Why Won’t My Car Start?

Why Won’t My Car Start?

Without a doubt, every owner dreads the moment when their car won’t start. What should you do? Who should you call? Can you fix it yourself? Here’s a list with ten common reasons why cars don’t start up and what you can do about it.

“The first step is to define the no start” said Joe Spadafora, certified instructor at Universal Technical Institute’s Exton, Pennsylvania campus. Spadafora spent the majority of his career in working  in the service department of several dealerships and receiving factory training from GM. He’s certified as a Master Technician and certified by Chrysler as a Dodge Viper technician . He also holds certifications from Subaru, Suzuki, Toyota, Lexus and Scion as well, so if there’s something wrong with your car, chances are he’s seen it before.

To diagnose the reason your car isn’t starting, you need to pay attention to happening when you turn the key. “Does the engine crank but not actually start or, when you turn the key, does literally nothing happen?” he said. “In a customer’s eyes, the following two options are the same because both create a scenario that results in the vehicle’s failure to run.”

While the two situations might seem similar, they have very different meanings that are important to a mechanic and can signal different problems calling for a variety of solutions.

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“It’s important to note that a vehicle is an extremely complicated machine and can exhibit similar symptoms for a variety of reasons,” he said. “That is why it’s important to first look at the type of ‘no start’ and then at the list of conditions that could be causing it in the first place.”

If the engine won’t crank and nothing happens:

If you turn over the key and the engine doesn’t crank, that probably means there’s an electrical problem. This can mean a number of things, including faulty sensors. Here are five different ways to narrow down the problem in this situation.

Why Won't My Car Start?

Dead or weak battery:

“A major factor that affects batteries is called parasitic draw or drain,” Spadafora said. “This occurs when your vehicle is shut off but some of the computers are using small amounts of power to maintain learned or stored information.”

Parasitic drain happens naturally and the battery can be recharged via the alternator with some daily driving. But if the car hasn’t been used regularly, the battery can wear down and not have enough juice to start. Excessive parasitic drain can come from things like leaving your headlights on when the vehicle is off.

Why Won't My Car Start?

Poor electrical connections at battery terminals:

“Most consumers are familiar with the corrosion that accumulates on the top of a battery by the terminals,” says Spadafora. This can affect the connection at the battery terminals. However, he warns that even clean batteries can lose charge over time.


 Why Won't My Car Start?

Park or Clutch Switch is Broken or Misadjusted

Spadafora also mentioned that if you try to start the vehicle and the lights don’t dim or flicker when turning the key, then you most likely have either an ignition switch, park/neutral switch, relay starter or wiring issue on the control side of the starter circuit. Cars need to be in park or the clutch needs to be depressed to start. If the switch isn’t in the right position then the car just won’t start.

Why Won't My Car Start?

Security System Error

Car keys today are coded or programmed to work with their car, like a fingerprint that’s unique to both the key and the ignition. However like with any electronics, the programming can get buggy. That confuses the security system and stop you from starting your car. “With today’s modern security systems, it’s important to check that you have the proper key coded to the vehicle,” said Spadafora.  “Even vehicles with smart keys (ones where the key fob can stay in your pocket and you push a start button) can cause issues.” Interference can be an issue, and you should double check the battery in the fob.

Why Won't My Car Start?

Defective Starter or solenoid

Spadafora explains the typical no start noises that occur when you try to turn on the car and hear a lot of clicking instead or an engine cranking or turning over. This is caused by the solenoid in the starter engaging and then disengaging rapidly. Of course, these parts can become defective and cause the non-start to occur.

 If the engine cranks but won’t turn over:

On the other hand, if the engine cranks but won’t turn over, then there is probably something to be wrong mechanically with your car. Here are five common reasons why your engine is cranking, but won’t turn over.

 Why Won't My Car Start?

Vehicle out of gas

Maybe this seems too obvious, but an engine needs a spark, fuel and compression to turn over. If the gas tank is dry, then the engine may crank, but not get the car started. While this is likely the least expensive issue on this list, it can foreshadow bigger problems down the road.  Running your car to empty isn’t good for the fuel pump or fuel filter.

 Why Won't My Car Start?

Faulty fuel pump or relay

This could be related to the above section: gas kind of acts like a coolant for the fuel pump in the car, so if you run at a low, the pump will suck in some air, which will create heat, causing the fuel pump to wear prematurely. A fuel pressure gauge will show whether or not the engine is getting the right amount of fuel.

 Why Won't My Car Start?

