Hey, Why Won't My Car Start?

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Four common causes for a vehicle not starting and their related parts.
Starting your engine requires several things to happen. One, your battery needs to have enough voltage and current to run the starter motor. The electrical connection between the battery and starter motor needs to have good continuity. The starter motor needs to be in good enough shape to have enough power to rotate the engine fast enough for fuel and Spark to be generated. There also has to be enough fuel to be delivered to the injectors and still enough power in the battery to ignite the spark plugs. When all of these events happen correctly when you turn the key the engine starts.

Is Your Car Not Starting?

Your car isn’t starting because of a battery problem. The battery might have died or has corroded terminals; this could be caused by the battery being old or feeding a parasitic draw (faulty accessory being active even after shutting off the car). Alternatively, it can be an alternator or starter issue.

Your car is a valuable asset and an essential part of your daily life. However, if it the engine cranks but the car doesn't start, something may be wrong. Ignoring it could lead to costly consequences, so taking control of the situation and understanding the causes and solutions is crucial.

Don't wait for the problem to escalate. By addressing the issue promptly and seeking professional assistance, you can avoid costly repairs, maintain the integrity of your vehicle, and ensure a safe and reliable driving experience. .

Let's Get To The Bottom Of It!

  • Q: Is your vehicle making a clicking noise instead of starting?

    You may also notice the smell of burning wires or the engine starting but dying right after.

    The starter motor is a small electric motor that helps the engine run. It uses gears to spin the engine fast enough to start running independently. If the starter motor doesn't work, you may hear a clicking sound when you start the car, but the engine won't turn over. This could be due to a problem with the contacts in the starter, which connect the battery and the starter motor.

  • Q: Is the engine sputtering and dying right after you try to start the car?

    The fuel system in a car needs enough pressure for the injectors to spray fuel into the engine. This creates the right mixture of air and fuel to keep the car running. If the fuel level in the gas tank gets too low, there won't be enough pressure to keep the engine running, and it may only start and stop or sputter, dying immediately after.

  • Q: Is the engine cranking slowly when the car is starting?

    The engine might also be cranking pretty weakly or not at all. Also, the battery light might flash on the dashboard, and the battery terminals might look corroded.

    Battery cables connect the battery to the rest of the car's electrical parts. Corrosion can get them after years of use. Corrosion on the terminals creates more resistance, reduces current and voltage, and slows the starter motor's ability to crank the engine.

  • Q: Does the dashboard lit up, but the car stays silent, and the engine doesn't react?

    The ignition switch is like a switchboard for your car. It tells the accessories, like the lights and gauges, when to turn on and start the engine. However, if the switch wears out or is damaged over time, it can cause a problem with the electricity flow. Consequently, the accessories might turn on, but the starter doesn't, so the gauges and lights work, but the engine doesn't start.

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What other motorists experienced for same issueShow all 4 repair records +

  • Mercury Mountaineer 2001 Odometer: 103,040 miles

    I had some issues with my car recently. First, it wouldn't start at all. To make things worse, my key was getting stuck in the ignition, and I couldn't get it out. Feeling concerned, I had my car towed to the workshop.

    When they took my car off the tow truck at the shop, they mentioned to me that the key turned and came out of the ignition without any hiccups. I was puzzled because I had... Read more

    Repair jobs done (1 in total) Show all
  • Saturn Outlook 2009 Odometer: 143,133 miles

    I think there might be something wrong with the ECM. About three weeks ago, my car refused to start. After a bit of struggle, I managed to get it running, but then every so often, it would give me the same problem. What seemed to work was pumping the gas pedal a few times before trying to start it. However, this past Monday, even that trick didn't help. I tried starting my car for work, and eve... Read more

    Repair parts done (4 in total) Show all
    • Battery - OE Exact Fit (quantity: 1)
    • 5w30 Synthetic Blend Oil (quantity: 5)
    • 5w30 Synthetic Blend Oil (quantity: 0.5)
    • Oil Filter (quantity: 1)
    Repair jobs done (5 in total) Show all
    • Service: Battery
    • Inspection: Comprehensive Vehicle Inspection
    • Service: Battery, Starting & Charging Test
    • Service: Select Lube, Oil & Filter Service - Blended Oil
    • Service: Oil Change Discount
  • Chevrolet P - Series 1992 Odometer: 155,411 miles

    I just acquired this truck not long ago. After managing to start it, I immediately observed that the alternator wasn't charging; the battery was only at 9v while the engine was on. I decided to install a new alternator on my own. However, during my first drive post-installation, I was hit with a distinct 'rotten egg' odor. Not long after, the truck began acting up, running really rough. Both th... Read more

    Repair parts done (1 in total) Show all
    • Battery Cable Positive (quantity: 1)
    Repair jobs done (3 in total) Show all
    • Inspection: Starting & Charging System Pinpoint Inspection
    • Inspection: Courtesy Inspection
    • Service: Battery Cable Positive
  • Nissan Xterra 2001 Odometer: 135,853 miles

    When I turn the key to the start position, all I hear is a clicking sound. My vehicle had trouble starting recently, prompting me to replace the battery. After the replacement, it started up fine, but then every time I turned it off, I had to boost the battery to get it running again. Even when the vehicle wouldn't start, the lights were still functional.

