My Car Won't Start! How to Fix a Car That Won't Start
It won't start!!!
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My time in auto care 101
I've had a few decades in car care and I've had the luxury to learn a lot from the cars I've owned. Especially the crappy ones! Up until my mid-twenties, I've owned a lot of "beater mobiles", the good thing about junky cars is if you're open-minded they can teach you a lot when they fail. And knowledge is power!
I've learned how to replace axles, brakes, mufflers, diagnose heating issues, deal with stalled engines, and have had many other fun-filled car repair adventures!
Uh oh, car won't start...
Why won't your car start? Well...hopefully, it's not from losing the key, having no gas, or not being able to pass that court-ordered installed breathalyzer! haha, you dummy!
Did you push in the clutch if you have a stick? Is the car not fully engaged in "park" hahaha
Ok, so after you've double checked all of those things...
Why won't my car start!?!?
What are the most common reasons a car won't start?
- Do you have your key? haha
- No gas (you dummy!)
- Bad battery
- Bad alternator
- Bad starter
- Flooded engine
- Broken serpentine belt
The warning signs No brainer here! With the cost of gas being through the roof, it wouldn't be a shocker to see cars stalled out on the roadways or expressway. You may hear your car sputtering or stuttering as it desperately gasps for that last drink of gas.
The solution Keep your tank full and don't let it run on fumes to avoid this issue. That warning light on your dash actually does have a purpose.
The warning signs A bad battery can usually be spotted before it completely clunks out. You may notice the "dummy light" on your dash coming on and off. You may notice a drag or lag in how your car performs. Hesitation to start when it's cold outside. Any draw on a dying battery will most certainly cause electrical issues, this could mean burned out lights, or noticing that the car struggles to start, especially in cold weather.
If you suspect your battery is going before it has, just take the car to a place like Auto Zone. They will check the battery performance for free, and replace it and dispose of the old battery safely, on-site if needed.
Most car batteries last 2-5 years, some last longer. But if your car has a battery that is 3 years old or older, you may want to have it checked out.
The solution If your car is totally dead, you may only hear a clicking sound when trying to start it. Try to give the car a jump with some battery cables (if you have a junker, it's a good idea to keep cables in your trunk).
The warning signs The car runs roughly, sometimes it randomly stalls, you may hear a strange noise, or even smell something bad. The alternator needs a good amount of electrical energy that's drawn from the battery to get your car started. A bad battery will exasperate the problem. Headlights may dim, powered windows may be slow, or stop working altogether, that talk show radio station you love on FM (or AM Granny) just won't come in anymore.
The solution Take the car back to Auto Zone, they can test your alternator. If it's bad, replace it. This is not particularly a hard task, with a good copy of your manual and a little research, most people can do this in their own garage and save hundreds.
The warning signs You go to start the car, and it's very slow to crank or nothing happens at all. Nada, zilch, nothing, but somehow the lights seem just fine, no dimming or flickering. You crank the poor thing over and over, thinking in your head "come on, come on", queue bad scene in horror movie, but alas it's of no use. These are symptoms of a bad starter.
The solution Sometimes you can get lucky. Take the crowbar you keep in your trunk (what? I thought this was common) and pop the hood. Locate the starter, it's usually an oblong piece that sort of resembles a bean or a rocket. Sometimes a gentle but firm, "I'm the boss" tap will make that starter work just a few more times. If you can't locate it, don't just start beating on random parts...back to Auto Zone you go! Again, if you're somewhat handy, you can replace this yourself. We replaced one in a 1998 Nissan Maxima in a matter of an hour and a half, it was our newbie challenge, we had never replaced one before. Easy as can be. If your car is one of those newer fancy mobiles good luck, engineers apparently like to play hide the parts.
The warning signs You know that plastic guard under your car? Yeah...it's there for a reason. Don't remove it. I bought a used car that had that guard ripped off. Exposing my poor engine to all sorts of elements. I was in Detroit Michigan during a monsoon when my engine sucked up to much water. The car stalled, and it would not start back up. I had flooded the engine with water. This is bad, can be really bad. But this can also happen in weather of extreme temperatures, like being too hot or too cold. Signs you've flooded your engine with water or gas, the car will turn over but the engine won't start. You may smell to much gas. Or you already know you've flooded it because you revved the hell out of it when starting.
The solution Wait 15-20 minutes and try to start it again. Most cars will start with a little downtime. If that does not work, get to a gas station and buy a can of engine starter fluid. Spray this into the engine, and follow the directions on the can exactly. I don't recommend doing this unless your engine is flooded with water and it's the only option.
Broken serpentine belt
The warning signs If you've paid attention to your cars maintenance schedule, then you hit 60- 100k miles and already had it replaced. But if not, pop the hood. Locate the belt. The serpentine belt has a big job for your car and when it's going bad you may see worn marks, cracks, or frays in the ribs of the belt. The belt may be stretched, you can't reuse that so don't even bother trying to adjust the tension. This belt has the job of turning your alternator, power steering pump, and keeps many other components functioning. If you're really unlucky you may have popped the hood and can't find it at all, in that case, the belt most likely snapped and vanished on the road somewhere and you are going to have to get a tow.
The solution Replace the belt at suggested maintenance intervals, again, a decent garage mechanic can replace this belt. The part is cheap but the labor can be intense. If the belt is still there, cut it off and replace it. If you're not a backyard garage mechanic, you'll need to have it taken to a location that can do it for you at a premium cost of course.
© 2013 Rebecca