Q: Our four-cylinder 1998 Toyota Camry has an occasional glitch. Upon turning the key, there will be a single, solitary click. The next attempt will...
Q: Our four-cylinder 1998 Toyota Camry has an occasional glitch. Upon turning the key, there will be a single, solitary click. The next attempt will usually be successful, but sometimes there’s a second solo click (followed by a successful start). I don’t suspect a voltage or battery problem because the car will start and there is no staccato rattle associated with a low or drained battery.
A: It sounds like the Camry is ready for a new starter. But first go to an auto-parts store to purchase a simple 12-volt test light. This simple $10 gadget is a small light bulb with a needle-tipped probe that allows one to gently sneak inside the back side of an electrical connector, or in a pinch, poke a small hole in a wire’s insulation. The test light’s alligator clip, at the end of a foot or two of wire, is typically attached to a bare metal (grounded) part or the battery negative terminal.
A test light verifies the presence of voltage, or if the alligator clip is attached to battery positive, whether a particular terminal or part is grounded. Test lights can be used on most starting, charging, lighting and accessory circuits (but not on low-current electronics).
In your case we want to verify the presence of voltage at the starter solenoid’s S (starter request) terminal, and possibly the battery cable terminal, as starter operation is attempted.
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Your Camry’s starter is readily accessible, but, with the engine off, check for under-hood hazards such as the accessory drive belts, fan, sparkplug wires and exhaust system. Then locate the starter solenoid (attached to the starter) and the one small wire and thick cable connected to it. Open one leg of a small paper clip and insert it securely into the back (wire) side of the starter S-terminal (small) wire connector (the paper clip makes it easier to access the connection — be sure it can’t swing around and touch metal).
The next time the Camry fails to crank, check for voltage at the paper clip as a helper turns the key. If the starter solenoid only clicks, yet the test light is fairly bright, the starter assembly requires replacement — the circuit to it is good. If the test light is dim, the fault may lie in a battery cable connection, the ignition switch, neutral safety switch, or related connectors. Check at the starter’s large cable connection as the starter simply clicks. A bright light confirms the battery + terminal, steering you to the ignition switch circuit.
E-mail Brad Bergholdt at firstname.lastname@example.org