When you hop in your car, turn the key, and your car won't start, a million thoughts may go through your mind. What's wrong with it? How much will it cost? Is it something serious?
It can be a stressful situation, but it's sometimes a simple and relatively inexpensive thing to fix. And in some cases, you can even diagnose and fix it yourself, saving you tons of money in the process.
We'll cover a few troubleshooting tips that will help you determine why your car won’t start. Plus, we'll let you know when it's best to step back and let a professional handle the job.
A car can demonstrate two non-starting symptoms: The first is no activity at all or just a clicking sound, and the second is cranking but not starting. A wide range of problems can cause these symptoms, but there are a few common reasons for each no-start symptom.
We'll cover some basic troubleshooting procedures for these more common causes.
If you get no activity at all when you turn the key or if you just hear a series of clicking noises from the starter, this is a sign there isn't enough power getting to the starter to turn the engine over.
There are countless reasons this can occur, but here are a few troubleshooting processes to help you narrow down the issue.
In today's push-button start vehicles, the key fob has become a new weak link in the system. If your key fob's battery is dead or weak, the ignition will not recognise it and will not start the vehicle.
This is often joined by a message on the instrument panel or dash light that reads something like "No Key Detected." If this occurs, review your owner's manual to determine how to start the vehicle with a dead key fob battery.
The battery terminals are the simplest place to start. You'll need a battery terminal cleaning spray, a battery terminal brush, and a small wrench set.
Open your hood and examine the battery terminals. If they have corrosion on them, this could be limiting the flow of power. Use the battery terminal spray and terminal bushes to clean off the corrosion.
Wiggle the battery cable ends — the wires that connect to the battery. If they feel loose, carefully snug them with your wrench set. Sometimes, a loose connection is enough to create a non-starting condition.
If your car battery is low on charge, it may not have enough power to turn over the engine, except by jump start. You'll need a multimeter and possibly a small wrench set to test for a dead battery.
Set the multimeter to 20-volts DC and place the red probe on the positive (+) battery terminal and the black probe on the negative (–) battery terminal. Check the voltage on the multimeter. A good battery will show at least 12.6 volts.
If the battery is less than 12.6 volts, charge it using a battery charger and retest it. If you don't have a charger, you can remove the battery with your wrench set and take it to a local parts store for charging. There may be a small cost associated with this.
If it's still testing below 12.6 volts after charging, you may have a bad battery. It'll require further professional testing to confirm it's bad, though. A repair shop can also test your alternator — the component that keeps your battery charged while the car runs — along with other parts of the electrical system to ensure no other issues are causing the battery to fail.
The above troubleshooting tests are ones that virtually any car owner can perform. Still, many other issues that require a professional’s touch can cause a clicking sound or no activity when trying to start the vehicle. These other issues include:
When your engine cranks but won't start, there is generally an issue in the fuel or ignition system. In most cases, these are more complex issues that require a technician's touch, but there are a few troubleshooting procedures you can do to rule out simple fixes.
Most modern vehicles have robust electrical systems, and the fuel system taps into this. The fuel pump is one of these electrical components, and it's responsible for moving fuel from the fuel tank to the engine so the vehicle can run.
If there's no fuel, the engine will crank but not start. You may initially think the fuel pump is bad and plan to shell out hundreds of dollars on the repair. Fortunately, it can be something as simple as a bad fuel pump fuse.
In your owner's manual, find the fuse box and the fuse map — the diagram that shows where each fuse is. Find the fuel pump fuse and pull it out. Look through the top of the fuse, and you'll see a metal filament. If that filament is broken, you have a blown fuse.
Replace the fuse with the correct amperage fuse listed in the owner's manual and retry. If the fuse blows again, you may have additional wiring issues causing the fuse to blow.
In addition to the fuel pump fuse, many issues can cause a car to crank but not turn over. However, troubleshooting and repairing these issues are best left to the professionals at a repair shop.
If your car won't start, it can be because of any number of issues, which can be frustrating. Fortunately, you can perform basic diagnostics to rule out simple problems that you can fix yourself, like a bad battery or a blown fuel pump fuse.
Some of the root causes for a no-start condition can be complex and require a trip to the repair shop for a full diagnosis and repair.
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