Car won’t start? Causes and How To Fix

The most common reasons your car won’t start are either due to dead or dying batteries, loose or corroded battery connections, a damaged alternator, or even a problem with the starter.

If your car won’t start, it’s hard to tell right away what the problem is. That’s why we’ve made a list of symptoms of common automotive issues that cause your car not to start.

Additionally, we discuss how to identify the car part causing the car not to start and how to repair this problem. Below is a list of reasons why your car won’t start:

You Have A Bad Battery

If your car’s engine is too slow, your car won’t start, or even worse, the car won’t crank at all, or nothing happens when you try to turn your car on, you may have one of the following issues.

First, a corroded or loose connection or an electrical draw may be the culprits as well if there is corrosion evident on either your battery terminals or even in your alternator that may be damaged. 

It is most likely that your battery has a problem if you try to jump-start the car, and it works.

However, you should identify whether the battery is nearing the end of its lifespan or whether it needs to be recharged.

Low or dead batteries could be caused by a faulty alternator. It could also be caused by additional loads such as lights, fuse boxes, alarm systems, sound systems, and more.

Bad Battery Symptoms

Car won't start

1. Dim Headlights

If your car battery isn’t fully charged, it’s not going to be able to give power to your car’s electrical parts, including the headlights.

When you notice that the light output of your headlights is diminished and less potent than usual, it should raise a red flag!

It’s not only a sign of reduced visibility, which can be a safety concern, but it could also be a sign that your car’s battery has failed.

2. Clicking Sound When You Turn The Key

A dead battery can often cause a car not to start. When the battery runs flat, it doesn’t have enough power to get the engine going.

If the battery takes on less power or isn’t sending sufficient energy to the starter, it can make the clicking sounds you are experiencing.

Pro-Tip: If you jump-start a dead battery, you’ll be able to start your car again. Nevertheless, jump-starting a battery will only work for a while.

it is not a permanent solution. Make sure you know how to jump-start your vehicle if you end up getting stuck with a dead battery. But, you should not rely on using this method for a long time!

3. Slow Crank

Vehicles have their unique sounds that drivers grow used to hearing. If you hear a noise or notice something different than normal when attempting to start your car, there might be a problem with the battery.

A slow or sluggish start could indicate that the battery is wearing out. Do not ignore this sign of warning.

4. Need To Press On The Gas Pedal To Start

Your car does not need a jump start or push for it to start. If the vehicle starts only when you hold your foot down on the gas pedal, your battery may be having an issue.

5. Backfiring

Although it is rare, some cars with a failing battery may experience backfiring. This is when the engine briefly revs up, then drops and repeats itself in an accelerating pattern.

The sporadic revving can cause excess fuel to accumulate in your engine’s cylinders which, once ignited by a spark due to this decreased resistance of the bad battery, could result in a backfire. 

You should be aware that backfires could signal a variety of problems, so it is imperative that your battery be tested in this instance!

Depending on the reason, there may be a time when you aren’t able to take your car for a battery health check, but there are steps that can be done at the moment to avoid a completely dead battery.

Here is a Pro tip: 

Keep your batteries clean! You can re-establish the connection with your battery by cleaning corrosion from around the terminals until the battery can be tested and/or replaced.

Dead batteries aren’t always the cause for your car not starting, but there are often signs that it might be at fault.

If you’re experiencing some or all of these issues with your vehicle, then contact an auto repair service to figure out your car’s battery life or if a battery replacement is required. 

Also Read: Key Stuck In Ignition? Here’s How To Remove It

2. You Have a Bad Alternator

Bad Alternator

If your car won’t start, you may have to deal with more than just the initial problem.

Sometimes, when you experience issues with your headlights dimming or receiving no sound from your stereo outputs, your car will start, but you cannot continue driving. Your alternator might be having a problem. 

 Another means through which you can test if your alternator is bad is that you set the AM radio on a low-frequency station in your car where there’s no music at first.

After putting the car in motion and letting it idle, while you’re driving becomes louder or fuzzy, this suggests that your alternator might be malfunctioning and will inhibit your car from starting up.

If your car won’t start or crank, but the headlights somehow work, a fault has likely been found with the starter and any other parts connected to the engine.

After starting up your vehicle and turning on the ignition, if you observe an “engine” or “battery” warning light, it could mean that a problem exists in your charging system.

Also, a car that starts up in an instant but then moments later dies again (often referred to as a “quick-starter”) may be an indication that your alternator isn’t working properly.

It’s important that you take your vehicle to a mechanic so it can be checked.

Bad Alternator Symptoms

1. Car Won’t Start

Your car not only runs off of gas, but it also runs off of electricity (even if it never becomes one of those hybrid cars).

