What could be causing a 1991 Toyota Camry to intermittently not start?
June 23, 2012 3:58 AM   Subscribe

What could be causing a 1991 Toyota Camry to intermittently not start? What can I do to try to get it to start?

What is happening - When turning the key, a whirring is heard, but nothing else happens. Nothing from the starter motor. The radio/lights/dash all come on.

When is it happening - In the last two weeks it has been happening intermittently. To begin with, after trying a few times the car would start and run normally. Recently it has required leaving the car for a few minutes and progressing onto a few hours and trying again and the car would start. Now the car will not start for the last 2 days.

What I have tried - Tried jump starting, still did not start, donor car engine noticably revved when trying to start (I guess meaning power is being drawn from battery?).

Tried removing connections from battery and reconnecting. No change.

Car is fitted with an immobiliser, so tried starting car without turning immobiliser off, did not make any noise.

Tried moving car through gears and back into Park or Neutral. No change.

Other factors - car does not get used often - once or twice a week, around 100 km (60 miles) a week.
It has been unusually cold where I am, Colder than it has been in probably 10 months. Getting down to 2 degrees C (35F) at night.

Major Problem - Car has been sitting in a carpark for two days and needs to be moved. Is there anything I can do before I call a tow truck?
posted by lrobertjones to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total)
a whirring is heard, but nothing else happens. Nothing from the starter motor.

The whirring probably IS the starter motor. The problem is that it's not engaging the big gear that would in turn rotate the motor. Chances are very good that you need a new starter.

A trick for getting it to start is to whack the outside of the starter motor with a hammer while someone turns the key to the start position. The impact often jars loose the parts that are sticking so that it engages properly. However this requires a helper and isn't entirely safe if you don't know what you're doing, because it requires you to have part of your body in the engine compartment / under the car as the engine starts.
posted by jon1270 at 4:14 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

The whirring, as jon1270 says, is the sound of your starter trying to work. The drive gear, though, is not engaging the flywheel to turn the engine.

Time for a new starter.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:28 AM on June 23, 2012

If the whirring is not a starter, look into the neutral safety switch, which is a safety switch that allows all the car's systems so come on but not start the car unless it's in park or neutral. The whirring could be another system like the power brakes or steering system energizing.

The neutral safety switch is usually a simple fix.
posted by PSB at 7:00 AM on June 23, 2012

Jon1270 has it. A new starter will likely fix this.
posted by Brockles at 7:04 AM on June 23, 2012

Let's look at this piece by piece. If you here the whirring sound with the key turned on, but not in the starting position, that is not the starter. If it only sounds when the key is turned to the starting position, that is the starter trying to work. If the starter is what is whirring, there are two possibilities: It could be the starter as stated above or it could be missing teeth on your flywheel. If it is the starter, the "tap the starter with a hammer" method is an easy one-time way to get started with a helper. Do you have auto club or some other roadside service? If it is flywheel teeth, consider whether now is the time to wish this twenty year old car a fond fair well. It is easy to diagnose, but expensive to repair.
posted by Old Geezer at 10:34 AM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

How old is the battery?
posted by tmt at 3:01 PM on June 23, 2012

First, how much and how old is the petrol? If it's full, I'd add some stabalizer as winter fuels can create havok with the fuel pump. Then place the car in the drive gear and physically push the car forward engaging the transmission. Put in back in the park position. Start the car. If the car does not have fuel, add at least 15-18 litres.
posted by vozworth at 5:58 PM on June 23, 2012

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