What the <beep> is wrong with my 1983 Toyota Corolla?

I turn the key in to the start up position:

Reh-Reh-Reh-Reh-Reh putt putt putt VRRROOOOOOOOOM.

All good. Engine is running, so time to release the key and have it rotate back slightly in to the “on” position.

Putt putt … dead.


Repeat again, engine starts fine, release the key… dead.

The weirdest part is that if I hold the ket slightly forward so that it is sitting between the “on” and “start” positions, I can drive my car around fine, but as soon as I release the key and it springs back to the “on” position, the engine dies. I drove this car fine as little as 12 hours ago.

What gives?

90% its the ignition switch itself they wear out probly the contact insid sliped , they arent cheap but not bad either. mine was like 80 bucks installed in a mercury .

Yep. Classic symptom of a worn ignition switch.

Note that we’re talking about the switch, not the lock. The ignition lock cylinder is the part you put the key into. The ignition switch is connected to, but separable from, the lock. Typically requires disassembly of the shrouds surrounding the steering column to access it.


I was hoping the responses would be:

“Pfff. That’s easily fixed. Just xxx yyy and you’ll be back on the roads in no time”.

This whole “disassembling the steering column” sounds costly. :frowning:

Thanks for the info guys.

Don’t disassemble your own steering column unless you 1) have done it before, and 2) didn’t feel like moving to a shack in Montana and writing a manifesto against technology after doing so.

Seriously - you can spend a lot of time doing it on some cars, and breaking lots of other things in the process.

In an 83 Corolla you could probably get away with a quick, temporary fix you are mechanically inclined. The actual “switch” is attached to the back of the lock/tumbler mechanism by 2 or 3 tiny screws. It is tight maneuvering back in under there, but if you take them out, the switch can be turned by a small flathead screwdriver (or even your key!) to the proper positions. Just remember to hide it back under your steering column after you get to where your going.

Ignition switches are usually very easy to swap out. There should be a hole on the column near the switch, into which you’ll have to stick a screwdriver or pick into to release the pressure on the “keeper” which is holding the switch in place.

If you’re in doubt, just pick up a Hanes or Chiltons manual at the auto parts store when you get your switch. It’ll explain everything.

Many ignition lock cylinders can be removed by depressing a retaining pin as described, but I’m not aware of any ignition switches that are designed that way.

On this particular car, I’d be very surprised if the switch isn’t retained with two screws, accessible only by removing one or both steering column shrouds. Removing the shrouds is often fairly straightforward, needing only a #2 Phillips screwdriver (note location of each screw). To do the whole job means accessing the wiring harness connector where the switch’s harness joins, this usually requires removal of the underdash panel below the steering column.

Yes. I had an 83 Corrolla and had to replace the lock. There is a hole but you must put the key to the “on” position before that will work. Otherwise any thief could defeat the switch very simply. Then you can take out the switch, remove the lock, and see if the problem is electrical or in the lock. Usually it will be the lock which costs about $30 from Kragen.

Yep ignition switch.

I’m fairly sure this one doesn’t need to have the steering wheel removed. (From memory)

Whoa whoa whoa. On an American car, this is a symptom of a burnt-out ballast resistor.

When you’re starting the car, the ignition switch sends 12 volts to the coil to fire the spark plugs. But when you release the key and the ignition switch relaxes to the Run position, the coil current goes thru a big resistor and then to the coil; instead of getting 12 volts, it gets about 6 volts (to prolong coil life). If the ballast resistor burns out, you get exactly the symptoms described: Car runs as long as you hold the key in Start, dies as soon as you release it to Run.

On a Dodge this is a pretty common failure; a new resistor is maybe $10. The resistor itself is usually located in the engine compartment on the firewall somewhere near the steering column (on a Dodge; I dunno where it is on a Corolla). It’s a ceramic block maybe half an inch square by two inches long, with a wire to each end. On some cars, it’s combined with the wiper motor resistor, in which case it’s an inch or so wide, still a couple inches long, but with four or so wires running to it.

Quick check is to jumper across the resistor; if the car runs normally then, it’s the resistor.

My 89 corolla had a bad nuetal/park sensor, which is a little button down inside the shifter (Automatic), between the seats. Just another possibility, it did kind of the same thing.

