Few things are as frustrating as hopping in your car to go somewhere only to have the car not start. When your car won’t start, it can be extremely frustrating. You start thinking of a million possibilities of what the problem might be. Not to mention the fact that you start dreading how much it will cost you to repair. If you run into this situation, we are here to help. We’ve broken it down into 10 of the most common reasons why your car won’t start. We will also tell you what you can do to fix it without paying an arm and a leg, so keep reading.
10 Common Reasons Your Car Won’t Start
Automobiles are very complex, and even a minor problem can prevent them from starting sometimes. But, some issues are much more common than others. So here are 10 of the most common issues that you might run into when your car fails to start.
#1. Dead Battery
This is probably the most common problem that you will run into when your car doesn’t start, especially in cold weather. A dead battery cannot supply enough power to your car’s starter to turn the engine over. Perhaps you left on the dome light or another accessory that drained your battery. Not only could your car battery be dead, but you might also have a bad battery or corrosion on the terminals. Usually, you will hear a series of rapid clicking noises when the battery is the problem. Go ahead and try to jump-start your car to see if it cranks. If the jumper cables do the trick, you should have your battery tested to see whether it is bad or needs charging. It should read 12.2 to 12.6 volts on an open load.
#2. Bad Alternator
A bad alternator can lead to several problems as the alternator is responsible for your car’s charging system and powering the electrical system. When the alternator fails, all the electronics on your vehicle are powered by the battery itself without any recharging. This will quickly drain a battery, and it will leave you stranded. If the alternator is not working correctly, your car will shut off once the battery gets too low.
#3. Shifter Not In Park
This applies to cars with an automatic transmission. You likely already know that your transmission needs to be in Park before you can start your vehicle. Your vehicle is equipped with a safety feature that will not allow the car to start unless the shifter is in the Park position. Sometimes, the sensor, or neutral safety switch, in the shifter can get a little finicky. If it appears that the shifter is in Park, but your car still won’t start, try to bump the shifter a few times into the park position. This might finally trip the sensor and allow your vehicle to crank.
#4. Loose Electrical Connections
Even if your battery is fully charged, your car will not start if the battery cables are loose. The connectors can become loose over time as you drive your vehicle, and the bumping and vibrations from driving can cause them to loosen slightly. A connection that is even somewhat loose can prevent your car from starting. You can attempt to wiggle the connections on the battery terminals to see whether they are fully tight. If there is any movement in them at all, then you should tighten them and reattempt to start your vehicle. A loose wire elsewhere, like on your starter, can also cause an issue, but that is less common and more difficult to troubleshoot.
#5. Starter Malfunctioning
If your starter motor, solenoid, or other parts of your starter are failing, then you might hear a single clicking sound when you try to crank your car. A lousy starter can leave you stranded quickly. You can attempt to bang on your starter with a hammer or screwdriver lightly, and sometimes that can unstick a relay and cause your starter to begin working again. However, the starter is often difficult to access, so you might be unable to do this. In that case, you likely need to visit an auto repair shop to have them diagnose and replace your starter to get your car running again.
#6. Key Fob Problems
Many modern cars include a push-button start. This means that you do not have a key that you need to place into the vehicle. You press the brake pedal and then push the start button. However, your car’s computer needs to communicate with your key fob for that to work correctly. If your key fob has issues or even a low battery, then it can prevent your car from starting.
#7. Clogged Fuel Filter
If your car will crank but won’t start, then you might have a clogged fuel filter. A clogged filter will prevent fuel from traveling through the fuel system properly. If not enough fuel can make it to the engine, then you might notice sputtering as the car runs. In some cases, a total clog will prevent your vehicle from cranking at all.
#8. Bad Fuel Pump
If no fuel is making it from the fuel tank to your engine, you might have a faulty fuel pump. This part pumps the fuel from the tank to your engine. A lack of fuel will cause your car engine not to start. You might hear a whirring noise as the fuel pump attempts to work, but this might mean that it is not working correctly. It is usually a good idea to let an experienced mechanic handle this issue since gasoline is dangerous to work with, and your fuel pump is generally located in your gas tank.
#9. Faulty Ignition Switch
Your car’s ignition switch is usually located on the column near the steering wheel. When you turn the ignition key, this switch should turn on the power for your car’s electrical system. However, when it fails, then it causes big problems for your vehicle. This means that your fuel pump, starter, and other critical parts will not have power. A bad ignition switch will prevent your car from starting. If you suspect this is the problem, you might want to check the fuse box first. A blown fuse can have similar symptoms. Troubleshooting electrical issues can be complex because it requires a lot of time and the proper tools.
#10. Fouled Spark Plugs
Bad spark plugs will not provide a spark inside your combustion chamber to ignite your air-fuel mixture. Without a spark, your engine will not run. Even if your car starts, bad plugs will cause your vehicle to run very rough. Changing your spark plugs is part of routine car maintenance, and you should refer to your owner’s manual for the proper interval to change your spark plugs.
Troubleshooting The Problem — Does The Engine Crank Or Not?
One of the first steps in diagnosing the problem is determining whether your engine turns over but won’t start. If it does not, then that usually points toward an electrical issue like a dead battery. It could be something more serious like a bad starter or even a broken timing belt, but that is less common. Try to give the car a jump start first, and if the vehicle doesn’t turn over after that, it might be time to call a mechanic.
If the engine does turn over, but the car still won’t crank, then you probably have either a fuel or spark issue. This might be a fuel pump problem or fouled spark plugs. Since the engine is turning over, then that means that you have power and you do not have any starter issues. The engine is likely either not getting fuel or a proper spark. If the plugs look OK, then check the distributor. If you cannot find the problem, then a trip to the dealership is likely.
Estimated Repair Costs When Your Car Won’t Crank
If you have a simple problem like a loose connection, then a DIY repair won’t cost you anything! Even a dead battery will only cost you around $100 to $150. However, the price starts to go up as the problem gets more complicated. A lousy starter or fuel pump is likely to set you back $300 to $400. Replacing an ignition switch is similar in cost as well. More extensive problems like a broken timing belt will really hit your wallet. Expect to pay at least $700 for a new one and maybe even more if there is internal damage to the engine.
The Bottom Line
Just because your car won’t start does not necessarily mean that you have a big problem. It might be an easy fix like a dead battery or loose cable. Follow the steps outlined above to help narrow down the problem and find the ultimate cause. If you reach the end of your expertise, then don’t be afraid to call for help. Some of these issues will require an experienced mechanic, so don’t be ashamed if you cannot fix them yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does it mean when your car won’t start, but the battery is good?
If your battery is good, but the car engine won’t start, then you probably have a fuel or spark issue. This could be a problem with the distributor, ignition system, spark plugs, or fuel system. It might be something as simple as a clogged fuel filter preventing gas from making its way to the engine. Try to isolate and test parts to narrow down the problem to find the solution eventually.
What do you do when your car won’t start?
You might be asking, “What should I do if my car won’t start?” First, you should try to find and correct the problem. If you cannot do this, then you might have to call a tow truck for assistance. Towing your vehicle to a mechanic might be required to find the fix.
What does it mean when your car won’t start, but all the lights come on?
Many people wonder why their car won’t start, but the lights come on. A car not starting could be caused by several different problems. You might have a faulty starter or an issue with the fuel system or ignition system. It could be the result of bad spark plugs, a bad fuel pump, a bad starter, or some other issue preventing fuel or spark from adequately working in your engine.