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Questions and Answers

Toyota Tercel DX Hesitation

Q. Hello Vince! My wife has a 1988 Toyota Tercel DX coupe, with a 12 valve, 4-cylinder engine and manual transmission. The car has 145,374 kilometers on it. No A/C, and it uses a carburetor. We had the transmission replaced a little over two years ago.

I must admit I'm not very mechanically adept, so I'm asking for some advice. Her car seems to lurch forward at times when in second gear, occasionally in third. There are times it almost stalls when starting to accelerate from a stop, but not always. This problem which has gotten worse over time, with periods when the problem seems to disappear for a day or two. It does seem to worsen on rainy days. She's wondering if her choke is sticking.

I did replace the spark plugs and there was a brief improvement, but it didn't last long. I'm wondering if you may know what the problem may be and if its something a novice would be able to tackle or if I should take it to a mechanic? If I should get it to a mechanic, would you have a rough idea how much it may cost and the number of hours it would take. They charge $60-65/hr.


A. The carburetor on your Tercel doesn't have a choke, the 1987 to 1990 Tercel used a variable venturi carburetor. You'll find very few technicians who have the patience and expertise to even adjust one of them.

The 1987 to 1990 Tercels have their own very unique driveability problems. The most famous one and the main one is a severe lack of power and or severe hesitation when accelerating.This is caused by a momentary leaning of the air fuel charge.

What happens basically is that the oil control seals on the valve stems deteriorate and allow oil to drip on the back of the intake valves and when the engine's turned off, it heat soaks. This heat soak causes the oil to carbon up on the back of the intake valve. Eventually the carbon build up gets so bad it actually blocks the air flow into the cylinders. This process happens over a number of months and is so gradual you don't notice it until one day the car starts falling on it's face.

The people best qualified to handle this are at your local Toyota dealer. They have seen this problem many times and know exactly what's involved. It should take the dealer about an hour to confirm my diagnosis. This involves removing the spark plugs and actually looking at the backs of the intake valves with a "borescope". It's worth it to pay the hour diagnostic fee and be positive what the problem is.

The fix for this is expensive once the diagnosis is confirmed,you have to decide if the car is worth it.It involves removing the cylinder head and cleaning all the valves and reassembling with new valve seals.

Additional Information provided courtesy of ALLDATA

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