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Mechanic's Corner

Why Won't Your Car Start?

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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!

Add a Comment (8) Comments
  • fordf150trucker, February 11, 2013, 21:06

    thank you for your great service....

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  • Dawn01, April 18, 2013, 14:20

    You fail to mention that it could be the Security System that is causing your car not to start.

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  • Visitor, April 25, 2013, 23:17

    Hey i own a 1992 celica 2.2 gt it overheated when the blockheater plug fell out had the head shaved valves re-seaded new plugs and all gaskets replaced . I have spark and fuel however it will not fire? The timing is correct as well as the cams. Any other suggestions?

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  • Jill Trotta, April 26, 2013, 16:50

    I would start with rechecking the basics and the installation. Is the distributor in the right position? Did the spark plug wires get installed in the right order? Is the spark plug gap correct? Is the spark a good strong spark (bluish?)-Toyota Celicas have known distributor issues (the coil is located inside the distributor assembly). Is the fuel pressure within specs? If all those things are in order I would go back and recheck the timing belt installation. Toyota Celica engines with the 5S-FE engines have a shim type valve adjustment, make sure these shims were reinstalled and adjusted correctly when the machine work was done.

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  • Jill Trotta, April 26, 2013, 16:53

    If all those things are in order, I would check engine compression.

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  • Visitor, July 18, 2013, 17:41

    My well cared for 2006 H3 never needed a repair until now. The vehicle would not start and I assumed a new battery was needed, and replaced the battery. The Hummer started no problem. A day or so later and undriven, the Hummer wouldn't start again. Also, the security alarm went on for no apparent reason. The service dealership was baffled and after much investigation noted that the driver seat assembly was drawing too much power from the battery and that was the culprit. I had it disconnected and didnt order new parts as I didnt quite believe the problem was solved. When parked at home, the alarm suddenly went on for no reason. I turned it off, and the next day, the Hummer wouldn't start again. Back to the dealership I went. They have had it three days and cannot find the problem. On day three, the Hummer wouldn't start for them either. Help. This is costly and going no where.

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  • Visitor, November 30, 2013, 17:44

    I have a 2010 Mercury Milan Premier, 41,100 miles. Just got the car in Oct, used from dealer. Ran great, didn't have the car a week and went out in am to go to work and it's wouldn't crank. Car went back to dealer, thought it was the keys, got it back, week later back for the same problem, dealer mechanic said they called Mercury help line, disconnected and re-connected the wires and saddle. Problem fixed! 2 weeks later I'm working overnite shift and to come of work 6am car didn't crank, tried several times nothing. Went back couple hours later and started. Ran all day, got it to go to work on a Monday, nothing! Car is now again sitting at dealership because the mechanics can not find the problem. Has anyone had any issues like this?

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  • Visitor, March 24, 2014, 21:38

    Recently replaced a head and head gasket on a 1996 Ford Escort. after setting it back in time and checking all fuses and fluids and spark plugs the car started and ran fine for a few minutes as I went to drive away from my cousins garage the car suddenly stopped running like it ran out of gas,after pushing it back to the shopi i realize that it was the 30 amp fuel injection fuse in the main fuse box under the hood i proceeded to change that and everything was fine...noticed that some of my wires were exposed/bare on the (intake hose/box) where the connectors are agter taping them up i went to put the air filter box bolts back in and touched the end of the ratchet to the postive battery post and now it wont run...everything has power or fire and you can hear the fuel spraying into the top of motor but the injectors arent pulsating?? yo let it run WHAT TO DO...any help is appreciated

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