Broken Starter (mechanically)

Spadafora also mentioned that solenoids aren’t the only thing that can go wrong with a starter. The gears, bushings and bearings can all go bad out and when they do, it can lead to a non-start situation. It’s fairly easy to tell if this is the problem: if your headlights are bright when the car is off, but dim when you try to turn the car on then you may need to get a new or rebuilt starter.

 Why Won't My Car Start?

No Spark

“With the advent of all of the computer-controlled systems in our vehicles today, common basic maintenance protocols can often be overlooked,” said Spadafora. “It sounds obvious, but keep in mind that an engine won’t start without fuel, spark, compression and timing.”

Basically, without a spark your car won’t start. Your spark plugs, or ignition coil may need replacing before your engine can turn over. Additionally, sparks need to happen at the right time and with enough voltage to start the car. A bad spark plug lets itself known with poor engine performance before it reaches a no-start situation. If you can recall the car running a bit roughly, or being hard to start before the car refused to turn over, then you may be dealing with a spark plug issue or ignition timing issue.

 Why Won't My Car Start?

Clogged Fuel system or injectors

A no start situation could occur if your fuel system is clogged. That means no fuel is reaching the engine, similar to how a lack of gas would stop your car from starting. A clogged fuel system can occur when dirt or debris get into the fuel lines, something that can happen with a bad fuel filter. The filter in modern cars is found inside the fuel tank and typically doesn’t need to be replaced until well past the 100,000 mile mark.  Dirty fuel injectors can also lead to a no-start.

  • Christopher Marshall

    There are lots of other reasons why cars won’t start, but first I need to pick you up on a few mistakes. You stated about having to put your foot on the CLUTCH pedal to start your manual car, CRAP!!! I’ve been in the auto industry most of my life, & only encountered manual cars that will NOT start, unless in NEUTRAL!! The clutch switch has been obsolete for years!! The reason for this is to prevent premature wear of the release bearing, & clutch operating components, such as the cable, linkages, or hydraulic parts. Instead, this has been moved to the brake system, where the parking brake needs to be applied, or put your foot on the brake pedal. Next, when it comes to the battery, there are usually warning signs your battery is on it’s last legs. If the battery is fine, then the alternator might well be due for servicing, or you simply need to buy a battery charger to “top up” the battery each week, & this is absolutely necessary for modern cars that are not driven long enough to replenish the battery. Charging the battery in this manner is much cheaper than letting the engine run for half hour or so. If your car runs rough, it could well mean the fuel filter, & air filter need to be changed. Spark plugs can usually be removed for periodic cleaning, but the new iridium types never need changing, due to construction. Another way around the immobiliser device confusion issues is to do a “reset” on the car, by disconnecting the NEGATIVE (-) lead of the battery, and leave it that way for several minutes. Also check that the battery in the key, if such system exists has not run down. If this has happened, you have 2 choices. 1) You can replace this battery on some, or 2) replace the key (this can be costly). You can also check the drive belt too. Most modern cars have a self tensioning belt. Starter issues are easy to find too. You might need to get under the car to check, depending on the location of the starter motor. If you are able to access this, then check the cable connections there. It would also pay to test the relays, as over time, & use, the contacts become oxidised, & will no longer work correctly. A relay issue can be linked to a fuel pump no go problem. Some cars also have a relay for the starter motor. No spark issue can be attributed to the “crank angle” sensor malfunctioning. On some cars, if the drive belt “shreds”, it can actually stop your car, by strips of belt preventing the sensor from “seeing” the vibration damper segments. Another no start can be a faulty ECU (the only way to test this, is to “reset” it). A coil pack breaking down can allow the engine to run, but not on all cylinders. If you have an older car that has an ignition distributor, then your module might be faulty, or the coil, and possibly the HT lead from coil to distributor. The pick up in the distributor might be faulty also. ALL of these issues CAN be found, & often rectified by those, who know a little about cars, except for the key, & immobiliser issues, as these often need programming to suit your car.

  • Josh Lee

    Haven’t driven any manual Tacomas, Corollas, Camrys, MR2s, CTS-Vs, Mustangs/Cobras, Foresters, Mazdaspeed3’s, or…any manual transmission vehicle I have ever driven? The only ones I know of that allow starting without the clutch pedal pressed are Tacomas (with the factory clutch bypass switch activated) or our race cars with the clutch safety switch removed (ironically, for safety purposes). Wear on the throw out bearing is largely irrelevant. Wear on the thrust bearings with a heavy clutch is of more concern, IMO.

