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Car not starting: Reasons, troubleshooting and fixing

Team Ackodrive16, Jul, 2021

You are all set for a long drive on the weekend. You pack your stuff and hop into the car in excitement. You turn on the ignition only to realize that the engine refuses to start. It can be frustrating as you have a concrete plan ahead for the day. 

There may be several reasons why the engine is not firing up. The good thing is, the problem can be fixed by simple troubleshooting techniques if there is no major issue with the car. In this article, let’s glance through the reasons behind engine starting trouble and the troubleshooting techniques to fix the problem.

Reasons for Car Not Starting

If your car does not start when you turn on the ignition, there might be several reasons behind it. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is some major problem with the car. It could be a minor glitch in the battery terminals, a dead battery, a defective ignition switch and so on. 

Car starting problems are mainly related to the battery, car self-start system or fuel lines. Below are some of the common reasons why your car is not starting upon switching on the ignition.

A Dead Battery 

It is one of the most common reasons for car self-start problems.

  • How to be sure if this is the reason? If you don’t see the dashboard lights and hear the cranking noise when you turn on the ignition, the battery may be dead. You can also try switching on the headlights and honking the horn to determine whether the battery has gone kaput. But, again, if none of the electrical components works, the car battery is dead.

  • How to rule out this reason? If the electrical components of the car are working correctly, the battery is not the culprit. If the headlights, horn and dashboard/interior lights are working properly, you can rule out the possibility of a dead battery.

Battery Terminal/Connection is Bad

It is an uncommon problem, but it might happen.

  • How to be sure if this is the reason? Your car will not start if the battery terminals or connection is bad. If the terminals are loose or there is rusting or dirt accumulated, then the electrical components will not receive power from the battery. Hence, the engine will not start.

  • How to rule out this reason? If there is no rusting/dirt accumulated on the terminals and are properly secured, the problem may not be related to the terminals. It might be the battery or the wiring connections.

Bad Alternator

A broken alternator can also stop the engine from starting.

  • How to be sure if this is the reason? If the car starts and stalls immediately or the dashboard/interior lights are dim, the alternator could be at fault. A bad alternator will not charge the battery, and hence, the engine will stall. You may also see the battery warning sign on the dashboard, which means that the battery is not charging.

  • How to rule out this reason? If the interior and exterior lights are not flickering and there are no strange noises when starting the engine, the alternator may be working fine.

Problem with Ignition Switch 

A faulty ignition switch is one reason for the car not starting. The ignition switch carries battery power to the electrical components, such as the starter motor. 

  • How to be sure if this is the reason? If the switch is at fault, then the starter motor will not receive power, and it will not crank the engine when you turn the ignition switch on. You may not hear any clicking or clunking noise when you start the car. Note that the lights and the horn may still work because there are separate wiring harnesses for the starter motor and other electrical components.

  • How to rule out this reason? If you hear a clicking or strange noise when you start the car, the ignition switch works properly. In this case, the starter motor may be broken, or there may be some other issue.

Key Fob is Not Working

If you have a car with a push-button start system, a faulty key fob may cause engine start problems.

  • How to be sure if this is the reason? If the engine doesn’t start when you press the ‘START’ button, the problem might be with the key fob. The engine will start only if the push-button receives a signal from the key fob. If the key fob is not working due to a dead battery, then the engine start button will not work.

  • How to rule out this reason? You can try locking and unlocking the car via the key fob's buttons. If it works, the problem is not with the key fob.

Faulty Starter Motor 

As the name indicates, a starter motor is responsible for cranking the engine and firing it up. 

  • How to be sure if this is the reason? If there is a fault in the starter motor, you may hear a clicking noise when you turn on the ignition. Unfortunately, you cannot fix the problem yourself, as the starter motor is a complex component, and you will need an expert mechanic to rectify the issue.

  • How to rule out this reason? There will be no strange noise, or you may hear the cranking noise if the starter motor is in good condition. In this case, the problem might be with some other components.

Blown Fuse 

In rare cases, a blown fuse can cause engine start problems. The fuse can melt due to excessive heat and can cause electrical issues, and in turn, cause starting problems.

  • How to be sure if this is the reason? Go through the owner’s manual and find out the location of the fuse box. Open the fuse box, and check if any fuses are blown.

  • How to rule out this reason? If you don’t find any blown fuses, or the problem persists even after replacing the blown fuse, the issue might be with other electrical or mechanical components.

Clogged Fuel Filter

The fuel filter is responsible for delivering clean fuel from the fuel tank to the injectors. Over time, the fuel filter may get clogged due to dirt particles, which will hamper its performance. If the filter is completely blocked, then fuel cannot reach the injectors. Therefore, the engine will not start or will stall immediately.

  • How to be sure if this is the reason? If the battery, ignition switch, starter motor and other components are in good condition and the engine refuses to start, then a clogged fuel filter may be the culprit.

  • How to rule out this reason? If you can smell fuel while starting the engine, the fuel is reaching the injectors. Also, if the fuel filter is clean, you can rule out the reason for a clogged fuel filter.

A Bad Fuel Line

A fuel system consists of a fuel filter, fuel pump and fuel injection system. 

