Car Won’t Start – 11 Troubleshooting Tips & How to Easily Fix It

Clyde Goering Image
Written by Clyde Goering

June 30, 2020

Car Won't Start

No matter how careful a car owner might be, a day comes when one faces a problem that almost every car owner has faced or will eventually face. There comes a day when we say, in exasperation, ‘my car won’t start‘!

Interestingly, people develop an emotional attachment to their cars. As they say, you can always tell the story of a man by merely looking at his car. The burden car owners bear when the car engine doesn’t turn over can be immense. For instance, a car that won’t start on the morning of an important interview can be a huge problem. Even worse, when you urgently need to meet up with an important appointment or emergency.

Like with every other thing in life, a ‘car-wont-start’ problem can pop up without a warning of any sort. The actions you take at that crucial time your car engine refuses to start can either make or mar your outing.  

So, in this article, you will be learning how to take the right actions when you are having a problem with your car, not starting. Here’s a list of thirteen tips and steps to take note of when your vehicle will not start to help you quickly fix it yourself:

What Happens When You Are Trying to Start the Engine?

When your car won’t start, it is important to note how the engine reacts when you try to start it. The reaction of the engine is vital because if appropriately identified, your problem can be solved without delay or damage to any other part. That’s not all; you’d know exactly why your car is having this problem. 

For instance, if your car is silent when you try to start the engine, all you have to do is to check the battery’s terminal cable connections. You can adjust the connections with your hands or simply find an object such as a rod and hit the head of the battery.

If there is a clicking sound, but your truck engine won’t turn over, this usually means a dead battery.

What to Check First?

Why a car won’t start can be due to many reasons. Nonetheless, there are some things to check first when the car won’t turn over.

First, you should check the battery. The possible reason might be because of a defective battery. You’ve got to verify that thebattery cables are correctly connected. The starter is also another reason why your car will not start. If the vehicle makes a revving up sound but still does not turn over, then your starter is just not at its duty post. You have to wake it up.

Second, make sure you have gas. Gas is also another reason why the car might be having this fault. As unlikely as it may seem, check your gas level through the dashboard and make sure it isn’t reading empty.

How to Check the Battery?

A weak battery is the most likely reason why your car will not start. Therefore, checking it can help when the car engine does not start.

Here’s how to check your battery:

Just like with battery-powered lamps, your car’s headlights get dim when the battery is discharged. Dim headlights mean low battery power.

Observing the windshield wipers too can help you tell if your battery is at optimum capacity. Batteries have a life span of about five years and are ready to be replaced around that time. When you’ve got an old battery, and it’s weak, you are not going anywhere with that car.

The Key Won’t Turn in the Ignition:

The ignition is how you tell your car that you are ready to go. If the key doesn’t turn the ignition on, then your vehicle will not start, and the engine will not turn over.

If the key isn’t turning in the ignition, its’s probably because of these reasons:

One, you are not using the right key, or you are using a defective key. As unlikely as it is, make sure you have got the right key! A faulty key may be the reason why your car won’t turn over.

Two, the steering wheel may be locked. A locked steering wheel means the car engine won’t start because the ignition can’t be turned on. To fix this, you need to turn the wheel firmly from side to side while also turning on the ignition with the key. Try this when the key isn’t turning the engine.

No lights on the Instrument Panel:

The lights on the instrument panel should always come on when you turn the ignition on. If they don’t, then it can provide more clues as to why the ignition is blank. A faulty ignition or a dead battery may cause your instrument panel to stay off. One way to find out is to put on your headlights. If your headlights work, it means you’ve still got some battery power. This would then mean that the reason why the car doesn’t start is a disconnect between the ignition switch and the battery.

On the other hand, if the reason is because of a dead battery, you should jumpstart it. Later on, we’ll talk about how and when to jumpstart your car.

“Security” or key-shaped light stays on or flashes on the dashboard.

Cars come in with inbuilt security measures that allow only the right key to start the engine. If your car engine won’t start and there’s a security or key-shaped light that keeps flashing or stays on, then this means that the security measure has kicked in.

To fix this problem, when your car fails to start, you need to help the car’s security through a relearn procedure. All you have to do is try to start the engine and leave the security light flashing for ten minutes.

This should work after the first try but if it still won’start after you try, try it for two more times.

The ‘Check Engine’ light does not come on

If your car is still not responding, you should switch off the ignition to try again.

At that point, if you notice that when you turn on the ignition (before ‘starting’ the car), the check engine light stays off, then it may be that power isn’t getting to the engine computer.

The Starter Won’t Crank

When you say this, it means you’ve already tried to get it to start. If, while trying to get it to start, the starter does not crank the engine, then it means you’ve got yourself a faulty starter.