The alternator provides spark plugs the power necessary for starting your engine, which then begins the combustion process of your vehicle.

Suppose your car’s alternator isn’t working. In that case, you might experience problems like either of the following:

Your Engine could shut off without warning during operation (caused by a lack of power in the spark plugs), or it could stop starting. If you ignore this warning sign, it won’t be long before your engine stops starting altogether.

2. Your Check Engine Light Comes On

Newer model vehicles come equipped with warning lights in the dash that reads “ALT” or “GEN.” It’s usually one of the first signs that your alternator is failing.

Do not ignore this, as this might be a sign of something more serious going on under the hood.

Even if you’ve seen no other symptoms with your vehicle, it’s best to take your car to a reliable and trustworthy automotive technician to get it checked out so you can get it fixed and avoid future problems.

3. The Headlights Are Dim Or Flickering

Low-beam headlights that flicker or appear dim could be a sign that the alternator isn’t functioning correctly.

Since the headlights are powered by the alternator, the chances are that the alternator is damaged.

4. Other Electrical Malfunctions

If your car’s alternator is bad, you may notice problems with some other systems on your car, including an issue with your car’s windows and dash lighting, power locks, air conditioning, or the radio.

The reason behind these issues could come from something else too, but you should take your vehicle to a trustworthy auto repair shop for examination.

5. Strange and Unusual noises

It could easily be argued that this is a slightly misleading sentence. After all, there are a variety of things that might cause strange sounds coming from within your car.

However, a faulty alternator can cause bearing, resulting in unusual noises in the engine, and this is what could be causing that weird clicking sound you can hear when you’re breaking.

Suppose your car is making an unusual noise. In that case, it may result from a bad alternator, particularly when it leads to your car not starting, and you observe some of the other symptoms we mentioned earlier.

6. Your Car Battery Dies

A bad alternator can make it difficult for your car battery to recharge.

If your vehicle’s battery dies on you, be sure to inspect the alternator as well when replacing the dead battery as a way to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

What Does The Battery & Alternator Do?

A car’s batteries provide a large amount of electric charge used for starting and turning the gears that start the vehicle.

When your car starts moving, the alternators are able to circulate current through the system when driving.

The alternator will also ensure that the batteries are charged continuously by sending current through the batteries in your car every time you are driving.

Your vehicle’s alternator is its battery charger. It recharges the battery and powers the car’s electronic systems when driving or turning off your engine.

A faulty battery or alternator can cause a variety of different issues, like starting up your car, turning on headlights, or even opening the trunk of your car.

Got a Bad Alternator?

It’s possible your car battery may have been damaged by overcharging, which leads to excessive heat and, ultimately, performance issues.

If you’ve got a bad alternator that isn’t producing enough voltage for proper charging of the battery, this results in a reduced expected battery life span.

Like any other component in a car, a battery can fail and need replacing at some point. Check your battery as you may need to change your battery if you are repairing a bad alternator.

Check out our alternator repair guide for more information on how to fix your alternator.

Note: If it’s the battery that’s damaged, it will not harm the alternator.

Also Read: Car Shakes When Braking – Why & How To Fix

3. You Have A Bad Starter

Bad Starter Symptoms

What is a Starter? A car’s starter is essential for setting the overall operation of a vehicle’s engine into motion.

It does this by channeling electricity from the battery to the engine so that it can start-up and run.

The starter relay, which is located on top of the vehicle battery and starter motor, is responsible for sending power to these components. If your car’s motor and starter relay are not functioning properly, your car won’t start. 

Bad Starter Symptoms

1. Something Sounds Off

One way to tell if your starter is beginning to fail prematurely is by listening to it as you turn the key or press the starter button.

But sometimes, a starter can stop working without making a sound or even indicate its impending failure by making grinding and whirring sounds. So, keep an eye out for this.

2. Your Light Come On But Your Car Won’t start

You may need to replace your starter if you try to start your engine, only for the dashboard light to come on, but the car won’t start.

3. Your Engine Doesn’t Crank

If your car won’t start after a jump start, this may mean there is an issue with the starter. If so, do not try to fix it by yourself.

Call for roadside assistance and take your car to an Auto Care center. The fact is that if jump-starting fails to get your car’s engine started, then only a professional mechanic will be able to fix your car.

4. Smoke From The Hood

Among the many parts of the car’s electrical system is the starter. The starter is prone to short circuits and blown fuses.

When your car doesn’t start after repeated attempts, it may overheat due to a bad starter, which could result in electrical problems and smoke. Get assistance as soon as you notice smoke or smell it.

