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My Car Wont Start

Updated on January 10, 2011

My car wont start ? what could it be ?....... when your car won't start, 9 times out of ten the ignition is the culprit, so check this before going any further. Below is a list of things to check and do before having to deal with a mechanic as last resorts. The following check list is geared towards the more earlier modeled cars 1985- 1995 anything after that period then your looking at motors with tubes and pipes going everywhere.With the growing popularity of Asian Cars making an impact on today's market looking under the hood these days is like staring at something created for a space flight. Anyway if you do have a early model than you can do the following:

Check the Battery

As long as the engine turns over you need not worry that the battery is the cause of the problem it only needs enough power to spin the starter motor, there is usually enough power left to provide the spark. Check the electrical terminals on top of the battery for corrosion that may build up , the color of the corrosion may appear green and crumbly thus preventing the full power of the battery reaching the starter motor. Using a wire brush simply clean the terminals or you can use Vaseline to ensure a good connection.

Check HT Leads

Check for any internal breaks in the leads ,there are two types, carbon cored or copper cored, the main thing here is checking for any suspected breaks in the leads unless they are cracked or broken internally .

Check Alternator

If you suspect the battery..... it actually may not be the battery but the alternator. The alternators purpose is to charge the battery every time you take your car for a drive. If you are one that does take fairly long trips and you find the next morning the batteries flat. Then it is most likely the alternator. There is "one trick in the book you could try"  this is only recommended if you are totally stranded with no other option, if you have a wooden mullet handy, if not improvise! can lightly tap underneath the base of the alternator.

Doing this loosens the insides  of the alternator and lightly tapping it , "in theory" will free up any internal parts. If this does not work then you may be in need of a new one.

Ring around there are plenty of parts at your local car yard, you never know you my get the right part you need at a much less cost, you must get a alternator that is specifically for your car, other wise the mountings may be different if you get the wrong one. If not sure ,then ask you local mechanic.

Do not renew anything until you have done the remaining check list.

Check Coil and it's Leads

On one end of the coil you will see the HT lead which runs to the distributor, on either side of this lead you will see thinner wires which make the LT or lower tension connections. Begin by removing the HT lead from the coil and check to see if it is clean and has no corrosion any corrosion will interfere with the current, you will notice there are small screws that hold the wires down make sure these are secure and tight. Could the coil itself be the problem? it is possible but coils usually fail altogether or produce bad running at speed.

Check the Spark Plugs

 After a few thousand miles the electrodes - the contacts on which the spark jumps start to wear so it's harder to create a spark, carbon can also build up causing a weak spark, simply undo the plugs dip them in gasoline wipe clean and replace.

Check the Distributor Cap

You can find the distributor cap because all the Ht leads meet at the cap it is usually held on by two spring clips use a screw driver to release the clips remove the cap with leads attached, turn the cap upside down so you can see the inside and use a dry cloth or tissue to wipe the interior check for any hairline cracks or tracking, scorched trails of carbon caused by current or shortening caused by damp inside the cap, if in doubt then you may need a new one. 

Cleaning The Points

 The contact breaker points are more likely to cause starting problems than any other component in the ignition system. After removing the cap you will see the rotor arm attached to the upper end of the distributor shaft you should be able to pull this away, some may have screws.You will see the points, after a period of time these points tend to alter their gap, have a look at the faces of the contacts, checking for signs of pitting, you can see the surface of the points by using a screw driver to separate them only slightly if you see a high spot on one and a pit in the other they need to be renewed.

Check The Points Gap

Having cleaned the contacts you should now check the gap between them. You will need to manually turn the engine by turning the fan belt until the points have opened fully, the next step is to measure the gap using a feeler gauge most manufactures specify a clearance of 0.017 to 0.021 in. To make an adjustment loosen the contact breaker retaining screws ad the required feeler gauge width between the points, close the points by turning the engine keeping the gap with the feeler gauge and tighten the contact retaining breaker screws, and remove the gauge.If for reasons out of your knowledge you suspect this component is the cause this may be a job for a professional mechanic as it may involve lubricating the cam and renewing the capacitor as well. So it would be wise to leave it for a professional if it gets to that stage. 

Video tutorial "Basics"on checking your car's tyre pressure.


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    • profile image

      Robert elwell 6 years ago

      I have a 99 dodge avenger and it will turn over but will not start it will start when it wonts to and when i turn it off it will not start back up. it has a new distributor,crank shaft sensor,EGR valve,do you have any ideas.

    • profile image

      Mike 7 years ago

      Any advice would be great. My car wouldn't start this morning. It's a 89 Honda Civic but has always started on first try. The battery light came on while trying to start and finally started on 3rd try but with significant blue smoke out of tail pipe. The battery is new, 5.5 months. The car is getting gutless up hills the past few weeks (downshift to 4th where used to be able to climb in 5ht), and speedometer dips to zero sometimes while driving. Don't know if any of these things are related, but could my egine be going out? 168K miles and counting...

    • gd2knw profile image

      gd2knw 7 years ago

      Hope i didn't get too complicated with that article... as long as you check the basics, that's the main thing.

    • ConradM profile image

      ConradM 8 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Great basic tips. I think I will share these with my wife.

    • profile image

      Ashley Carew 8 years ago

      Thanks, this is really useful information.