  • Carmen4697


  • Christopher Marshall

    I’ve spent most of my life repairing cars, including replacing clutches, & the like. One thing you really need to understand is that the clutch system is NOT designed to be held in the disengaged manner for any length of time. I’ve driven most makes of car on Australian roads too. As for cars in the USA, I don’t really give a rat’s arse. I’ve stated here regarding my own experiences, & those of other engineers. With the cocky attitude you have, I certainly would NOT let you drive my car. You also need to understand other reasons why safety switches on the clutch are DANGEROUS. I sometimes assisted tow operators load cars after accidents, which were caused by this stupid system, due to engine starting, with car in gear, & drivers foot slipped from clutch pedal. Car then shot out of driveway, & damaged vehicle across the road. Normally, the engine would have stalled, but the modern cars are fitted with an anti-stall device, & for this to be ineffective, the handbrake needs to be applied (which more often this is never done). The thrust bearing in the clutch is NOT designed to be operated with the engine not running. I like the idea of using the brake switch to be used before you can start the engine, as this prevents the car moving during engine start procedure.

  • Brian Robinson

    My Tacoma requires the clutch pedal to be pressed to start engine – unless you activate the clutch bypass switch.

  • Josh Lee

    If I have a cocky attitude, the guy who said this must be utterly insufferable:

    “You stated about having to put your foot on the CLUTCH pedal to start your manual car, CRAP!!! I’ve been in the auto industry most of my life, & only encountered manual cars that will NOT start, unless in NEUTRAL!! The clutch switch has been obsolete for years!!”

  • Christopher Marshall

    Mate, you’re coming across as one of the biggest fuckwits to ever grace the automotive industry!! Get the fuck out, & find a job that suits your arrogant attitude. People like you, really piss me off. I once work with a fuckwit, with your cock arsed attitude, who thinks he knows everything. I punched his lights out one day, because he kept trying to tell me how to do my job, which I had been doing for over 38 years at that point in time. Do yourself a favor, & do NOT comment here on MY post again, & get the fuck out of the automotive industry, as it is NO place for a cock up arse fuckwitted moron, like YOU!! What I stated ARE facts. I do NOT give a fucking rat’s arse about who the fuck you are, or where you come from, as you ARE a FUCKWIT!! Keep your comments OFF my post you pasty cunt, & FUCK OFF!!!

  • Josh Lee

    If you’d like to continue a mature conversation without continuous insults and veiled threats of violence, I’d be happy to do so.

    Please cite sources indicating the high risk of clutch safety switches in manual transmission vehicles, as well as increased wear on throw out bearings from cold starts. Crank thrust bearing wear I would understand, as they rely on oil pressure generated from the oil pump.

  • Realitycheck

    lol, and you are saying the other guy has a cocky attitude??? You must be kidding, sure hope you are.

  • Shaun

    I have to agree. I have been in the auto repair business for 20 yrs. I have numerous certifications. I have owned my own business for the past five years specializing in Mercedes, Bmw, Mini , Porsche and Volvo. To say the clutch pedal does not need to be depressed is completely obsurd. I don’t know what type of vehicles you have been working on but Porsche, BMW and Mercedes absolutely have to be depressed on a manual gearbox. It is a standard safety feature. So please know what you are talking about before posting and then threatening people who are correct. The extent of your experience is probably what you have done in your driveway. Thanks mate. 😉

  • steve

    +1. my car won’t start unless the clutch is depressed

  • Amclaussen

    One more: my wive’s VW Jetta 2011 with manual trans definitely needs a fully depressed clutch pedal to start the engine, even in Neutral.

  • Chally

    Once I tried to start the engine in my recent bought 2002 mustang gt and the engine would crank but won’t start after a few questions and online help and what nots the decision was made to replace the fuel pump….the next day I tried to start the car with the spare switch and the engine crank like it was new ( moral of the story “sometimes it the small one that gets you”) for some reason one of my key will unlock the car and switch on ignition but won’t start the engine

  • Kevin

    You failed to mention that if your flywheel teeth are missing, your vehicle won’t start either. But I must have gotten better GM training than you did so don’t feel bad for not knowing that one.

  • Leslie Jordan

    I have a chrysler pacifica 2004 and it wont start. It says the car is not in park. Is it the neutral saftey switch?

  • Ben

    I have a ’96 Suzuki x-90 that developed this problem – it would start ONLY after turning key to start position 3 times. Not 2, not 4- only 3.
    Found that I had loose connection, wires attached to the positive battery terminal, and the terminal itself was in rough shape. R & r’ed the terminal, purchased new wire connection rings and used post brush to clean up the metal. Starts every time now.

