car won’t start

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Troubleshooting a Car That Won’t Start

Few things are more frustrating when you find yourself stranded because your car won’t start, especially if you’re in a hurry. However, this unexpected circumstance doesn’t have to derail your plans. Before frustration sets in, consider the most common reasons for this kind of car trouble. Diagnosing the problem puts you one step closer to finding a solution and getting back on the road.

Your Car Won’t Start and You Hear Nothing

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com / CC0 1.0.

When you turn the key in the ignition, you should hear the engine crank and start up. If all you get is silence, one of two likely culprits could be to blame.

1) Faulty Electrical Connections

A bad connection to the battery prevents power from getting to the engine. Fixing the problem could be as simple as tightening a loose cable or cleaning corrosion from the battery terminals. If neither method works, try recharging the battery. Batteries that won’t hold a charge may need to be replaced or could be connected to a faulty charging system that requires the attention of a mechanic.

2) Security System Issues

The reason why newer cars that use keys with coded fobs won’t start if the fob battery is dead or if there’s interference between the fob and the car. The problem should be easy enough to fix by removing any barriers or replacing the battery. If you experience an issue with a vehicle that uses a keyless starter, check to make sure that you have the correct fob.

All You Hear is Click, Click, Click

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Depending on what’s causing the annoying sound you hear when you turn the key, some noise may not necessarily be better than no noise at all. If you hear only clicking, but your car won’t start, check for these two issues to determine what’s wrong.

1) The Car Won’t Start Because The Battery is Dead or Drained

Start by checking the battery connections and charge as with a silent starting problem. If this is a frequent occurrence, consider which components might be drawing from the battery when the car is off. This “phantom draw” can drain power if you don’t drive often enough to replenish the charge. Another potential cause is loose starter wiring, a problem that your mechanic can look for or that you can check yourself if you feel comfortable doing so.

2) Problems with the Starter or Solenoid

If you determine that the battery is fine, something else could be preventing the proper level of amps from reaching the starter. One of several faulty components could be to blame, including the starter, a battery cable, or the solenoid connection. Corrosion, wear, or resistance in the solenoid are also probable culprits. Test the voltage and get your mechanic to check for parts that may need to be replaced.

The Engine Cranks Without Starting

If you have a full tank of gas, a cranking engine could mean connection problems or defective parts.

1) Problems with the Relay or Fuel Pump

Running too low on gas or operating your vehicle with the improper fuel pressure generates heat that can wear down the fuel pump. Check the fuel pressure gauge to make sure that the pressure level is correct. A faulty relay, fuse, or wire may also be to blame and can be fixed by a professional.

2) Your Car Won’t Start because the Starter is Broken

Just about any part of the starter can go bad, and there’s a simple way to tell if that’s why your car won’t start. Check the brightness of the running lights. If they’re fine while the car is off but go dim as soon as you turn the key, it’s time to head to your mechanic.

3) Lack of a Spark or Issues with the Fuel System

Something as small as a spark plug can cause big headaches if it goes bad, but it’s fairly easy to replace this common part. Other issues to check for include a bad ignition coil or a clogged fuel filter. Low-quality gasoline can cause clogging in other parts of the fuel system. Let your mechanic take a look before too many internal parts get gummed up.

A Dead-End Start

Image courtesy of josh park on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.

Image courtesy of josh park on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.

Even more frustrating than a car that won’t start is one that gives you false hope by starting and dying. The first thing you should check in this case is the choke on the carburetor. When the choke is stuck, fuel can’t get where it needs to go. You may be able to get the valve to close by pressing the gas pedal a few times before trying to start the car. Newer models that use fuel injection need professional attention to diagnose an issue with the system.

Problems that Cycle with the Seasons

Image courtesy of Szapucki on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.

Image courtesy of Szapucki on Flickr / CC BY 2.0.

Sometimes your car can be temperamental in response to the weather. In these cases, there may not be anything wrong with the vehicle, but it will take a little extra work to get it started.

1) What to Do in the Rain

A car that won’t start on a wet day may simply be suffering from dampness underneath the distributor cap. You can evaporate this liquid using clean Mechanic’s Solvent. Also, check that the starting charge is going to the spark plug and not being redirected to another metal component of the car.

2) What to Do When It’s Cold

Trying to start a frigid engine can drain your battery, so avoid turning the key for more than a few seconds at a time. Let the battery rest between starting attempts to prevent problems. If you’re in a hurry, you may be able to get the car to start by jumping it. In the future, try warming the engine with a block heater, and check your owner’s manual for other specific instructions for cold-weather starting.

When you’re familiar with the common causes of car trouble, it’s much easier to find the right solution.

Which issues plague your car the most, and how do you take care of them when they pop up?

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