5. Oil Soaked Starter.

In most engines, the starter is on the engine’s left-hand side, directly underneath the left side of the engine’s cylinder.

When you open your hood and notice that oil from your engine has soaked your starter, it can be an indication of another problem: an oil leak. Your starter may be damaged as a result.

Often an issue that starts as a few drops of oil can slowly and often unnoticed grow into a huge problem. Keep an eye out for oil leaks so that you avoid problems with your starters.

If Your Car Won’t Start

If you use the above indicators, you should be able to figure out what the problem is.

If you don’t wish to do your own car diagnostics by yourself, buy an electric jump-start (this will start and keep the vehicle running), then take it to a mechanic to have the electrical system examined, both the charging system and the starting system needs to be inspected.

Your car’s battery should be checked regularly. This check should include an examination of the level of fluid in the tank and check for corrosion on the posts (the terminals with + and -) as well as cables to ensure the battery is securely connected and not corroded.

A battery test conducted with the use of electronic technology should be carried out as well, as the test provides more information than a traditional load test does.

A battery test using electronic technology measures both voltage and cold cranking amps (CCA).

Also, check the alternator’s current output and voltage. It’s important to keep an eye out for any signs of defective diodes as they convert electrical energy from AC (alternating current) to DC (direct current).

Whenever you decide it’s time to replace your alternator, you may want to consider upgrading to a more potent version.

However, let your auto service center decide if it’s actually possible as not every vehicle is upgrade-ready before making the investment.

In cases where the alternator is working properly, examine for any problems in other parts of the charging and starting system.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why would a car suddenly not start?

A damaged or broken stater is another reason why a car won’t start. The starter is an electrical motor attached to the battery. Its function is to control the motor (i.e., pistons, crankshaft, etc.) … If the starter is damaged or fails to work, the car won’t start properly, or it may not start at all after turning the ignition on.

Why is my car not starting after getting gas?

The majority of the time, when suddenly your car won’t start or crank after filling up, it’s due to an issue with the engine pump. The pump that pumps fuel in the fuel tank is kept cool by the fuel inside the tank. If the fuel level was low, the pump could get too hot, and when you add cool fuel to the tank, it causes the pump to fail.

What causes a car not to start if the battery is good?

If your car won’t start if the battery is good, it could be a result of a bad starter. Your car’s starter is responsible for transmitting the electrical energy generated from the battery to the solenoid that controls the starter to crank the engine and start it. The car won’t start if the starter is bad.

When your car won’t start, but all the lights come on?

If your car won’t start, but all the lights come on, this usually means that your battery is failing due to bad connections, damaged terminals on the battery, or a dead battery. Another indication of the “car won’t start, but lights come on” problem is pushing the ignition button to turn the ignition. This is a sign that there is a problem with the ignition switch and that the solenoid has not been active.

Can fuse cause a car not to start?

A damaged fuse within the starting circuit may be the reason why your car won’t start. Also, damaged wiring or dirty wires connecting to the battery or the solenoid for the starter (or wiring that is loose) may prevent power from getting to the starter. This could cause your car not to start.

What can cause a no crank or a no start?

When you notice that the pump for fuel, injector, or fuel filter has been damaged, the damage could cause the condition of no crank or no start. If the filter has become blocked and the fuel flowing into the engine is blocked your car won’t start or crank. Another part of your car that could be defective is an engine’s fuel delivery line.

Will low oil cause a car not to start?

Insufficient oil levels could cause the engine to stop working or not spin and this could cause your car not to start. A car that seizes due to the absence of oil is often the cause for the engine being dismantled. Not only do low levels cause a car not to start, they could also cause damage to the engine.

Can you jump a car with a bad starter?

Jumpstarting a car that has a poor starter won’t help to get the engine started. Jump-starting can only increase the battery’s power. A car with a manual transmission and problems with its starter might need to be towed or be pushed to get started; however, this isn’t the case for an auto transmission vehicle.

Will a car start with a bad alternator?

If the alternator fails, it could mean that there aren’t enough sparks in the plugs to sustain the engine and cause it to stop in the middle of operating or to experience difficulties getting started. Don’t ignore this warning sign, and your car won’t start.

Why won’t my car start but the radio and lights work?

If the lights and/or radio are on, but the car won’t start, you could have corroded or dirty batteries terminals. These terminals link the electric system and battery. Try to jumpstart your car. This could verify or discredit that battery is the source of your problem.

Scott Greene is a seasoned automotive technician for over 5 years and has been deep into advanced automotive diagnostics for a couple of years. He Loves writing about Automotive Diagnostics and Repair, Trouble codes, Buyer guides for various car parts and accessories, and lots more. 

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