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RonRepair, Auto Mechanic/Tech
Category: Car
Satisfied Customers: 76
Experience:  40 years of experience on all makes, 15 yrs. ASE Master Tech, 5 yrs. Certified Toyota Tech
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1990 Toyota Corolla: starting problems..the alternator..ignition coil

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I have a 1990 Toyota Corolla which has given superb service through the years with only minimal care for the most part.

HOWEVER It has had consistent starting problems over many years. I have replaced the starter (several times), the alternator, and, most recently, the ignition coil. (My battery is fairly new.

Is this a fluke of that model? Do you recognize the problem?
If your problem is that in the start position you hear a click (solenoid engaging) but the motor does not cranking, this is a common problem. The solenoid which is an integral part of the starter has two contacts. One of these wears out and the solenoid does not supply power to the starter motor. It is possible to replace the contacts, but it can be difficult to find the parts.

If the problem is that the engine cranks but does not start, then the igniter is the most common failure. It is usually not an intermittent problem.

If this does not answer your question, maybe you can provide me with a more complete description of the problem. Dies while driving, cranks but will not start, need to jump start, etc.
Customer: replied 11 years ago.
Reply to RonRepair's Post: It only died while driving once. That is when I replaced the alternator.

Recently it wouldn't start and when I called AAA for a jump (which always worked before) the car cranked but wouldn't start. That was a first and I replaced the ignition coil but with curiosity as to the joint timing.

Randomly it will just not start, whether or not it has been sitting (cold) or I have been driving it. There is no pattern except possibly that I have often just made a turn into a parking space.

Currently I just feel a mild 'wump' as I try the first time. After that there is no sound at all. A jump start does not work.
What you describe, crank but no start, eliminates the battery, starter, and alternator. The next step is to diagnose whether it's fuel or ignition related. The easiest way to do this, is when it won't start, is to provide fuel (starting fluid, propane) to the intake through the air cleaner or a vacuum hose, then try to start it. If it starts momentarily, then it is a fuel problem. If not it's ignition.

Since it's an intermittent problem, it needs to be diagnosed when it won't start. If your looking replace a part with the most likely chance repairing the problem, I would replace the distributor. But it could be so many other things, that may not fix it.
Customer: replied 11 years ago.
Reply to RonRepair's Post: Thanks for your help so far. The car was towed Saturday and while waiting for your answer I went out and tried it. It started up (after cranking once or twice) and I was able to move it. It will definitely happen again, though.

I had hoped that there was a known glitch in the starting process for 90 Toyotas. (I had a Buick Electra once and only a chance comment led to discovery that the ongoing tail light problem was the connection under the driver's floor mat.)

Since the car is otherwise in very good condition I wanted to give it to my grandson (new driver) but I don't want to stick him with a lemon.
Since the car died while driving and will eventually restart, it has to to be losing fuel or ignition. Because there are so many things it could be, it would be best to isolate it to one area.
Customer: replied 11 years ago.
Reply to RonRepair's Post: Thank you again. Everything you've mentioned has been tried. One more question: do you think this could be in any related to wiring?

On occasion I've had lights come on on my dashboard (.g. brake, battery)and then go off -which happened years ago on another old car.
I think we need to clarify what's actually happening when the car doesn't start. When I refer to a crank but no start, I mean the starter turns the engine, but the engine will not run. I'm getting the impression that the starter isn't turning the engine, and you're able to get it to turn with a jump, but the engine still won't run. We need to focus on whats happening right now. Problems that have happened in the past may not have a bearing on whats happening now.

Wiring is always a possibility. One weak spot if it isn't maintained is the positive battery cable and the related wiring at the battery post. It can corrode and disintegrate the wiring. The corrosion is pretty easy to spot.
Customer: replied 11 years ago.
Reply to RonRepair's Post: Currently, when the car won't start, nothing happens. No sound, no crank, nada.
Do any lights come on? Do you have a test light or volt meter? Did you check for corrosion at the battery posts?
Customer: replied 11 years ago.
Reply to RonRepair's Post: No dashboard lights come on but I can use the radio. Battery posts are okay.
You will need a test light or volt meter to check for power. At the battery there is a fuse holder, look for black or black/red wire(s) to see if they're hot. If not look for a bad connection.

If they're hot, then you need to remove the steering column covers and locate the connector for the ignition switch. The black/red wire should be hot at all times. If not then there is a problem between the switch and the battery. The black/orange wire should be hot in the on position. The black wire should be hot in the start position. If not, replace the ignition switch.
Customer: replied 11 years ago.
Reply to RonRepair's Post: I have a volt meter for indoor measuring. I presume a car volt meter is different. Anything I need to know to buy one?

Ditto test light?

Which is better?
A test light is easier to use but a volt meter will actually read the amount of voltage you have, which might come in handy. The volt meter you have may work. It needs to read DC volts, and have a proper scale to read 12 volts, e.g. 0-20 volts. You can purchase a test light at an auto parts store. Just tell them you are checking battery voltage.
Customer: replied 11 years ago.
Reply to RonRepair's Post: Will do.

BTW I have sent notice of your service to a couple of people.
Let me know what you find out, also if you have any more questions.
Customer: replied 11 years ago.
Reply to RonRepair's Post: I have a nephew whose hobby (but not training) has been cars since he was a kid. His take is to check the starter relay, or the cable beween the relay and the starter, or the battery cables.

What's your take on that?
The starter relay would explain why the starter does not crank the engine over, but not why your dash lights didn't come on. Also it doesn't explain why, at one point the engine cranked, but would not start.

Have you performed the tests I recommended? I do agree it could be a connection problem. You might try jiggling the wires around the battery that I mentioned. You must do all the tests when you have a no start condition. Sometimes you don't lose a connection until you put a load on it. As in turning the switch to the start position.
Customer: replied 11 years ago.
Reply to RonRepair's Post: I do so appreciate your help. I will list all your answers for its next owner.

I have just learned that my "new" car will be available Wednesday. There is so much life in the old car that I will sell it with the proviso that it has this problem. Someone mechanical will get good use out of it yet. To my amazement the book value is $320!! - but I'll be lucky to get 150, I think.
I'm sure a little more diagnosis will provide an answer. The information provided so far could be helpful to the new owner.

You may want to check used car ads to see what similar vehicles are going for. Book value is not that relevant for cars over five years old. Market value is a better indicator.
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