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Car Won't Start


98 LS'r
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Hi everyone,

I'm a long-time lurker here but I haven't posted before, so thank you for all the information ya'll give.

I need some guidance with my starting problem before I take my car in again. I'm a car novice and a woman to kinda put things in perspective.

Background: I have a 1998 LS400 with about 134,000 miles on it. I've had it over two years and I drive it daily for extremely short distances (1 mile to work, 5 round-trips a day plus 2 blocks to the park 2-3 times a day with my handicapped dog, and a few miles a few times a week for errands). The temps where I live are above 100 and have been for some time.

Last month my car would make a clicking noise *sometimes* once or twice, before I could get it to start. The engine wouldn't turn over at all but once it started, it kept going for the short distances I drive. I would put the battery on the trickle charger but it didn't solve the problem. I took the car into Firestone July 18th because the battery was only a year old and was from them. They said it was bad and replaced it with a larger battery. I thought they had checked the alternator and starter, but when I called them today to ask, they said they didn't, they just did a courtesy check. Last summer I had the same problem, only the car died while I was turning into the driveway and a 2nd time at a light on my way to Firestone. They put a battery in and all was good until this summer.

With the new battery, the car started giving a 1 to 3 clicks before it would start and the last few days the engine will try to turn over a couple times before it will fire up. It happens intermittently, but I have been putting on the trickle charger pretty often. I didn't trickle charge it Friday night and it would not start Saturday afternoon, so I hooked up the charger. After about an hour the light came on that showed it was at 80% and by the next morning it was fully charged.

I read here to use a multi-meter, which I happened to have. When the battery was full the multi-meter read 14. It does not show decimals. I then tried to start the car. Even with the battery fully charged, it clicked twice, tried to turn over twice and the 5th try it started. I checked again and the MM still read 14. I turned on the A/C, the headlights and the radio and kept checking. Over the next few minutes the MM read 13 and then 12. I turned the car off and checked again and the MM bounced between 12 and 13. I put the trickle charger on again and 3 1/2 hours later the battery is reading 12 on the MM.

I called Firestone and relayed the info to them. They said they will charge $70 to diagnose the problem but that they would have to wait until their warehouse was open tomorrow if they needed a part. They have a mixed reputation around here for the work they do and I just spent over $400 with them last month (battery, wipers, tail light, A/C check and re-charge which didn't help, and inspection. However, they are close by and I think the car can make it there, no problem. My prior mechanic had his own shop, but he passed away last year. I sure do miss him!

Trouble Codes: I put the OBD11 on a few minutes ago. I didn't get any error codes but it did say under I/M that MIL was off and EVAP not ready. Everything else said ready or N/A. I don't know what that means yet, and haven't had time to check. Also, while I'm trying to start the car the engine and the battery icons stay lit, but when I am driving I don't have any warnings (other than tail light out - but that's another story!).

I really want this problem to be fixed this ASAP but I don't want to be taken advantage of. I had a similar situation with my Toyota three years ago and spent a lot of money at the dealership on repairs that didn't fix the problem (it turned out to be the starter solenoid). If anyone can point me in the right direction, including telling me if I should spend $70 on a diagnostic test, I'd appreciate it. I can't afford to get stranded with my dog in poor health so I can't fix one thing at a time even if I end up spending more.

Thanks in advance!

Barbara

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A couple of things come to mind. First your driving habits are not allowing the battery to come up to full charge, and it's slowly being depleted over a matter of days or weeks. Second the engine is not getting to full temperature and being driven enough to clean the spark plugs or perhaps even go into closed loop operation. You should take the car for an extended drive every now and then, and a bit of highway miles would help it "take a deep breath" as we used to say.

As to the starter, it sounds like a discharged battery, and unless you have a new and known good trickle charger, it might be that the battery is still discharged. A two or three amp trickle charger would take at least 24 hours to fully charge a battery from near dead.

And it might be that the starter motor contacts are bad, in which case they'll need to be replaced. That is NOT a job for Firestone. It's a job for a Toyota or Lexus dealer, or an independant who specializes in the same. The intake manifold has to come off to access the starter and that's a big job.

First though I would ensure that the battery is fully charged. Get it running and drive it for a couple of hours. The alternator will charge the battery quite quickly (two or three hours vs 24 ) compared to the trickle charger. Then see how the starter behaves.

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Thank you, SRK. I was hoping to get a reply from you! I'm taking your advice and will go on an extended drive right now. I'll probably just have time for 1 1/2 to 2 hours tonight, but this is the perfect evening for it. It's usually cool (high 80's) whereas it normally still over 100 this time of the evening.

