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Reasons Why Your Car May Not Start
Problem # 1: Engine
Won't Crank At All
You turn the key, but nothing happens: And by nothing, we mean there
is no dash light, no sound, nada. The first thing you should do in
this case is to pop the hood and check the battery. Either the
battery is completely dead or there's a wiring problem in the
starting system. Try jump-starting the battery. If that doesn’t
work, you’ll probably have to call for assistance.
When you turn the key, you hear a rapid clicking sound, and the dash
lights dim. This is your classic low-battery symptom. Jump-starting
the battery should get the engine to start.
However, if you keep experiencing this problem, you could
have a bad battery or alternator, or it could be something as
simple as a loose alternator belt.
Take your car to a mechanic just as soon as you can.
When you turn the key, the lights on the dash come on, but you don't
hear anything. Make sure you have the shift selector all the way in
park. Move it out of park and then back, or try starting it with the
shifter in neutral. If your car has a manual transmission, make sure
you have the clutch pressed all the way to the floor.
If that doesn't help, you can try jump-starting the battery,
but it probably won't work. There's a good chance your car has a bad
starter or a problem in the starting circuit. That could mean a problem
in the ignition switch, neutral safety switch or starter solenoid.
The dash lights come on when you turn the key, and then go right
out, and the engine doesn't crank when you turn the key to start,
But, the lights slowly come back on when you release the key. This
is another classic: the bad battery connection. When you turn the
key to start, the starter pulls so much current that it breaks the
connection. Then, when you release the key, the connection slowly
comes back. The connection provides enough power to turn the dash
lights on, but not enough to crank the starter. Cleaning and
tightening the battery terminals may fix this problem.
When you turn the key, you hear a single, hard clunk. Turn the
headlights on and try again. Do the lights dim slightly when you
turn the key? If so, you probably have a bad starter or a seized
engine. If the headlights don't dim at all, or just barely dim, there
may be a connection problem between the starter solenoid and the
When you turn the key, you hear a loud, scraping or grinding sound
like metal on metal. The starter drive is bad, or the ring gear on
the flywheel damaged, or both. You may get the starter to engage if
you try turning the key a couple of times, but let go of the key
right away if you hear the noise again. If the car does start, you
should drive it right over to local repair shop and have the problem
Problem #2: Engine Cranks but It Won't Start
The engine seems to crank normally, but the engine doesn't even
sound as if it's trying to start. Is there gas in the tank? Gas
gauges are notoriously inaccurate. If you have to move your head to
one side to get the needle to move off empty, try adding some gas to
When you first turn the key on, you don’t hear the fuel pump run.
In cars with electronic fuel injection, you should hear a light hum
a few seconds from around the fuel tank. That's the electric fuel
pump running. If you don't hear the fuel pump run for a couple
seconds when you first turn the key on, try cranking the engine
until the oil light goes out. That may start the pump running and
allow the engine to start.
The engine cranks normally, and it sounds like it wants to start,
but it won't. You may have flooded the engine. Hold the gas floor
and try again. (Let the gas pedal up when it finally starts).
If it's raining out, the ignition system may be wet.
The engine cranks unevenly in a repetitive-sounding pattern. You may
have a bad timing chain or timing belt. Call a tow truck and have it
towed to the repair shop.
Problem # 3: Engine Starts but It Shuts Off
The engine starts right up, but shuts off as soon as you release the
key. This is the classic symptom of a bad ignition switch. A new
switch should fix it.
The engine starts and runs, but when you put the transmission in
gear, the car lurches and the engine shuts off. The converter clutch
in the transmission torque converter probably is engaging when it
shouldn't. On some cars, you can bypass this by disconnecting the
torque converter clutch solenoid; but unless you know which wire to
pull, forget about it. Call for assistance.
The engine starts and runs, but seems to idle slowly and stalls when
you come to a stop. This probably is a fast idle problem. When the
engine is cold, it's supposed to idle a little faster than normal to
keep the engine running. You may be able to drive using two feet
until the engine warms up: one on the gas to hold the idle up a
little and the other for the brake. However, don't keep driving it
this way. Take your car to your repair shop just as soon as you can.
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no warranties as to accuracy, completeness, or results obtained from
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