Why Does My Car Not Always Start?

Time after time, automobiles have issues that need to be addressed. From small to large, when a vehicle doesn’t provide the instant reliability that it usually does, the driver will start to lose hope.

Looking at the “smaller” issues, when a vehicle decides to betray the driver, there can be numerous reasons. These reasons “why” are not “equal” in the times that they occur, simply because some of these issues are more common than other issues.

When a vehicle betrays a driver, the vehicle will not start. A vehicle that doesn’t start is not only time consuming but can become frustrating at implausible times. When can the driver expect to be back on the road? What is the solution to a vehicle that doesn’t start?

Although the issue can have a range of possible reasons, it is best to start from the most common reasons (and least expensive for your wallet).

Most of the time, issues related to a car that doesn’t always start revolve around the vehicle’s battery. Depending on if the vehicle will “crank,” it can also pertain to other issues within the vehicle. There can be an issue with the starting system, fuel system, or the car can be out of gas.

Check the Batteries

It is always recommended to check the vehicle’s battery before diagnosing a more complex issue at hand. A dead battery is usually the culprit when dealing with a vehicle that won’t start.

More ways to confirm this is by testing other components of the vehicle’s electrical system. For example, check the lights on the inside of the car. Do they illuminate?

Also, check to see if the vehicle’s headlights turn on. If everything doesn’t lighten, the next step is to jump-start the vehicle. This is when a running battery of another vehicle charges a dead battery of one vehicle. If the jump start works, the vehicle is most likely dealing with a dying battery (in some cases, if the vehicle’s alternator needs to be replaced, it will have issues recharging the electrical system).

If the battery’s terminal and/or connections are corroded (which can start by excess discharge from the battery, resulting in a buildup that deters the connection), it is wise to clean the discharge and secure the terminals properly.

Always keep in mind to disconnect the negative terminal before disconnecting the positive terminal and connecting the positive terminal before connecting the negative terminal.

Is the Car Clicking or Cranking?

There are two possibilities when a vehicle does not start. The car will either crank, or it will not do anything at all. If the car will not crank, the first thing to check is the battery. If the car cranks, the issue might be related to a lack of fuel.

As stated above, the battery is usually the culprit to a vehicle that doesn’t start. One way to confirm an issue with the battery is to see if the vehicle cranks while trying to start it. A vehicle that doesn’t crank points to a battery issue.

If the vehicle does not start but the vehicle cranks, the first thing to check is its fuel levels. A lot of the time, the issue revolves around not having enough gas. Gas is needed to produce combustion (a mini-explosion inside the engine) to start the vehicle. Additionally, some vehicles have inaccurate fuel readings, so it is best to look at the vehicle’s faults and fix that issue accordingly.

Equally important is to see if the gas tank has any contaminants that are clogging the engine from receiving quality fuel. Have a mechanic check the fuel system (particularly a clogged filter or a worn fuel pump). Moving from a fuel system issue, the other area to check is the sparking issue. Without a spark, there will be no explosion, which results in no combustion.

Think about if the vehicle was misfiring before this issue came into fruition. These issues are typically resolved by replacing the spark plugs and/or the coils.

Are the Keys Working?

There are two types of car keys to recognize before talking about a key issue. The first is a manual key, which allows the driver to start the vehicle by twisting the key. These keys are typically found on older vehicles. The other type is an automatic key, which allows the driver to start the vehicle at the push of a button. These keys are almost always found on newer vehicles. After distinguishing the differences, each key type can have its own issues.

For manual keys, the issue lies in the grooves. If the grooves of the receiving end (the vehicle’s key holder) or the key itself, that means that there is most likely buildup that needs to be cleaned. A simple fix is to get a dry-air spray and spray it inside the key holder. It is also smart to clean the key with an all-purpose cleaner and wipe it thoroughly. There are cases where the grooves of the key or the key holder are worn out. In this case, the key may need to be replaced.

Now, if the vehicle has an automatic key, it is most likely dependent on the key’s battery. The little battery can be replaced for a couple of dollars. A way to see if it is the key battery is to plug the key into the car’s automatic-key holder (which is found on some vehicles). If the vehicle starts, the issue is the key battery.

There are times where the driver needs to relax, as the issue could revolve around human error. With a vehicle that is automatic, the vehicle needs to be in park. If the vehicle is manual, the clutch has to be fully engaged. With all vehicles, sometimes the steering wheel will lock, resulting in the key being unable to turn.

Poor Starters

If the battery is not the issue (as trialed by the jump starting method), it is in the driver’s best interest to check the vehicle’s starter.

A failed starter is noticeable by a single click (or a series of clicks) when the key is turned to ignite the vehicle. This is the starter’s sound trying to activate the motor.

Another familiar starter-symptom is a vehicle’s loud noise from trying to start it. The sound the vehicle will make is a squealing sound, which is extremely audible. Knowing these symptoms, the car won’t start because the starter is unable to signal to the flywheel (which gets the motor spinning). This is why some of these sounds occur.

Sometimes, a faulty starter can be mistaken for a bad ignition. If the driver is ever in doubt, it is best to check with a certified mechanic instead of throwing random parts at the vehicle.

Final Thoughts

As stated in the “Is the Car Clicking or Cranking?” section, there can be a wide range of vehicle issues. It is best to try first to start the vehicle and determine if it cranks or clicks. This should eliminate half of the possible problems. If the driver is handy, this article should serve as a tool when struggling to start the vehicle.

If the driver is found lost without the tools, replacement parts, or experience of working on a vehicle, it is best to take the vehicle to a general mechanic. Starting issues are fairly easy for all mechanics. Rest assured, the vehicle is most likely dealing with a minor set back. It will be back on the road in no time!

Gui Hadlich

Hey there! I'm Gui. To be honest, I'm not really that interested in cars. But what I'm really, really not interest in is spending lots of money fixing my car up. Thankfully, I have a father-in-law who's obsessed with cars and a brother getting a PhD in internal combustion engines, so I get to learn about fixing cars. And with Fixing Engines, I hope to help you save a lot of money and take good care of your cars.

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