals is a step in the right direction, there's a very real chance it won't get the job done right and you'll end up trying other, more expensive repairs before you realize it was the distributor all along.
The parts are so ridiculously cheap that it's a better idea just to replace them.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:30 AM on December 24, 2008

jackofsaxons, your last comment suggests to me that your battery is dying. Cold weather would exacerbate this. The slow cranking at start and the stalling out makes sense. You're running primarily on juice from the alternator, so revving up the engine gives better spark than sitting at idle. (A bad battery would also interfere with the charging system working properly, so at idle, you'd potentially get a weak spark and stall out.)

Have the battery tested at the nearest AutoZone or similar, usually they'll do it for free.
posted by knave at 5:36 AM on December 24, 2008

The IAC was what popped into my mind right away. It stands for idle air control (valve). What it does is adjust the amount of air coming into the engine when you aren't pressing on the accelerator.

The "throttle body" is the thing that opens when you press on the pedal. When it's closed, it lets the smallest amount of air in. The IAC then adds enough air to maintain a proper idle. What happens is that these two things can get gunked up and clogged to the point that it never lets in enough air to idle and dies. (And also causes rough starting.) Try squirting throttle body cleaner into it and see if that helps.

Also the other things people have said. With a car that age, it may end up being a number of these things all conspiring together to cause your problem. Is the check engine light on constantly? I would doubt it's just a bad battery, since the hardest thing for the battery is starting the engine. It may be weak, but if it can start the engine, you're probably ok. Does it run worse when you have all the lights on, the heater blowing full blast? No? Probably not the battery.

Also probably not a bad fuel filter- a bad filter will manifest itself during times of high engine load. It will "run out of steam" when passing or hard acceleration. Since idle uses a small amount of fuel, it will do that OK. If it were to be clogged enough to prevent idle, it wouldn't do anything and stepping on the gas wouldn't help.

Try the old "Italian" tune up as well- put it in first, rev it up to the red line (in a secluded location) and then let go of the pedal and let it coast down. Do this a couple of times and see if it doesn't help.
posted by gjc at 6:11 AM on December 24, 2008

Sounds like the fuel pump to me. I had a 1994 Camry for a few years, but it blew a transmission while I was driving down the Interstate.

I did however, have a similar problem with a Oldsmobile. It could be:

Spark plug wiring is fried or chewed up a bit, needs lube, or re-cut, could cause the cylinders to hang from firing. This is usually accompanied by a hard shuddering though.

Fuel Pump could be rusting out... had this problem a year or two ago on an Olds Ciera. Had to do exactly what you are doing. Revved to get it going, applied tons of gas to actually get running. Ended up being that the Pump rusted out from being parked on the side of the road while I was in college, salt from Salt trucks got underneath it, rusted it out.
posted by MMALR at 9:24 AM on December 24, 2008

it sounds like a battery, alternator or starter problem to me. has your battery died yet? how many times have you started it since you had this problem?

here's a video about alternator testing. it's pretty simple.

the fuel pump wouldn't make it difficult for the starter to crank the engine; the starter would crank normally and the engine simply wouldn't start. if you want, you should be able to listen to the fuel pump by sitting in the car and turning the key to the run position without cranking hte starter. you should hear it whir a little bit. i guess you probably don't know what it should sound like normally, but if it does sound abnormal, perhaps there's a problem there. if you want to put the fuel pump theory to rest, bring the car to a shop and ask for a fuel rail pressure test.
posted by TrialByMedia at 9:45 AM on December 24, 2008

another question worth asking--is your check engine light on? that means there's an engine code that you can read that could potentially alert you to any sensors that aren't working properly or are reporting an abnormal condition. take the car to an Autozone--they'll read the code for free. that will give you a much better idea of what you need to be looking at.
posted by TrialByMedia at 10:24 AM on December 24, 2008

The fuel pump not starting wouldn't be the problem in this case, rusting out and becoming incapable of pumping correctly would be the case. In my case, the pump came on but the car still sputtered and barely cranked over.

Of course, spark plug wires ended up being the culprit of the last haggle I had with trying to get my car started.
posted by MMALR at 1:04 PM on December 24, 2008

Crud, forgot to include another suspect that you've not mentioned:

IAC (idle air control) valve - this is a little widget somewhere between your air filter (you know where that is, or you manual can tell you) and your throttle body (the thing that opens up to allow air into the engine ... there's usually a cable attached to it which controls the throttle ... find it by having someone in the car press the gas pedal while your looking under the hood, it's the part at the end of the tube/hose that follows from the air filter).

First, just try replacing the air filter, super cheap ($5-20) and you probably need to do it anyway (every year or 10,000 miles).

Second, try removing the hose at the throttle body and cleaning the throttle body while the car is running ... just spray some "deep creep" or other throttle body cleaner in there. You can keep the engine running by manually opening the throttle body (again, the little part that moved when you had your friend press on the gas pedal, just push it with your hand to rev the engine and keep it from dying while you spray the throttle body). Not too much, but probably more than you initially think is appropriate ... usually the can actually says how to do this also.

Third, try cleaning the IAC -
Actually, that article explains cleaning the throttle body (TB) and IAC better than I could (and with pictures).

This is something you CAN do. It's easy, you'll only need a few very basic tools. A dealership would probably charge you about $300 for this "service" but it should only cost you $25 for the filter and the deep creep cleaner ... and about an hour of your time if you get really OCD about it and really clean up the throttle body.

Here's another post about cleaning the TB on a V6 camry:

A more controversial next step would be using Seafoam .... I've used it and found it helpful, but others think it has the potential to damage O2 sensors. For more discussion of what it does, check Toyota Nation's forum:

Here's a "how to video" for a 1994 Camry:

In the end, this likely will not solve your problem, but it's a cheap (seafoam is ~$7) possibility and generally it's going to help or not hurt. Worth a shot before having a fuel rail or injector replaced.
posted by unclezeb at 10:27 AM on December 25, 2008

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