  • Mike Hendrix

    I have a 1974 camaro that turns over but won’t start. I’ve checked everything that I can think of. I have to have someone twist my distributor to get it to start. It has alot of backfire when running and I have to keep my foot on the gas to keep it running. Also it is really choppy when running. What is wrong with it.

  • Ricky Moore

    I have a 2003 Honda Accord it turns over and when I hold my foot on the gas it goes but when I take it off it doesn’t it was low on oil before this started happening could that be the reason do I just need more oil I already put 2pt in

  • Lisa Diane Hurley

    I have a Dodge Caravan 2004. Occasionally it will not start. When I turn the key, I hear a click, the panel of lights comes on, a/c comes on… everything electrical… I have had the battery checked. Got new cables. Everything is fine there. What would cause the van to not crank, and then after it sets for a while, it cranks. I had it at a tire shop not long ago, and I could not get it started to leave. I had to leave it there overnight. The next day when I went to get it, they told me some wires were corroded but they fixed the problem. So now… the van will run with no problem for sometimes a month.. and then, all of a sudden, out of the blue, it won’t crank. Does anyone have any suggestions?

  • My car battery is not started. I have Toyota Altis car, before two weeks ago my car not started. While using jump start i am able to start car. But i don’t how this happened.

  • Shaketta Jackson

    Hello I have a 2007 dodge charger i brought it to international mechanic which they ripped me off when putting in a used engine. when i got my car back 2 hours late it vibrated a little and the lighting bolt came on for the throttle bottle later on i had someone test drive it the light went off. next morning i went to go heat up car i turned it on and it turned back off now it wont start up no clicking no tapping no noise at all. all the lights come on and i tried to jump battery i just spent 2300 for engine and now sueing shop any suggestions of

  • Lanae Morales

    Hello my car turns over but does not start. I bought a new fuel pump and a fuel filter also a new battery, and its still having problems starting. It starts sometime but other times it does not want to start. What could it be? A quick answer would be helpful.

  • Prettyniko

    I have a 2004 Chevy trailblazer and I thought my fuel pump is done but now I’m wondering if its the ECM, it won’t accelerate and just yesterday the battery died so I just put a new one in and as I was walking away the heat just turned on without a key in the ignitIon

  • Prettyniko

    Please help with any advice

  • Jeff Lachance

    So instead of the engine cutting out it launched itself and crashed….. do you hear yourself?! Sounds like you know dick about vehicles….

  • Christopher Marshall

    READ my comment AGAIN!!! The only person who knows “dick” about vehicles is YOU!! Get off the road & sell you vehicle FOOL!!!

  • Christopher Marshall

    1) Clutch switches ARE dangerous for reasons I stated earlier. 2) I AM a FULLY QUALIFIED auto engineer, with some 30 plus years in the auto industry. 3) MOST modern MANUAL cars I have encountered will NOT start, unless the gearbox is in NEUTRAL, AND the handbrake applied. The clutch switch was made obsolete on a lot of manual cars for safety reasons. I am also aware that the bearings in the engine require oil to reduce wear & the oil is fed under pressure by the oil pump. I am absolutely sure of this. I do not need to be told. I am also aware of the fact some cars refuse to start unless the brake pedal is pressed. Before I go any further, I had better tell you that I have seen just about every issue that CAN occur with cars. This is from simple things like coil failure, right through to mechanical issues such as broken timing belts, which often necessitates expensive engine repairs ( I have seen this lots of times).

  • Christopher Marshall

    Another MORON!! I have worked in FULLY EQUIPPED automotive repair workshops which cater for a vast range of repairs from the basic tune up, right through to major engine repairs. Seems like you probably have ZERO idea on how to use a compression tester!!!

  • Chelsea Dawn James

    I am having that same issue with my 96 firebird. Did u ever figure out what ir issue was

  • ronald D.

    you might have a vacuum leak

  • ronald D.

    check you tps or iac

  • ronald D.

    check you starter and sparkplugs

  • Magdaleno Dominguez

    I have a 2009 Murano and I just replaced the battery but it still wont start, I’ve cleaned the battery cables a couple of times and it started for a little while but it would quit again once I parked it for at least 2 hours, the dome lights and radio work when I press the brake but it says need key and I have the keys on me, I have even inserted the in the ignition and still says need key, could the battery on the key control cause this to happen that my vehicle wont start

  • Zane Mammon

    Sounds like the timing or maybe the firing order is wrong. If any service has been done to the spark plugs or plug wires, look up the right firing order and makes sure all the wires go to the right plugs

  • samuel taylor

    i have a pontiac sunfire was on high way it got hot pulled over turn it off put fluid in it it wont start would just click then towed it home then toke of Alternater then spark plug then toke of batterary i put everything back on but the batteray i bought a new one and had to keep turningthe key and push gas i got it started it back fired ii had to use the same to srart it wich was the key and gas pudal now it wines and wont start when i had it start took to autozone and they said after hook it to a computer it need a cooling fan sensor the i just left there i tryed to start it it wines what do i do

  • Janelle Grissett

    I have a 2002 Trailblazer LS and I change the fuel pump change the fuel filter and I charge the battery and it still will not start what is it

  • Paul Yandle

    I have 1999 ford windstar and I’ve replaced the starter and alternator but still won’t crank. The battery is good. What should I check next?

