Why your car isn’t starting – Part 1

June 11, 2015


A car not starting is a very frustrating problem because it could be one of many things, some simple to fix and others not so much. We’re going to try demystifying this issue somewhat by breaking down what the problem could be. Even if you won’t feel comfortable fixing the problem yourself, being armed with an idea of the problem could really help you when you go to a mechanic.

To make the matter simple we can divide the problem into two parts. Here in part one we will look at why your car won’t start if it also doesn’t crank, and then in part two we’ll look at why your car isn’t starting if it still cranks.

Your car doesn’t crank

In case you don’t know what we mean by not cranking, that’s if you turn your key in the ignition and you don’t hear anything. There are a number of possible issues:

  • The obvious place to start is to test the battery. Recharge the battery and see if that works. Bear in mind that even if the battery is low, that may not be the root problem. You could have just run down the battery with excessive cranking.
  • If it’s not the battery it could be the starter circuit. Switch on the headlights and see what happens when you try starting the engine. If the headlights go out, a poor battery cable connection may be strangling the flow of amps. The battery cable connections will need to be checked and cleaned along with the engine-to-chassis ground straps.
  • If the headlights don’t go out, it could be that voltage is not reaching the starter. The problem could be an open or misadjusted park/neutral safety switch, a bad ignition switch, or a defective starter relay or solenoid. You should test the solenoid.
  • If the lights dim and there is little or no cranking, the starter could be locked up, dragging or suffering from high internal resistance, worn brushes, shorts or opens in the windings or armature.
  • If the starter clicks but there is no cranking, the starter could be bad or there aren’t enough amps to spin the starter. A poor battery cable, or ground connection, or high resistance in the solenoid itself may be the culprit.
  • If there is cranking but it’s slow, the issue could undersized battery cables. So there is not enough wire to handle the amps.

In part two we will look at what the issue could be if your car does not start, but still cranks.

If you are having persistent problems, remember that at some point you may need to look at new or pre-owned cars for sale if the cost of repairs becomes too much. If this is the first time you are experiencing a problem starting, hopefully it won’t be too serious – or expensive – an issue to fix.

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