Why won't our car start?

By Dale Bertram October 2nd 2012

Car problems of any kind can be frustrating, but the one that seems to annoy people the most is when their car won’t start. People then get doubly annoyed when they call the shop and ask, “Why won’t my car start?” and we tell them, “It could be one of several reasons.” I thought I would go over some of the causes just in case you experience a no start in the near future.

There are two types of no starts … one that we call “no crank” and the other we call “crank.”

If the Engine Is Not Cranking

No crank is when you try to start your engine and you hear nothing. This could be caused by one of three things: the battery, the ignition, or the starter circuit.

1. Check your battery voltage
If it is low, try to jump start your battery.

2. Check for corroded or loose battery cables
You might also have corroded or loose battery cables. If this is the case, you can tighten and clean the cables. For the average person, this is the easiest fix.

3. Tow your car to the shop
If the above doesn't work, I recommend getting your vehicle towed to your car care provider (unless you have experience with ignitions and starter circuits). This calls for inspecting, cleaning, and tightening plus testing. If the test proves the part is beyond repair, you need to purchase the part and replace it. This is great if you know what you are doing. If you don’t, you could inadvertently cause more problems.

If the Engine Is Cranking

Crank is when you hear your car trying to start, but it won't. This could be caused by one of three issues:

1. You have run out of fuel
Of course the first thing to check is the fuel. If your car is on empty, then of course you need to refuel. Hopefully you can just add gas and all will be well, but sometimes this isn’t the case. Most vehicles have an electric fuel pump. This sits inside the tank and is actually submerged in the fuel. This allows the pump to stay cool and lubricated. Without this submergence in fuel, the pump can self-destruct from overheating.

The reserve fuel inside your tank prevents this from happening. Some vehicles have a well that the pump sits inside and if this well runs dry, the pump also gets damaged. If your vehicle is fueled by diesel and this occurs, it also becomes necessary to “prime it” to get fuel to the pump.

Obviously, you can’t drive forever on an empty tank, but if you regularly put in just enough gas to get by, your fuel pump can fail earlier than normal. Your pump will also be taking in the “bottom of the barrel” fuel, which is full of debris. This sediment in the bottom of the fuel tank can also clog the fuel filter, fuel injectors, and the pump pickup. I generally don’t let my tank get below 1/4 tank for this reason.

2. You have no spark and/or no compression
If the problem is no spark or no compression, I again recommend that you take your car into the shop. If you don’t know what you are doing, you could even have a “shocking” experience. Happy Motoring

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