Ways To Fix A Car That Won't Start

Troubleshooting A Car That Won’t Start

Unless you are reviving your grandfather’s antique after it's been sitting in the garage for years, your modern car should start with ease. If not, then you may have a major problem with your vehicle. Luckily, troubleshooting a car that won’t start can be a rewarding experience since you are able to get it to work and drive away in style unless you just started your project car that has no wheels. In most cases, a vehicle will not just die without previously showing signs of failure that you may have ignored. In any case, starting the engine can be tackled easily if your approach is correct.  Simply eliminate the most important systems one by one to find the root cause. Here’s how you can start your car that’s making you late for work.

Diagnosing a car that won't start can be done in one of two ways - With and Without Tools. You probably do not have the right set of tools required for diagnosis and troubleshooting in your car.  There may be a tool kit that comes in your car which is used when replacing a flat tire. This tool kit lacks essential tools for diagnosis but can be somewhat enough to get you through. This is why it is recommended to have a set of tools that can come in handy in such situations and will be mentioned more in detail later on. Before starting, take a peek at systems that commonly cause car starting issues.

Why Won’t My Car Start?

1. Dead Battery

The battery is the key element that drives the systems responsible for starting the engine. The engine can only be started by cranking the pistons which causes the entire engine process to start functioning and ultimately starts the car. This cranking is done using an electronic starter motor that engages using the electrical power provided by the battery. So if your battery is dead then the starter won’t work and engine cranking cannot be done. 

2. Lose Connections

The battery is only as good as its connections that carry the battery juice to the various components. Therefore if the battery connections are loose then no electricity is transferred and the vehicle has trouble starting. 

3. Fused Fuse

A fuse is part of every electrical system and can be found in the vehicle as well. A blown fuse is basically an open circuit that doesn’t allow the flow of electricity to the necessary components to start the vehicle. 

4. Starter Motor Failure

The starter motor is prone to failure and a broken starter motor may be responsible for your car not starting since if the engine is not cranked then it won’t start. 

5. Defective Solenoid

The starter motor mentioned earlier is not directly connected to the battery. There is an element called the starter solenoid that allows the battery power to reach the starter motor. It can fail especially on older cars and this can prevent the vehicle from starting. Similarly, a broken starter relay can cause the same issue. 

6. Lack of Fuel

One of the more obvious reasons for your car not starting may be simply because it has run out of gas. 

7. Blown Spark Plugs

A gasoline engine needs three simple ingredients to function - Air, Fuel, and Spark. Air and fuel are obvious but the spark is given from the spark plugs via an ignition coil. The spark plugs can deteriorate over time and fail to create a spark and which renders them useless. If so then they need to be replaced to restore engine functioning. 

8. Faulty Ignition Switch

The key is inserted into the ignition switch, well at least in older cars, and turning the key allows the switch to power the components that initiate the engine starting. It may happen that turning the keys yields no response. This can be caused by the ignition switch failing to read the key or the entire ignition system can be faulty, but don’t worry since this is a highly peculiar event, and can be a dated problem since newer cars come with push-button starts that eliminates this circuit. 

9. Failing Alternator

The alternator’s job is to run the vehicle’s electrical systems once the engine is started and also charge the battery. But if the alternator fails, the vehicle will use battery power to run the electrical components. When the battery power runs out, the vehicle will stall and won't start the engine the next time to try to run the vehicle. 


Now that the most common issues that occur have been understood, it is time to go about fixing this situation. To make it easier to fix this issue we have compiled the list into two sections, one that requires no tools - which can come in handy when you are stuck in the middle of the road and about to call an expensive tow truck ride.

How To Fix A Car That Won't Start?

This guide will walk you through the symptoms in order of occurrence and help solve the problem. Start by opening the hood and turning the ignition key. 

