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May 1, 2012

1992 Camry Electrical Problems

by MordyT

Something new for my blog…

So I have a car, a 1992 Toyota Camry (I4, American Edition for those that care) that runs fine. We start it every morning, drive it, and park it at night. Rinse and repeat.
As with all good things, this too came to a end. We started it, drove to the gas station, filled it with gas, hopped back into the car, and could not get it to start again. Ended up pushing it from the gas station.

Here is what we observed:

  1. The check engine light (which works fine on this car) would not light up when turning the key to the on position.
  2. The engine would crank over when in the start position, the indicates there is enough power in the battery for the starter to engage.
  3. The engine did not sound like it had no compressions – the sound was not a flat whine, but rather the normal chug sound as the pistons go up and down and the valves open normally.
  4. Headlights and hazards worked correctly.

The next morning we were able to get it on a lift and test a few other things. Some more notes:

  1. There was 1 blown fuse. The fuse was labeled AM and would blow as soon as a new fuse was plugged in (note to self: use a relay so you don’t waste fuses).
  2. AM per labeling was a headlight fuse. But the headlights worked even with no fuse installed.
  3. The check engine light did work correctly when we powered the ignition switch manually.

{side note: There are 3 main things a car will need to run: a) spark b) fuel c) compression /side note}

We decided it most likely was not due to fuel or compression, but rather due to spark, or lack thereof. Because the check engine light was not lighting up, we could assume the ECU was not being powered, thereby not providing spark (among other things).

Armed with that information (The fuse blowing and the fact there appears to be no power to the car from the ECU), we started looking for the short. We started unplugging various items from the wire harness and seeing if the fuse would blow. With everything unplugged, the fuse would not blow, so we knew the short was not in the wire harness. We started plugging in items one at a time, and what do you know, when the distributor was plugged back in the fuse blew again.

{side note: the distributor has 2 connections to the wire harness. Make sure you get them both /side note}

A new distributor costs $14x.xx dollars, which is a lot. However, through some Google research we found that a common fail point was the condenser inside the distributor. That costs around $5 from the dealer by the way. So, with nothing to lose, we opened the distributor up, and low and behold, we found a melted condenser. Replaced that, put the whole thing back together, and we are on our way.

Hopefully this posting will save you a lot of the time we spent on this and get you back in your car with a lower cost.

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