Tips from Used Car Advisor

Car Advisor Tamotsu Todoroki

Hi, this is Tamotsu Todoroki. I am a car advisor of
I write an online column every week to take care of your vehicle. My column is all about something useful and practical for your vehicle. Please have a look once to keep your car in good condition.


The Engine Won't Start! What Should I Do? - Vol.414

You got up in the morning late for work. You jump into your car only to realize that the engine won't start. As panic becomes overwhelming, you simply don't know what to do.

All dramatizations aside, it really can be a big and potentially expensive issue, yet it might be something simple which can be fixed easily and cheaply.

We'll help you troubleshoot all potential issues that may cause your car engine failing to start.

The Battery
In most cases when a car engine won't start, the problem lies in the battery. If it's totally dead, obviously the car won't start. Even if a battery is weak, you will probably experience a slow cranking sound of the starter. As the battery voltage drops, you'll stop hearing that sound and even the lights on the instrument panel will dim upon turning the key.

First thing you need to check is the battery terminal cable connections. If they are corroded, you may try forcing the point of an insulated screwdriver between the terminal post and the connector and lodge it more firmly. If this works, your cables definitely need to be replaced and it's not a battery issue.

If you turn the key but experience only clicking noise, make sure you check whether the connection cables between the battery and the starter are connected firmly.

A temporary solution is jumpstarting the engine, but once you do that, you should head for the nearest repair shop and get a new battery installed.

Alternator and Starter
Your battery might be fine, but if you have a faulty alternator, that means the battery doesn't get charged during driving. While we're at it, a worn accessory drive belt might be the main culprit.

If your starter is faulty, it may also give you an illusion that the battery is dead or weak. It will just spin slowly and draw more power than it actually needs.

If its drive gear has damaged teeth, you will hear a grinding sound, similar to the one that occurs when you try shifting gears with no clutch engaged.

In a situation where the starter cranks normally but the engine simply won't run, your battery, alternator and starter are usually fine and you need to look for the cause elsewhere.

Secondary Ignition System Issues
Even though these don't occur often on modern cars, the secondary initial system may also be responsible for your engine's refusal to start. In most cases, it's just a faulty spark plug. Remember that these need to be replaced according to the schedule issued by your car's manufacturer.

Fuel Related Problems
Even though it may sound a little bit too obvious, but maybe you've simply run out of fuel. Check the levels on your instrument panel. If this is the case, you can relax and just get more gas.

If this isn't the case, maybe your car has a weak fuel pump. Often the culprit might be a failed fuel pump relay. In these cases, fuel can't reach the engine and that's the reason why it won't start.

Turn to key to the "on" position and listen closely for the in-tank pump running. If you can't really hear anything, it's time to pay a visit to a mechanic and get your fuel pump fixed.

Older cars may suffer from frozen fuel lines during winter, but that doesn't occur on modern cars.

Security System Glitches
Faulty security systems on your car may also prevent your engine from running. This usually means remote starting devices and remote keyless entry gadgets.

All things considered, if you're not into DIY repairs, it's always best to tow your car to the nearest service garage. If you still want to give it a shot, these few tips and advices should get you back on the road in no time.