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Discussion Starter #1
I am currently living in Malawi and am both 1) without all of my beloved tools back home :frown and 2) without a mechanic who has been able to solve this problem, thus far. I was hoping one or many of you kind folks might have an idea that I can point at tomorrow when the mechanic comes by. Again.

I have a 1996 3-door Rav4, originally from Japan.

I'm going to list symptoms in the order they appeared (it's been getting worse):

- The air conditioning and lights would occasionally dim momentarily while driving, as if they're getting less power. I have noticed that this happens with the lights (I don't use the air conditioning anymore because it seems to make all these problems much worse/more frequent) at night when I brake. It's more pronounced when I'm going faster. I'm not sure if it happens at other times.

- Sometimes the car just turns off while I'm driving (including the engine and components - when this happens the digital clock resets to 1:00). I have not been able to identify a trigger for this. If I am moving at a fairly good clip everything turns back on about half a second later without me doing anything. If I'm sitting still or moving slowly, however, I usually have to put it into park and turn the key to turn it back on.

(It used to be that every time the car stalled, the engine came back on without any trouble. This is not always true, anymore.)

- After doing this a few times over the course of week (stalling), I noticed that the problem is far more pronounced when I'm running my headlights or air conditioning. It has yet to stall on me at any time when I wasn't running my headlights or air conditioning.

- However, over the last few days it has started occasionally refusing to start when I turn the car off for only a few minutes (it starts if I've let it sit for long periods of time, and often it's completely fine if it only sits for a short period). It's happened twice at the gas station, for instance. At first I thought it was a low battery problem, so I was using my portable charger on the battery and it seemed to be working, but I am beginning to think that it's actually a time issue and that the charger wasn't doing anything (sometimes the charger worked and sometimes it didn't, which confused me but I think this is why). If I let the car sit for a while without touching the battery, it will usually start up. Sometimes it only need 2-3 minutes, sometimes it needs much longer.

- Sometimes when I turn the lights on the car stalls on me. This happens frequently if I have the car in park, but it happened once when I was driving, too (though everything came back on half a second later).

I've taken it to the shop a few times and they've replaced the spark plugs and the fuel pump. They also checked the battery and said that it's strong. They looked over the fuses and fixed an issue there that appeared to do nothing.

Any ideas?
 

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I would have been suspicious of the battery to be honest but you have had it tested. I have not came across this problem in my rav but I would take a wild guess and suggest checking your earth straps as it seems to be an electric problem only. I could be way wrong but rest assured M8 that somebody will be along with more knowledge than me and know what it is
 

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Discussion Starter #3
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So after the car finally died permanently on me tonight, it made diagnosing much easier. Turns out the problem was a loose bolt holding the battery terminal end to the ground cable.

Such a simple problem that caused such massive headaches. Really aggravated that I didn't check that this morning when I was cleaning the terminals. So close to identifying the problem *before* I was on the way to dinner at night with a girl in the passenger seat.

My guess is that as the cable would heat up the metal would expand and loosen the connection, so letting it sit for a while allowed it to cool. And when I was trying to charge the battery I would sometimes bump the cable enough to reseat it, which is why it sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. Tricky beast.
 
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