  • Samantha Miller

    Have a 2009 Hyundai Accent my daughter was going down the freeway when all the light for oil and water came on and then the car died and won’t start and she checked the oil and it was low any suggestions on what could be wrong with it

  • Nyesha Elliott

    I have a 2004 mazda 6.. a week in a half ago a new battery and alternator was put in. Now 2DAYS ago the car sounded a Lil funny. The abs, car, ND brake light came on soon as I made it home. I then cut the car off ND tried to start it back up but it wouldn’t. . Then I tried starting it two other times ND it did.. Now it turns over but just won’t start. What do you think it could be.

  • Brianna Richards

    I had same problem. Try putting air in the left front tyre. Soon as i did that all my problems were gorn.

  • Brianna Richards

    When you jump started your battery did you try learn how to speak english

  • Brianna Richards

    Check solenoid it might be sticking or starter.

  • Brianna Richards

    Sounds like you have dirty fuel filter or injectors. Try filling your fuel tank with water and oil then rock your car back an forth. Pump the gas 6 times then turn the key. Now because you let the oil get so low you will now have black sludge in your motor. You need to get this out. So while the car is running take oil cap off an add a big bottle of truck degreser this will get rid of the sludge and lubricant the pistons. After that it should run like new.

  • Brianna Richards

    Try cleaning the windscreen

  • Brianna Richards

    And you failed to mention if theres no flywheel kevin, it wont start either! Clearly your GM training wasnt that good.So dont feel bad for not knowing that one kevin.

  • Brianna Richards

    Sure the moral of the story isnt your an idiot.

  • Brianna Richards

    Have you tryed putting it in park.

  • Brianna Richards

    No one cares brian, about you and your shity tacoma.

  • mark 12

    Hi I have a ford fesita 1.25 and I have put a engine in and it will crank but it won’t start can anyone help me

  • silvershamrockd

    Why should he try to learn how to speak English? You clearly haven’t learned how to write it.

  • Joel

    I have the same problem but i change the starter and the alternater but still wont crank dint check the spark plugs

  • Dave 89

    Not everyone is an Englishman, we come from different states

  • Benno

    I have a nissan bluebird it has no sparks and dont want to start

  • Simone Decareau

    I have a 1994 Honda Accord. It starts only when it wants to. The times it won’t start, it just won’t catch. Battery is strong. No clicking noises. Normally if a wait a while, eventually it will start. Once it’s running, it runs fine. Please help..

  • jeff hayes

    have a 2006 dodge Ram 3500 –the engine blew at 100000 miles–tore it apart and rebuilt the engine–was apart for 2 years and now is all together and wont fire the injectors—was told it was a computer problem–feel like I checked everything , the one thing that wont work is the selector switch, but find it hard to believe that is the problem. can ANYONE help me.

  • Peggy kingery

    I have a question. Does anyonee ever answer these questions?

  • Fahim

    Hi I have Nissan Dayz Highway star 2013 model and approx 29,000 KM driven done.
    Now when I try to start press ignition start button it didt take proper self to start. And sounds occurred cracking (kharrr Kharr)… after several attempts the vehicle reset the system and start properly.
    I failed to understand why getting problem and vehicle reset couple times in a week.

  • JR Lafrance

    I have a Porshe Boxster .It needs the clutch pedal depressed to start

  • monica davis

    Hi I have a Dodge 2007 caliber and my car won’t crank I done put new spark plugs in I also done changed my camshaft sensors and my crankshaft sensor because they were burnt out replaced my thermostat and water pump and my car still will not crank what else can be causing my car not to crank it turns over but won’t start and my battery is dying instantly

  • Sheryl

    I have a 2004 Mitsubishi Montero limited edition it won’t start I replaced the starter and solenoid still won’t start what could it be.

  • jackie Ricewick

    We have an 08 chevy cobalt..just replaced the starter and it wont start..lights dont dim and there is no raped clicking noise indicating that it is trying to start..dose that mean we have a daulty starter or could it be some thing else