My older SUV won’t start on the first try

John Paul, AAA Northeast's Car Doctor, answers a question from a reader who requires multiple attempts to get his vehicle started.

AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File

Q. I have a 2005 Toyota RAV4 which was very well taken care of by the previous owner. My problem is when I initially try to start it from cold it will not start on the first turn of the key. It will on the second or on rare occasions the third. It runs beautifully once it starts. Any thoughts? 

A. The best thing to do would be to leave the vehicle overnight at a repair shop so the technician can experience the no-start issue. The problem could be a weak fuel pump, leaking fuel injectors, worn starter, weak battery, or faulty temperature sensor. Good technicians will be able to test and determine the issue more accurately if they can experience the issue themselves. 


Q. I have a 2012 Nissan Versa. For the past two months, a “service engine soon” message appears for a while then disappears. When it was on, I brought it to my local mechanic who diagnosed it with a “mass air flow sensor” issue. The car is running smoothly. The light is presently not showing. Should I have the part installed or ignore it? The work is going to be rather costly and I would definitely not want to have the work done if it’s not totally necessary. 

A. Although the code points to the mass air flow sensor as the issue, the actual problem may not be the sensor. The check engine light could be caused by a wiring issue, air intake leak, or even a dirty contaminated sensor. Although there is something wrong with the car, waiting until the light is on steadily could make for a more accurate diagnosis. 

Q. I have a 2000 Lexus ES with just 28,000 miles. I am the original owner. My car has always been garaged and is in pristine condition, but recently I’ve been having a problem with the oxygen sensors. I brought it to the dealership a number of times, but they could not duplicate the problem. The mechanic said everything is operating perfectly, but he said that the sensor in the front – which was changed a few years ago – had a corrosive buildup around the holes. Do you have any knowledge of this specific problem?


A. Oxygen sensors fail for numerous reasons – fuel contamination, silicone contamination, coolant contamination, or oil consumption. If the engine is not using oil or coolant, and there are no signs of silicone gasket use or fuel contamination, then it could be a faulty sensor. I have seen some technicians use anti-seize lubricant on sensors to make installation and removal easier. This anti-seize product can also contaminate an oxygen sensor. 

Q. I have seen you mention using a battery charger to keep batteries fully charged, and you typically recommend a Battery Tender battery maintainer. The issue with these units is you need to plug them in. What do you think of solar chargers?

A. I recommend the Battery Tender because that is what I use on my own car and have been happy with the outcome. I haven’t personally tested any specific brand of solar charger, but I have seen them used on boats and heavy equipment for maintenance (not recharging a discharged battery). If you live in a sunny climate a solar charger may work. 

John Paul is AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor. He has over 40 years of experience in the automotive business and is an ASE-certified master technician. E-mail your car question to [email protected] Listen to Car Doctor on the radio at 10 a.m. every Saturday on 104.9 FM or online at


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