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My Car Won't Start

Is there no crank? A clicking or grinding sound? The RepairPal team is ready to help you figure out why your car won't start. We break it down so you can figure out if it's a simple fix, or something more advanced that a trusted technician should take care of.

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Your car might not be starting for a multitude of reasons, which can also make it difficult to nail down on the web what exactly is wrong. Most of the time, a mechanic will have to make the final prognosis, but it’s a good idea to understand your car and make sure it’s not an easy fix before you freak out.

RepairPal has put together a simple guide to help you figure out why on earth your car isn’t starting.

The engine doesn’t crank over...

No sounds, no lights, just nothingness.

Battery terminals are loose: This is a very common issue and it can be easily identified and corrected. Surprisingly, many mechanics forget to check this and you don’t want to make that mistake. Check by trying to wiggle the terminal loose by rotating it around the battery post. it shouldn’t move at all. If it does, tighten the terminal bolt. In some cases, the terminal end will not tighten or may be too corroded to tighten, in each of these cases you will need to repair or replace the terminal end.

Battery is dead: Just like your phone, the battery in your car can go dead and nothing will operate. In this case, you can try jump-starting the car. One way is to invest in a battery pack, or grab your handy jumper cables and ask a good samaritan, or just call your insurance for roadside assistance. If you attempt to jump start the car, understand where the cables should be secured to avoid damaging your electrical system. After jumping the car, make sure to drive it around and recharge the battery! If you’re experiencing this often, or a jump doesn’t work, it might be time to have the charging system check as the alternator may be bad, or the battery needs replacement.

Ignition switch is faulty: The ignition switch is the electrical switch for the engine. Just like a light switch in your house, when you activate it, it should send electricity to the light bulb, or in this case the starter motor. These switches fail both electronically and if you can’t turn the key, mechanically. Unless you’re an advanced DIY-er, this repair is better handled by a trusted technician.

Neutral safety switch isn’t working correctly: This device allows you to start your engine only while the vehicle’s transmission is in park or neutral, and only applies if your car has an  automatic transmission. Replacing the neutral safety switch is best performed by a trusted technician.

Immobilizer system is preventing the vehicle from starting: The immobilizer system is part of your vehicle’s anti-theft system. Your ignition key is programmed to work only in your car, similar to how a key card allows you into a hotel room. The card will only open your room door, not others. But sometimes these cards lose programming or the door cannot read it, and cars are the same. The car doesn’t recognize the key and it will not start. This is an issue that requires a visit to a qualified shop that has the equipment and knowledge to diagnose and repair these systems.

But there’s a clicking sound!

Battery is weak: If you hear a rapid clicking noise you may have a weak battery. Check the terminals and battery for a full charge and address as needed. See “Battery terminals are loose” and “Battery is dead” above for more details.

Starter is faulty: The starter is an electrical motor that uses battery power in order to start the engine. Just like any electric motor, these can and do fail. If the battery terminals and battery are OK, you may have a bad starter.

When replacing the starter, the technician first disconnects the battery and then removes the electrical wiring and hardware securing the starter. The defective starter is removed and a new one is installed. Replacement can vary from easy and straightforward to time-consuming and difficult.

Engine is seized: Yikes! This would require your entire engine to be rebuilt or replaced. If this is the case, it’s worth determining if this expense is justified or whether it’s time for a new car, but if you’d like to replace the engine, a trusted technician should do the job.

The car is cranking slowly...

Battery is weak: Make sure the terminals are not only on the battery correctly, but tight (not with herculean strength, but well on there). If the terminals are tightened, you might just need a jump. You can invest in a battery pack, grab your handy jumper cables and ask a good samaritan, or call your insurance for roadside assistance. After jumping the car, make sure to drive it around and recharge the battery! If you’re experiencing this often, or a jump doesn’t work, it might be time for a brand new car battery.

And it’s accompanied by a grinding noise.

Starter is faulty: The starter is an electrical motor that uses power from the vehicle's battery in order to start the engine. Once the engine starts, the driver releases the ignition key from the start position, allowing the starter to disengage. The starter motor is located where the engine and transmission join together.

When replacing the starter, the technician first disconnects the battery and then removes the electrical wiring and hardware securing the starter. The defective starter is removed and a new one is installed. Replacement can vary from easy and straightforward to time-consuming and difficult.

The car is cranking faster than usual…

And there’s a spinning noise.

Timing belt (or timing chain) is broken: A broken timing belt/chain can cause some serious damage to your engine, so you’ll definitely want to get your vehicle to a shop and have the damage assessed by a trained technician.

Starter is faulty: The starter is an electrical motor that uses power from the vehicle's battery in order to start the engine. Once the engine starts, the driver releases the ignition key from the start position, allowing the starter to disengage. The starter motor is located where the engine and transmission join together.

When replacing the starter, the technician first disconnects the battery and then removes the electrical wiring and hardware securing the starter. The defective starter is removed and a new one is installed. Replacement can vary from easy and straightforward to time-consuming and difficult.

And it’s accompanied by a grinding noise.

Starter is faulty: The starter is an electrical motor that uses battery power in order to start the engine. Just like any electric motor, these can and do fail. If the battery terminals and battery are OK, you may have a bad starter.

When replacing the starter, the technician first disconnects the battery and then removes the electrical wiring and hardware securing the starter. The defective starter is removed and a new one is installed. Replacement can vary from easy and straightforward to time-consuming and difficult.

The car is cranking normally but won’t start...

Ignition switch is faulty: The ignition switch is the electrical switch for the engine. Just like a light switch in your house, when you activate it, it should send electricity to the light bulb, or in this case the starter motor. These switches fail both electronically and if you can’t turn the key, mechanically. Unless you’re an advanced DIY-er, this repair is better handled by a trusted technician.

Fuel system fault: A solution to a fuel system fault could lie in a fuel pump replacement or be a fuel contamination issue. This should be examined by a trained technician.

No spark: To figure out if your vehicle doesn’t have spark, you will have to perform a spark test, however, this can be extremely dangerous and better performed by a trained technician. With no spark, you may need an ignition coil replacement.

Faulty sensor input: A faulty sensor input can be determined by a technician and possible fixes may include MAF sensor replacement, IAC valve replacement, CKP sensor replacement, and/or CMP sensor replacement.

If you're in need of a repair shop, look no further than our RepairPal Certified shops, guaranteed to charge you fair price and use quality parts. Find a shop near you today.