There's no Lexus dealer for a couple hundred miles so I'll take the car to Toyota if it still needs it.

Thanks again for the help.

Barbara

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Barbara..... I have 2 99LS's and just sold a third one. I have replaced the starter motor contacts in two of them.

the click click is the tell tell sign. so do like srk says, and take it to toyota... and do like I say and stay out of firestone.....

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Thank you, Billy. If you and SRK hadn't told me about the starter motor contacts, I wouldn't have known that they'd be the likely culprit! I just got home from my drive, which was shorter than I would have liked, but over an hour. The car drove fine but the battery was 13 on the multimeter when I left and still 13 when I got back. Possibly shouldn't have stopped for that milkshake, LOL.

Your 99 LS's sure are pretty. I've often wished I had white instead of dark green.

Barbara

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Barbara, unfortunately it does sound like the starter contacts are bad. Which means removing the intake manifold and replacing the contacts or the entire starter motor. Personally, I would only replace the contacts like Billy has done.

If your battery or a connection were bad, you would be getting a rapid series of "clicks" from the starter relay (not the starter solenoid) for as long as you hold the key in the "start" position. However, from your description it does not sound like the rapid clicking. Therefore, it is most likely the starter.

Concerning your short drives...yeah, not good on the longevity of the engine. The good news is that you live in TX with hot wx most of the year so that helps your engine warm up very quickly. You should probably take the "long way" to work to give the engine time to warm up. Your oil may become more contaminated than normal with short drives so you may want to change it very frequently (3k miles or every 6 months, whichever comes first).

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Thanks Landar and Lenore. You're right about the engine warming up quickly, Landar. A dark green car sitting on black asphalt with temps 104-110 all summer and no shade! It is pretty much at operating temps by the time I've driven the mile home! I do need to start having the oil changed more often.

I did a little reading last night and thought that if it comes to that, I'll have the plunger and contacts replaced, but not the starter. I'm looking forward to reading Lenore's link.

Thanks again,

Barbara

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Thanks Landar and Lenore. You're right about the engine warming up quickly, Landar. A dark green car sitting on black asphalt with temps 104-110 all summer and no shade! It is pretty much at operating temps by the time I've driven the mile home! I do need to start having the oil changed more often.

I did a little reading last night and thought that if it comes to that, I'll have the plunger and contacts replaced, but not the starter. I'm looking forward to reading Lenore's link.

Thanks again,

Barbara

if your 98 has the wood/leather steering wheel, use a sunscreen on your windshield to keep the wood from cracking.

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... thought that if it comes to that, I'll have the plunger and contacts replaced, but not the starter....

I'd get it quoted both ways, solenoid only refit and whole new starter. If you're going to have this done professionally, much of the cost is in the labor. For the sake of an extra $100-200 to get a rebuilt complete starter with new bearings, drive gear it might be worth the piece of mind knowing the starter isn't likely to fail anytime soon. If you can do it yourself or have helpers who can tackle this then I might be inclined to just service the solenoid.

Its roughly akin to putting in a new water pump while changing the timing belt. The extra parts aren't that much more $$ considering the labor to get at it all.

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if your 98 has the wood/leather steering wheel, use a sunscreen on your windshield to keep the wood from cracking.

SPF 40 should do. Just slather it on the windscreen. :whistles: :P jk

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Billy, I wish I had the wood steering wheel, but alas, I don't. I agree with you on the sunscreen anyway - it helps keep the car cooler and every little bit helps.

Billy and CuriousB - I read somewhere that it's better to keep the original starter because they last forever, except for the plunger and contacts. Where ever I read it, they were of the opinion that the rebuilt starters sold now would not be as good quality as the original and would be more likely to fail. When you get a re-built starter do you get a genuine Toyota part or a generic starter?

I doubt that I'd attempt to do it myself. The online tutorial made it look almost fun, but I need the transportation, LOL!

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Billy, I wish I had the wood steering wheel, but alas, I don't. I agree with you on the sunscreen anyway - it helps keep the car cooler and every little bit helps.

Billy and CuriousB - I read somewhere that it's better to keep the original starter because they last forever, except for the plunger and contacts. Where ever I read it, they were of the opinion that the rebuilt starters sold now would not be as good quality as the original and would be more likely to fail. When you get a re-built starter do you get a genuine Toyota part or a generic starter?

I doubt that I'd attempt to do it myself. The online tutorial made it look almost fun, but I need the transportation, LOL!

my personal feelings are just the contacts and keep the original starter.. (but you need someone who knows what he is doing.) I dont think a rebuilt starter will be as good or last as long.

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