A starter is connected to the battery, and its role is to set the engine in motion. If you have got a defective starter, you can force it to work (jump) by using a charged battery.

I can hear a click, but the starter won’t crank

Sometimes, your car engine won’t power on even when there’s a clicking sound. The clicking might be single or repeated but still doesn’t turn the engine over. A dead battery usually causes this, and we’ve got a few things you should try if this happens when your car isn’t starting.

  • Try cycling the key: When the ignition key is active, but your car won’t turn over, a really weak battery could cause it. One way to know for sure if a weak battery causes it is to check the dome light while trying to start the engine. If the dome light (ceiling light) goes off, then the battery is really weak. Now, you’ve got to get some power into that battery by ‘cycling’ the key if your vehicle will not start. To do this, you must turn the key to the start position continuously about ten times. Then, wait for five minutes. If the car engine won’t start, try what’s in the next paragraph.
  • Try tapping on the battery terminals: This method is as effective as it is strange. When your car will not start, and you are stranded without tools, look for an object like a steel bottle or a shoe and smack the battery terminals. If it works, your car engine should come on as soon as you start the car. If the engine won’t click, look to the next paragraph.
  • Try smacking the starter: The starter motor helps to turn over the engine to start. Starter motors aren’t easily accessible but if you can access yours, smack it with something hard like a car jack. This might free the electrical contacts that got stuck and is the reason why the engine is turning over.

 The engine Cranks very slow and won’t start

A weak or discharged battery usually causes this. Make sure that your battery is in good working condition, and if it is, you can try the following if your car engine won’t start.

  • Try swapping relays: When your engine cranks slow but doesn’t start, it might be that your fuel pump relay might be in the wrong place. To know for sure, turn the key to the ‘run’ position and listen for a buzzing sound. The buzzing sound is made when the fuel pump primes the injection system. If there is no buzz, then that might be the reason why it’s not starting. You need to find the fuel pump relay and swap it with another relay with the same part number.
  • Try smacking the fuel tank: A right smack or lack of it may just be why you are having this problem. If the car engine won’t turn on, hit the bottom of the fuel tank several times with an object to revive the fuel pump motor.
  • Try unflooding a flooded engine: Sometimes, your car will develop the fault if it has got a flooded engine. There’s a strong chance that if you just started your car, moved it for a few meters, and shut it off, your engine gets flooded. To unflood, press the accelerator pedal to the floor and hold it. Most cars interpret this as having a flooded engine, so it automatically starts to unflood.
  • Try tricking the computer: If all of these other methods have been tried and the problem persists, try pressing the accelerator halfway and try to start the engine. Then, you’d have tricked the computer into adding more fuel.

The engine cranks progressively slower, then just clicks.

This isn’t a bad sign. Just when you are hopeful that the car might start, it clicks again, and the car still doesn’t start. This problem is caused again by a weak battery that isn’t supplying enough power to the starter motor to turn over the engine. The engine won’t turn over until the battery is strong enough. If the battery is old enough, it is time to replace it.

Jump-Starting a Car

Most persons have heard of this but are not quite sure what it means. If bad batteries are the reason why your vehicle isn’t clicking, a jump start is a quick and straightforward way of getting your car engine running.

You’ll need two things – a jumper cable and a car with a good battery.

Make sure to properly connect the negative and positive terminals of the jumper cables. A wrong connection can cause extensive damage to the car.

Fuel

There are two reasons why your car won’t start because of fuel.

  • Your gas tank is empty: Try to remember when last you got fuel into your car even if the fuel gauge says your tank isn’t empty. Sometimes, fuel gauges can malfunction and cause you to misjudge the state of your tank. And, like most machines, if there’s no fuel, it isn’t moving, and your car cranks but won’t start.
  • Fuel filter needs to be replaced: Cars need fuel to run, and sometimes there’s fuel, but the fuel isn’t getting to the engine. When this happens, your engine isn’t going to start. You can Google your car model and find out how often you should change your fuel filter.  An easy method of changing your car filter should be available in the car manual.

CONCLUSION

Car problems posing complaints like ‘My car won’t start’, ‘My car won’t turn over’, ‘My engine won’t turn over’ are all very frustrating to happen to you as a car owner. More often than not, they are all caused by the same set of factors: battery, ignition switch, battery cables, and fuel which could do with a little tweak from you and viola—Engine turns on.

The knowledge of these factors and how they can affect your car’s ability to start is every bit as liberating as it is lifesaving. Now that you know them, you can save yourself. Not by reading this article ten times over; but by applying these tips. You’re welcome!

Clyde Goering Image
Written by Clyde Goering

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