Almost. The critical clue is here:

The “slightly forward” (i.e., not yet in the “start” position) is indicative of internal wear in the ignition switch. I have not experienced this happening on cars with ballast resistors gone out.

'83 Corollas do not have ballast resistors.

Um, sorry, but this is a 1983 Toyota, not one from the 1960s-1970s.

This car most likely has electronic ignition (igniter) in which case it won’t have a ballast resistor.

I vaguely remember replacing the ignition switch in a '78 Corolla that my sister used to own; it was relatively easy, even for a novice.

On most full-size American cars, the steering column is built like a big metal tube, with everything loaded in from the top; if you want to get at/fix something in the middle, you’d have to first remove the steering wheel and take out all the other stuff, roughly speaking.

Luckily, your car is in no way built like that, so this will be very easy. Trust me; just do it yourself and save some money, you probably only need a screwdriver or two.

You’ll see that just behind your steering wheel, the keyhole, turn signal lever, and wiper switch are “wrapped” in a piece of plastic. Upon closer observation, you’ll notice that this is kind of a clamshell deal, with a separate top and bottom piece. This is held on partially by snapping in place, and partially by some screws you can get to by looking at it from underneath.

Undo the all the screws you can find, and then gently pry on the shroud, so you can discover any missed screws, as well as ascertain if the two pieces also snap together. The WORST that will happen is that you’ll cosmetically crack it; it’s not a vital part of the car. Just be patient, though, and you won’t break it.

As an example, here’s a picture I took recently of a 2003 Corolla’s steering column, with the shroud removed:


Your car will look just slightly different, but not by much. See the big metal part that the key is going into? That’s the ignition LOCK, as Gary T points out. You do not need a new lock. Just at the back of the lock, see the white plastic piece, with the white plastic plug with wires coming out? That’s the switch itself, which has worn out on your car. It will come out with a couple of screws, and then you unplug it. If yours doesn’t have a plug right on it, follow the wires a foot or so; you’ll eventually find a place to unplug it.

If you have a good amount of spare time, and you like to learn stuff, and you want to save a few bucks, buy your switch from a junkyard where you pull out your own parts. You’ll feel a lot more confident taking the junk car apart, then you’ll better know how to do your own. Don’t forget to also take the screws you removed from the junk car, so you’ll have extras.

Otherwise, it’s probably simplest to just buy a new switch from a Toyota dealer.

If you’d like to see more pictures of a disassembled 2003 Corolla, including all the wire colors necessary to install an alarm, you can read my info here

So don’t worry; it’s just a small amount of money, a half hour of your time, and maybe five screws. Just go ahead and do it; let me know if you get stuck and need advice or anything.

Although it sounds as if the switch is worn, I’ve repaired an awful lot of (seemingly) totally broken electrical equipment by a thorough cleaning with a good contact cleaner. Definitely worth a try if you can get a good dose of spray inside the unit.

Thanks everyone.

Chris, I really am not game to do this myself, I have rung a few mechanics to get quotes and I will go with the cheapest one.

BTW, the link to the MSN community didn’t work, “Server maxxed out” or something.

Understandable, in that none of us want to pay more for anything than we have to. But not necessarily wise, in that generally you get what you pay for.

Often price variations reflect the abilities and resources that are provided. Sometimes the schlocky garages keep in business by offering lowball quotes over the phone, which aren’t always what the final price is going to be. I wouldn’t necessarily seek out the most expensive auto repair facility in town, but I’d be downright scared of the cheapest.

I suggest you satisfy yourself that the place you choose is capable and has a reputation for integrity. A poorly done repair is not a bargain at any price.

Be sure to explain what happens to the mechanic just like you explained it to us.

If you tell them to change the ignition & they do that & it doesn’t change it, you still
have to pay them. Thus, it’s usually better if you just explain what happens when you
use the key, then they have to correct it. This way if it turns out to not be the ignition, you
won’t be paying for something you don’t need.

Our library has tons of car manuals for all makes & years, in case you want to look at them, you might
see if your library has some.

Ideally, this would be true. But most places today write up what they’re planning to do and make you sign saying you’ll pay for it. This means you’ll pay for it even if it isn’t what’s wrong.