    A concerning observation was tha... Read more

    Repair parts done (1 in total) Show all
    • Alternator - Remanufactured - Power (quantity: 1)
    Repair jobs done (5 in total) Show all
    • Service: Diagnose Driveability
    • Inspection: Complimentary Vehicle Health Inspection Report
    • Service: Diagnose Electrical Concern
    • Inspection: Digital Inspection Result(s)
    • Service: Alternator Lifetime Warranty 2 days away

Auto repair shop techs experienceShow all 3 repair records +

  • Mercedes-Benz CLK-Class 2006 Odometer: 72,890 miles

    The customer reported that their vehicle was experiencing a "no crank" issue. They also mentioned that prior to this, the dashboard lights had been flickering at stops, the stereo had stopped working, and at times, the car wouldn't accelerate when stationary. They had to switch the car to park and restart it using the key. Additionally, there were occasions when the key wouldn't turn in the ign... Read more

    Repair jobs done (1 in total) Show all
    • Service: 53 POINT INSPECTION
  • Chrysler Town and Country 2010 Odometer: 100,717 miles

    The owner reported that the vehicle hadn't started recently. It would crank, but not ignite. One day, it started smoothly. However, on another day, it began only momentarily before turning off immediately. They requested a thorough check and advice on the matter.

    Upon inspection, I verified the reported issue of the vehicle not starting. It took multiple attempts before I got the vehicle... Read more

    Repair parts done (2 in total) Show all
    • Motor oil (quantity: 1)
    • OIL FILTER (quantity: 1)
    Repair jobs done (3 in total) Show all
    • Inspection: Courtesy Inspection
    • Service: Lube, Oil & Filter Service - Mobil Super High Mileage
    • Service: Starting & Charging System Test
  • Ford F-250 Super Duty 2005 Odometer: 189,398 miles

    Delving into the mechanical intricacies of this distressed vehicle, I was immediately greeted by a slew of issues demanding attention. Initiating with the batteries, I found them drained and the positive cable end of one battery being loosely connected. Naturally, I charged the batteries to establish a baseline of functionality.

    Turning my attention to the starter, which had been previou... Read more

    Repair parts done (4 in total) Show all
    • Bolt (quantity: 2)
    • Heater Hose (quantity: 1)
    • Bell housing bolts (quantity: 3)
    • Seal (quantity: 1)
    Repair jobs done (9 in total) Show all
    • Inspection: Driveability (Emissions / Computerized Engine Controls) Pinpoint Inspection
    • Service: Starter Motor Drill out broken bolt.
    • Inspection: Courtesy Vehicle Evaluation
    • Service: Inspect Diesel System
    • Service: Heater Hose(s)
    • Service: Clutch Flywheel
    • Service: EGR Valve Motor
    • Inspection: Starting & Charging System Pinpoint Inspection
    • Service: Inspect Diesel System Level Two.

Vehicle Health Inspection Proof

Explore the following typical inspection results that show a potential cause for the symptom and select the one you believe is similar to your vehicle's issue.

Faulty starter motor

This proof image shows a starter assembly. In this case, the main component, the starter motor, was faulty and needed replacement.

After towing it, a customer brought in their vehicle because it was having trouble starting. They said it had been hard starting for a while, and all they could hear was clicking. So they tried jumping the vehicle with another car, but it still wouldn't start.

The technician tested the vehicle by tapping on the starter solenoid and having another technician try to start the car. It started immediately, with no other issues noted during the test drive.

During the vehicle health inspection, the technician found that the problem was with the starter solenoid. In addition, they determined that power was going to the starter solenoid but not to the starter motor, indicating that the solenoid was the issue.

The technician concluded that the starter motor assembly needed to be replaced to fix the issue with the vehicle starting.

Does the issue look like this? if not accessible your shop will document it
Empty fuel tank

This image shows a vehicle dashboard. The red arrow highlights the car's low fuel level, which prevents it from starting.