  • How to be sure if this is the reason? If the electrical and mechanical components of an engine are working properly, but the engine is not starting, it may be due to a bad fuel line. If the fuel pump is broken, the fuel will not reach the injectors, and the engine will not fire up. On the other hand, if the fuel injectors are not working correctly or are dirty, the engine may stall or not start or result in rough idling.

  • How to rule out this reason? If there is no hard starting, rough idling or engine misfire, the fuel lines are in good condition.

Locked Steering Wheel 

If the steering wheel gets stuck in the locked position, it may not allow the engine to start. It’s a safety feature because the steering wheel should be free to manoeuvre the vehicle when you start the car.

  • How to be sure if this is the reason? Ensure that you check the steering lock before starting the engine. If the engine doesn’t start and the steering wheel is in the locked position, it is the reason for self-start problems.

  • How to rule out this reason? If the engine doesn’t start even after unlocking the steering wheel, the problem might be with other electrical or mechanical components.

Gear is Engaged 

If you drive an automatic car, you may face the issue of the wrong gear position while starting the engine.

  • How to be sure if this is the reason? The engine may not start if the gear position is in ‘Drive’ mode. And, if the vehicle starts in ‘Neutral’ and doesn’t start in ‘Park’ mode or vice versa, then there is a problem with the neutral safety switch.

  • How to rule out this reason? Ensure that the gear position is in ‘Park’ or ‘Neutral’ mode and start the engine. If the engine cranks, there is no fault with the gear position or the neutral safety switch.

Empty Fuel Tank 

It is a common reason for the car not starting. Sometimes you forget to fuel up before setting out for a drive. Never allow the fuel tank to run too low, as it can damage the fuel injectors and other engine components.

  • How to be sure if this is the reason? If the fuel gauge (digital or analogue) is on the redline, then your car is running low on fuel, and that’s the reason for the engine refusing to start.

  • How to rule out this reason? Sometimes the fuel gauge on the dashboard may be faulty. So it’s better to open the fuel filler cap and check if there is enough fuel in the tank to make sure that low fuel is not the reason for the engine not starting.

Troubleshooting and Fixing Car Starting Problems

Now you are aware of some of the most common reasons behind car starting problems. The good thing is all these problems can be fixed with simple troubleshooting tricks, provided there is no major problem with the car’s electrical or mechanical components. Here are some of the troubleshooting techniques that you can try if your car is not starting.

  • Check the Battery and Terminals: A dead battery might be the culprit behind the problem, or loose terminals also lead to engine start issues. If you find that the battery is dead, you can charge it or replace it with a new battery. And, if the terminals are loose or dirty, clean and secure them by tightening. Usually, rusty terminals will lead to a loss in power, and therefore, the engine does not start. So cleaning the terminals may solve your problem.

  • Jump Start With the Help of Another Car: If the battery is dead, you can still start with the ‘Jump Start’ technique. For that, you need another car with a fully charged battery. Then, you can jump-start your vehicle with the help of jumper cables, which form a connection between the fully charged battery and the dead battery. It is one of the easiest ways to start your car if the battery is dead.

  • Tap the Starter Motor: If you hear a clicking noise while starting the car, the starter motor is at fault. If you can access the starter motor, you can try tapping it. Sometimes, the electrical connection gets stuck, and you can free it by tapping on the starter motor.

  • Key Cycling Technique: If there is a clicking noise when starting the car, the battery may be weak or dead. You can heat the battery, terminals and starter motor by using the key cycling technique. First, turn the key to the engine start position repeatedly for around ten times. Then, wait for about five minutes and try to start the engine.

  • Swap the Relays: If the engine is cranking but not starting, the problem could be with the fuel pump. Go through the owner's manual to locate the fuel pump relay, remove the relay from the socket, find another relay with the same part number and swap it with the fuel pump relay. Now, the engine should start if the issue was with the relay.

  • Replace the Blown Fuse: Sometimes, the blown fuse can be the reason for car starting problems. You can read the owner’s manual to locate the fuse box and check the fuse. If there is a blown fuse, you can replace it with a new one. Usually, the fuse box comes with a spare fuse, so you can use them to fix the problem.

  • Unflood the Engine: If you can smell petrol/diesel while starting the car, the engine is flooded with excessive fuel. You can fully press the accelerator pedal and hold it while you crank the engine..

Takeaway

If you own a car, you may have faced the engine starting problem, especially during winters. As mentioned in this article, there are several reasons for the car starting problem. But you can easily find the reason behind the engine refusing to start and fix it with some simple troubleshooting techniques. Note that the troubleshooting tricks mentioned in this article will only work if there are no other significant issues with the car’s electrical or mechanical components. Lastly, if you are not familiar with the car's components, it’s better to take help from an expert mechanic.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some of the most commonly asked questions related to car starting problems.

My car’s battery is good, but the engine is not starting. How to fix the problem?

If the battery is good, then the problem could be with the ignition switch, starter motor or fuel lines. You may need an expert mechanic to fix the problem.

My car has been parked for a long time, and now it won’t start. What’s the reason?

If your car is parked for an extended period, then the battery may have discharged and become dead. You can try charging the battery or try the jump start technique to start your car.

How do I know if the problem is with the battery or the starter motor?

If the engine does not crank or make any sound when you turn on the ignition, then the battery may be dead. If you hear a clicking noise when starting the car, then the starter motor may be broken.

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