Why Won’t My Car Start?

Thom Blackett | Mar 17, 2020

You rely upon your vehicle for a multitude of reasons, so it’s never comforting to find yourself asking, “Why won’t my car start?” When those occasions arise, it’s helpful to know what the cause could be and how you might resolve the situation.

Why won't my car start

Remember that any time you have a question about your vehicle, you should first consult your owner’s manual. There’s usually a troubleshooting section that can provide guidance when you can’t start your car.

Common Reasons a Car Won’t Start

If your car won’t start, possible culprits include a failing alternator or, more likely, a dead battery due to lights being left on for an extended period of time. Some vehicles have a gauge or warning light that will alert you of a battery problem. Also, like tv remote control batteries, car batteries lose their ability to maintain a charge over time and need to be replaced. Typically, that’s required every three to five years.

Along that same vein, the small battery within a car’s key fob has a finite life span. When it fails, it stops sending a signal to the ignition and you’ll find yourself with a car that won’t start.

Often overlooked, a lack of fuel could be yet another reason your car is not starting. It may seem painfully obvious, but sometimes we lose track of how much gas is in the car and don’t immediately consider the possibility that the tank is dry. It’s happened to many of us at some point.

Loose and/or corroded battery terminal connections can prevent a car from starting. This is a basic maintenance item that should be checked whenever a vehicle is in the shop for an oil change or other service.

What to Check When Your Car Won’t Start

If your car won’t start, the first thing you’ll want to do is determine if the vehicle is getting power. Do the headlights and dash lights come on? Is the radio working? If the answer is yes, you likely have a weak battery in need of a jump-start. If these systems are not operational, you may have a dead battery or faulty alternator. A multimeter helps to determine if the alternator is at fault, but unless you own one of these tools and are familiar with its use, we recommend leaving this task for a professional mechanic.

As noted above, the battery terminals should also be checked. Keeping in mind that different types of cars have different battery locations, you will need to open the hood or look in the trunk to find the battery. Inspect the positive (+) and negative (-) terminal posts on the battery. The clamps on those terminals should be tight and without any signs of corrosion. Loose clamps can be tightened with a wrench or screwdriver, and you can gently scrub any corrosion away. Auto parts stores do sell a tool specifically designed for this purpose, but you can save a few dollars by using what you may already have in your house, such as a wire brush or bit of steel wool.

Assuming that doesn’t solve the problem, or your lights and all electrical appear to be functional, you may be out of gas. Of course, the fuel gauge is a clear indicator of that, as is an engine that easily cranks over when you turn the key but fails to start.

For those in colder climates, there may be another issue at play here. Fuel systems build up condensation over time. Without enough fuel in the system, that condensation can freeze and prevent the vehicle from starting. To avoid this, a good rule of thumb is to always have at least a quarter tank of fuel in your car and consider adding a bottle of dry gas on occasion. Be sure to follow the directions on the bottle.

Compare Cars Before Replacing Your Old One

Depending on the age and value of your car, you might discover that your car won’t start for a more serious and expensive reason. In that case, be sure to use JDPower.com to conduct research and compare cars before replacing your old vehicle.

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