Seeking Ideas

2010-04-23 17:44:57.000 – Mike Finnegan,  IT Observer


Most of the time, working on a mountaintop for a week proves not to be terribly inconvenient. Life is planned around the fact that once I’m up here, I’m not leaving until the following Wednesday. Every once in a while though life throws you a curveball and pays not a bit of attention to the planning – I am teetering on that point right now.

Driving over to Vermont last weekend I felt that my car, a 4-cylinder 1996 Toyota Camry, was a feeling a bit less powerful than normal. I didn’t think too much of it and went to a friend’s to play an open mic that night. When I tried to leave the following evening, my car stuttered, resisting my urges to have it turn over. I feathered the gas and she eventually sparked to life. I backed up, went to shift into first, and it stalled as the idle dropped to 500 rpm. I eventually got it started again and to home, but avoided stopping at all costs for fear of it stalling out and not starting again. On Tuesday I was able to bring it over to Wayne’s shop (our snow tractor operator) to have a look at it with him and a friend of his, Joe.

Checking the ODB2, we saw that at least one of the cylinders was misfiring. We pulled the spark plugs and wires and discovered motor oil in the cylinders. While letting the oil drain, we went to pick up new plugs and wires. After RTV’ing the Valve Cover Gasket, we replaced the plugs and wires. Starting it back up, it still hesitated, but not as bad. The low idle persisted however. After a few adjustments to the throttle, we got it idling at a more appropriate level and took her for a spin. Downhill was fine, but power was severely lacking coming back up any hill. Looking at the ODB2 again, we saw a new cylinder was misfiring. Running out of options, we replaced the distributor cap and rotor and, seeing no improvement, the fuel filter as well, with the same lack of improvement.

That was Tuesday however and I left for the mountain on Wednesday morning. Wayne went to move the car and it regressed back to a low idle and only a cylinder or two firing. After trying again and feathering the gas, she jumped back to three cylinders and a reasonable idle. However, I am on the mountain and he is headed away for a bit, so it is a bit of a curveball. Joe is going to try to replace the coil, but I feel bad not being there to help or at least pay for it – as it turns out, my wallet is with me on the summit. If that doesn’t work, it may head to the garage for a look, but I would be open to any ideas from auto-savvy reader’s out there. If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, feel free to email me at I’d certainly appreciate them and if nothing else, I will learn a little something more. Knowing that I have to get somewhere by Thursday evening, I hope I can get this figured out or at least get a base hit off that curveball!


Mike Finnegan,  IT Observer

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