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2001 Corolla - All Warning Lights On

By Alfa Romeo August 27, 2014

This happened three times in the past month: The car starts but all the warning lights such as battery, oil, check engine lights stay on. Nothing engages. Auto transmission gear does not engage; accelerator won't rev up the engine. In short, the car cannot be driven.

All three times it happened, I disconnected the battery for about a minute, reconnected it, started the engine, the warning lights went off after a few seconds and I was able to drive the car just fine. The engine or other warning lights don't come on while the car is being driven and the car seems to run just fine. I go about my business for many days without any car problem and then it catches me by surprise usually in a parking lot of some store or restaurant. But today it happened three times all in one day. What might be causing this problem?

Also, since this problem is not reproducible at will and also since I keep disconnecting and reconnecting the battery to get it moving any records of engine diagnostics gets erased and so the mechanic may not be able to diagnose the problem. Perhaps next time it happens, instead of discoonecting the battery, I should probably have it towed to the mechanic. But I would like to know what is likely to be the problem before I take it to a mechanic.

Sounds like a serious electrical problem. To peg all the warning lights - could be a number of things causing this. Main wiring loom is damaged or shorted somewhere, bad intergration relay (most of the car's wiring runs to this common connection point), excessive electrical noise from EMI/RFI interference, bad wiring to the ECM, etc.

History on the car - any major electrical or mechanical repair prior to this happening on the car? Was the car ever involved with flood damage (issues you are seeing are exactly like how many flood damaged cars act)?

Definitely do not reset the ECM when this happens. Given that it is an intermittent issue, hard to track this down without seeing it happen in the first place. In this "stuck" mode, they can try and query the ECM and see if they can pull any data from it.

Not understanding how you cannot rev the engine - this generation has a cable actuated throttlebody, even if the computer was oblivious to the TPS setting, opening the throttle plate will change the amount of air being sucked in. If you stand on the accelerator and the car doesn't see the change from the TPS or MAF - it will stall.

Same with the transaxle not engaging - it is electronically controlled, but only in shift strategy, solenoid operation. Even if they are not controlled by the PCM, you should be able to shift out of part and drive away in top gear (3rd). It is a failsafe in the transaxle logic, incase of the PCM cannot control the solenoid or if the solenoids fail.

Are you certain the is running at the time? If the car stalls during operation, all the warning lights will light up, as the key is still in the RUN position - stepping on the accelerator, trying to shift the transaxle, etc. when the car has stalled will act like the car is completely dead. The rest of the electricals will still work - power windows. door locks, HVAC fan settings, radio, lights, etc. - because the key is in the run position.

Tried removing the key and reinsert the key restarting the car? Tried to drive the car with just the one key, excessive weight on the ignition switch can cause it to wear out sooner, causing funny behavior - car starts and runs, but mid turn might decide to turn off (bumped the switch)?

Does the car have a factory or aftermarket alarm system? Made sure that it was fully disarmed, before starting the car? Possible the control box is damaged, causing intermittent operation - many aftermarket ones have a starter kill, can't start the car until it has been disarmed. Unplugging and replugging the battery can cause these alarm systems to default to a weird mode. Some immediately complain if the power was cut off, some get stuck in a weird operating mode and may cutoff the ignition in the middle of your drive.

CarFax indicated two previous owners but no flood, accidents or major electrical / mechanical repairs.

I thought I clearly HEARD the engine running upon starting but now that you raised the question the next time it happens I will open the hood and see if it is indeed running. Is there anything else that could be running, such as the radiator fan on a hot sunny day after some driving, mimicking engine noise albeit at a SUBDUED level that gives the mistaken impression the engine is running when it is really not running? The fan, radio are all off.

When the car gets into this weird state, pressing on the accelerator yields no response. I am able to shift the automatic transmission lever back and forth but the transaxle does not engage in any of the forward or reverse gears. I don't feel the little jolt or the change in the noise level that one feels when the gear engages.

I use just a single key for my car while other keys are on a different keychain. When this problem occurs, repeated attempts to restart the car, including taking the key out and reinserting the key fails. The car has no alarm system.

Other than taking it to a dealer are there any major national chains that handle electrical problem? I remember that Midas once told me they don't do electrical work.

Yes, fans could be running without the engine actually running. One of the failsafes on the electric fan is to run constantly when the key is inserted. Lots of time, if the engine starts and runs but dies shortly after - there could be enough ambient noise to make it sound like the car is still "on". Have to look at the tach, if you have one - that will drop to zero RPMs if the engine cut out - though if there are electrical gremlins in the system, that might not be the case. Aside from that - have to pop the hood and look at the serpentine belt and see if it is still moving.

Most chain shops can only test the battery and alternator - that's usually the extent of their expertise. They try not to get involved as more and more of the car has to be addressed by a factory tech tool (basically a scanner that is manufacturer specific). Most shops don't have the capital or time to invest into such a proprietory device. Hence referring you to a dealership or specialty import garage.

Thank you fishexpo101 for your insight. Very helpful!

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