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My Car Won't Start

You're turning the key, but nothing's happening. Or maybe there's a clicking or grinding sound — but the car won't start. We've been there; it's not a good feeling. Let's try to figure out if it's a simple fix or something more advanced that a trusted mechanic should take care of.

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 we've put together this simple guide to help you figure out what's wrong. We've identified a handful of common scenarios and compiled the most likely causes — take the quiz on this page or find your situation below. Here's hoping for an easy fix!

The engine doesn't crank — there's no sound, no lights, nothing

Battery terminals are loose: This happens more often than you'd think, and it can be easily identified and corrected. Try 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 bolt will not tighten or may be too corroded to tighten. If this is the case, you'll need to repair or replace it.

Battery is dead: Like any other battery, the battery in your car can go dead and nothing will operate. In this case, you can try jump-starting the car. You can buy a battery pack so you don't have to worry about getting someone else's help; if that doesn't suit you, you should make sure to have jumper cables so you can ask another driver to help you out. Another option is calling your insurance or auto club for roadside assistance.

If you attempt to jump start the car, be sure to place the cables in the right arrangement to avoid damaging your electrical system — or yourself. After jumping the car, make sure to drive it around for a while to recharge the battery. If you're experiencing this often, or a jump doesn't work, it might be time to have the charging system inspected, as the alternator may be bad or the battery may need 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 electronically and mechanically — if it's the latter, you might not be able to turn the key at all. Unless you're an advanced DIY-er, this repair is best handled by a professional.

Neutral safety switch isn't working: 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 professional.

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. Both types of keys can lose their programming, and similarly, the locks they work on may stop reading their information correctly. If the car doesn't recognize your key, it won't start. You'll need to visit to a qualified shop that has the equipment and knowledge to diagnose and repair these systems.

The engine doesn't crank, 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 to make sure they're on tight. If that's not the problem, you may need to charge the battery. The quickest way will likely be to jump-start the car and drive it for a while; or, if it's not an emergency, you can try getting and attaching a trickle charger. See "Battery terminals are loose" and "Battery is dead" above for more details on battery-related issues.

Starter is faulty: The starter is an electrical motor that uses battery power to start the engine. Just like any electric motor, it can fail. If the battery terminals and battery are OK, you may have a bad starter. If you have some experience working on cars, you might be able to tackle this project. But there is a risk of electric shock, so if you're uncertain, have your mechanic replace the starter.

Engine is seized: This is a worst-case scenario, and would require your entire engine to be rebuilt or replaced. If this is your issue, it's worth examining if the expense is worth it or whether it's time for a new car. Consult with your mechanic, and if you move forward with it, have him or her do the job.

Get it diagnosed by a professional
 

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.

It's cranking slowly, and there's 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. It's located where the engine and transmission join together. If you hear a harsh grinding noise, you could have a loose starter motor, or it could be caused by a flywheel or pinion gear in the starter with broken or worn teeth. You'll want to have the starter replaced.

The car is cranking faster than usual, and there's a spinning noise

Timing belt (or timing chain) is broken: A broken timing belt or chain can cause some serious damage to your engine, so you'll 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. If the starter's solenoid is worn too badly, it can fail to engage with the device's flywheel, and will make a spinning or whirring noise. You'll want to have the starter replaced.

It's cranking faster than usual, and there's 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. If you hear a harsh grinding noise, you could have a loose starter motor, or it could be caused by a flywheel or pinion gear in the starter with broken or worn teeth. You'll want to have the starter replaced.

The car is cranking normally but won't start

Ignition switch is faulty: The ignition switch is the electrical switch for the engine. These switches can electronically or mechanically. Unless you're an advanced DIY-er, this repair is better handled by a professional.

Fuel system fault: A fuel system fault could be due to a bad fuel pump or a fuel contamination issue. This should be examined by a professional.

No spark: To figure out if your vehicle doesn't have spark, you will need a spark test. This can be dangerous and should be performed by a professional. If you don't have spark, you may need an ignition coil replacement.

Faulty sensor input: A faulty sensor input can be determined by a professional. Possible fixes may include MAF sensor replacement, IAC valve replacement, CKP sensor replacement or CMP sensor replacement.

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12 User Comments

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My Gear Shift Lever cable is loose. I do not have Park. I do have drive, 1,2, neutral and reverse. I can start in Neutral and also park in neutral but I am using the parking brake. I can also remove the key by moving the lever all the way to park and pushing it forward a bit So, I start the van while it is in neutral and also turn the van off while in neutral. Other than that????
What if the car won't stay started
Hello, Thanks for reading our article on common No Start issues. You all have great questions but unfortunately this is not the best place to get responses, it's primarily meant for comments. To ask your question and have professional mechanics from around the country respond, please go to https://repairpal.com/questions. Please provide as much detail as you have about the symptoms you're experiencing and any other details about repairs you may have tried thus far. Thank you, Bret
Great page, really helpful for me and my car
I read that if an ignition switch is bad it will also stop the fuel tank from operating , and you don't have intermittent cranking issues listed which is a sign of bad ignition along with some of the electrical components that should work when you turn the key....
My Sebring 2000 jxi 2.5 had engine cut out no spark no start replaced crank Sensor started right up
My 2000 Buick century is blowing the pcm bcm uh 10 amp relay fuse in panel under dash everytime I crank it or jar it what does it control what is pcm bcm uh relay
I have a 2007 Ion Saturn, and my car won't start, I guess someone tried to break into it and my theft light turned on, and the mechanic guy I talked to said it self locked from the engine and I need to take it to the dealership, and to get a remote I know it's probably more to it so if anyone's has prior knowledge can you fill me in email: jhenson555@yahoo.com
get code 82
The hybrid go clicks in then safe to stop sign comes up on the dash
car runs great, battery is new, but if you let the car set over night the battery is dead
2003 gmc Yukon 1500 truns over but wont start