Why Isn’t My Car Starting?

It’s something every car owner dreads; that time you put your key in the ignition, turn it and nothing happens.  Reality hits right away. What should you do? Is it something easy and you can fix it yourself? If not, who is the best person to call? Hopefully you won’t experience this situation soon but if you do, here’s a list of things you should know.

The first thing to do is to define what “my car won’t start” really means.  The service manager at Randall Automotive in Henderson, TX, a Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep Ram dealer say that this is especially important if you are calling someone to help you.  They will undoubtedly need the exact explanation of “not starting” means before they come out.  Fortunately, this is easy, you need to pay attention to what’s happening when you turn the key. There are two main situations. First is when you turn the key literally nothing happens.  No noises, the lights don’t go on, nothing happens at all. The second is when you turn the key and the engine turns over but it doesn’t fire up.

Let’s start with the first symptom: If you turn over the key and everything is dead , that probably means there’s an electrical problem. This can mean a number of things. Here are three different things that can cause this.

– Dead or weak battery
If your car battery has gone dead, turning the key in the ignition will do nothing.  Or sometimes it may make a weak, clicking sound but that’s all that happens. This generally occurs when you haven’t used your car for a while and an internal light or headlights are left on overnight. This is an easy one to fix. The solution is to grab a set of jumper cables and jump start your car with another car.
– Poor electrical connections on the battery
This doesn’t happen very often but sometimes battery terminals get loose and corroded.  The solution to this is to unattach them from the battery, give them a good cleaning and put them back on securely.  Note: Sometimes when you have a loose battery connection, you can just give the terminal a twist and the car will start.

– The car isn’t in park or the clutch isn’t depressed
Many newer cars have lockout switches that prevent your car from starting if the gearshift isn’t in park or the clutch isn’t depressed.  These are safety lockouts. Make sure those conditions are met before you turn the key and you might be good to go.

Let’s look at the second symptom now: this is when the engine turns over just fine but just doesn’t fire up. Usually this means that something is wrong mechanically with your car. Here are four common reasons why your engine is cranking, but won’t fire up.

– No Spark
Basically, without your ignition system must be working correctly or your engine isn’t going to fire up. Your spark plugs or ignition coils must all be functioning properly.  It is unlikely that all your spark plugs and ignition coils have failed at once so the issue is usually the car’s computer (CPU) if you have no spark.  This can be because of a faulty computer or often a faulty sensor that shuts the ignition off.  This is a problem for a trained mechanic to fix.

– Vehicle out of gas
Maybe this is a little obvious, but an engine needs fuel to run.  If you tend to run your tank with little gas in it, you may have gone just a little too far this time and simply run out of gas.  If this is the case, at least you know the solution is simple to fix.

– Faulty fuel pump or relay
I the old days, fuel pumps were mechanical things that attached to the engine block.  Not any more, they are electric and they often fail in older cars.  An especially annoying issue is that these fuel pumps are often located in the gas tank. No question, this is a problem for a mechanic to fix.

– Broken Starter 
Starters are beefy electric motors that turn over the engine to get it started.  It is not unusual for them to often fail on high mileage cars. It’s fairly easy to tell if this is the problem: if your headlights are bright when the car is off, but the starter just clicks or does nothing at all, when you turn the key, it may be a defective starter. Obviously, this is an item to have a mechanic fix also.

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