A customer came to the shop after their vehicle had broken down. They were trying to park at the grocery store when the engine started sputtering and jerking, then died. They wanted to restart it, but it only cranked and wouldn't start.

The technician checked the gas gauge and found it empty. So they added 5 gallons of gas to the tank, and the gauge went up to about an eighth of a tank. They cycled the key on and off, then cranked the engine, and it started and ran smoothly.

During a thorough inspection, approved by the customer, the technician didn't find other issues related to the customer's concern. However, they advised the customer to monitor the fuel level and maintain a quarter gas tank so the fuel pump remains in good condition.

Does the issue look like this? if not accessible your shop will document it
Faulty ignition switch

This image shows the internal wiring that connects to the ignition switch. In this case, a starter wire wasn't conducting power, preventing the car from starting.

A customer reported their vehicle wouldn't start. They tried jump-starting it and tapping the starter, but the car still wouldn't start. So, they towed it. The technician had to push the vehicle into the service bay.

During a vehicle health inspection, the technician found no cause for the customer's concern. The battery tested okay. The customer approved additional tests to diagnose the issue, and the technician measured the power going to the starter's command side. They didn't find any power.

The technician then used a remote jumper to the command wire, and the vehicle started. Then, they tested the wire coming out of the start switch that goes to the starter's command side, discovering no power. Finally, after manually applying power to the same wire, the starter engaged, and the engine ran.

This proved that the ignition switch failed internally and needed replacement.

Does the issue look like this? if not accessible your shop will document it
Dead battery

This image shows the car's battery in an odd location. Some cars have batteries below the back seat, which is the case; this one was dead and needed replacement.

A customer came to the service center with a problem. They had trouble starting their vehicle and noticed that the engine cranked slowly. They didn't try to jump-start the car.

A technician jump-started the car using a jump box and drove it into the service bay. They didn't notice any unusual behavior while the car ran.

They conducted a vehicle health inspection and found the battery under the passenger seat. But, unfortunately, the battery voltage was too low even to turn on a battery tester.

The technician charged the battery for 20 minutes and tested it. Unfortunately, the battery failed the load test, requiring replacement. The technician recommended that the customer replace the battery to get their vehicle running again.

Does the issue look like this? if not accessible your shop will document it
Corroded battery terminals

This image shows a dusty and rusty battery. Its terminals were highly corroded in this case, preventing a healthy power flow. This affects the entire battery system.

The customer brought their vehicle because it was hard to start. They were worried the starter was failing because the car was cranking slower than usual. However, it always started and never clicked, apart from the slow cranking.

During the test drive, the technician noticed the vehicle cranked slowly, and the dash lights and dome lights dimmed while cranking. However, they didn't find further issues with the car during the test drive.

During a vehicle health inspection, the technician discovered the battery cable terminals were severely corroded. Plus, a digital battery tester said the battery connection was not good.

They cleaned the battery cable ends and neutralized the acid using a battery cleaner spray and a wire brush. Next, the technician reinstalled the battery cables and tightened them. Then, they retested the battery, starting, and charging system, which all passed. Therefore, no further repairs were necessary.

Does the issue look like this? if not accessible your shop will document it
Bad alternator

This proof image shows an alternator. In this case, the mechanic checked the voltage where the green arrows point. However, the alternator was faulty affecting the car's electrical system, requiring replacement.

A customer reported that their car's headlights dimmed, and the battery light flashed on the dashboard while driving. The engine also cranked slower than usual, and the car wouldn't start the next day. The technician had to jump-start the vehicle to bring it into the shop.

Upon vehicle health inspection, the technician found that the battery was low on voltage and needed to be charged. After charging the battery, it tested okay. Still, they didn't see the issue's root cause, so the customer approved additional tests.

Further diagnostics showed that the charging system wasn't working correctly. Finally, the technician tested the alternator and found an internal failure that needed replacement.

The technician verified this by checking the voltage at the battery lug and again while the engine was running, checking the alternator. This confirmed that the alternator was the cause of the problem and needed replacement.

Does the issue look like this? if not accessible your shop will document it

Typical Fixes to Address the Cause(s)

The following chapters bases themselves on experiences from our auto repair shop; we'll describe related problems' causes and fixes.

"Alternator Replacement" fixes "Bad alternator"

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Hey, Why Won't My Car Start?
Sometimes a problem is more challenging to describe than it initially looked like. If you are not sure your problem is described by this article, please find below similar vehicle symptoms, which might describe better the issue you are experiencing.

Other things your auto repair shop might talk about:

Fire. Search. clogged fuel filter. tow truck. faulty neutral safety switch. steering wheel. flooded engine