The Things To Do Without Tools:

  1. Key Won’t Turn In The Ignition: This is likely because of the steering wheel lock prevents the key from turning in the ignition switch. Turn the steering wheel left or right and wiggle the key gently in the switch until it releases the steering wheel and allows starting the car. 
  2. Push-button Won’t Start The Car: In modern cars, the key fob has a transmitter that signals the ignition switch that the key is present and allows starting of the engine. This key may run out of battery power causing the push start to not function and a warning sign that the key isn’t present shows up on the dash. However, many cars still have an ignition switch that can be used to bypass the push-start button using the physical key in the fob.
  3. Clicking Sound From The Engine: If while turning the key the dome lights start to dim or there is a click sound emanating from the engine then the plausible reason is that the battery is low on charge. Try cycling the key several times and then stop for a few minutes and turn the ignition key again. If the lights remain bright while turning the keys then move on to the next step.
  4. No Lights Or Sounds: This may be caused by a loose connection to the battery terminals. As mentioned previously, loose contacts can prevent electricity to flow. Try tapping on the terminals and wiggling the cables and make sure the cables fit the battery terminals properly.
  5. Lights, But No Sound: The starter motor creates a sound when actuated. If there is no sound from the engine then try tapping on the starter motor terminals using a tire iron that comes with the car jack. That may cause the starter relay or solenoid to kick into the drive.
  6. Shifting To Neutral: Shift to the neutral position, apply brakes and try starting. If that doesn’t work then put it back into the park and retry.

If the engine cranks but won’t fire then the battery, ignition, and starting system may be fine but there might be an issue with the proper fueling of the engine.

  1. Swapping Relays: Turn the key to the Start position. You may hear a buzzing sound. This comes from the fuel pump priming the system. If you do not hear this sound then you likely have a dead relay or a dying fuel pump. Look for the location of the relay box under the hood. Try searching in the owner’s manual for details. Once you find the fuel pump relay replace it with a similar relay. You can find extra relays in the vehicle’s trunk. 
  2. Gas Smell From The Engine: If you smell gas then you likely have a flooded engine. Hold the accelerator pedal to the ground, turn the keys and crank the engine. This will rid the cylinders of the excess fuel to help start the engine. 

Things To Do With Tools:

1. Clean The Terminals

There is a likelihood of having rusted battery terminals. With a wrench remove the terminals and using a wire brush, rid the surface of the terminals of any gunk or white deposit. Reinsert the battery terminals and tighten the nuts down. Try starting the engine. You can also use a baking soda and water solution to clean the terminals for the best possible connection.

2. Test The Battery

Using a multimeter or battery tester check the battery voltage on the battery. The battery tester can further tell other details about the battery such as its Cold Cranking Amps  (CCA) and its charge-retaining capability. This can be used to determine whether a new battery replacement is due. Here are other ways to test the car battery condition

3. Jump The Car

If you have access to another car then jumping will not be a problem all you will need is jumper cables. But if there isn’t access to another vehicle then using a jump starter can come in very handy. This can be stored in the trunk for any future unforeseen circumstances as well making it a handy companion. Here’s how to jump-start your car in three ways

4. Test The Spark Plugs

A spark tester tests whether the spark plugs are functioning properly or if you need to replace them. These usually go on the spark plug cable or between the plug and the cable. To remove the spark plug you will require a spark plug socket that goes on a ratchet to help remove the plug. 


5. Scan The ECU

Using an OBDII code reader you can get fault codes stored in the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) of the vehicle which is the master computer that handles all vehicle systems. These fault codes show which system or component is having issues and this information can be critical when diagnosing problems with the vehicle. You can use them to pinpoint exactly which system is causing faults to narrow down your diagnosis.


Having the correct tools to help you in a dire situation and get you going can be the reason you avoid a costly two-truck ride. Using these tools will help you diagnose a problem better since you know the components that are working and ones that aren’t and make the job of troubleshooting all the easier. You can refer to the below-mentioned tools that you must always keep in your trunk to diagnose the problem, fix it, and rule out any unnecessary events. 


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John Framigllia
Technical Writer
Our technical writer is known for simplifying automotive parts and services. Intuitive with various vehicles and manufacturers, he knows how to simplify complicated problems.