If your car isn’t starting, different parts can cause this depending on the way it isn’t starting. Your car could be cranking but not starting, known as a crank no-start, or it could have an engine that’s not turning over at all but makes a clicking sound or maybe no noise. Learn the difference between these conditions and what parts can cause them with these tips.
If My Car Isn’t Starting, How Can I Tell If I Have a No-Start Condition or If the Engine Isn’t Turning Over?
To tell if you have a cranking or no-start condition, try to start the car. If you hear nothing, clicking, or chattering, you have a no-start condition where the engine isn’t cranking or turning over.
If the engine is cranking but not starting, you’ll hear the engine turning, the starter will be engaging, and you’ll have a working battery in good condition, the serpentine belt will move, but the engine will fail to “turn over” and run. The one exception to this is the battery. If your car is cranking slowly and not turning over, that’s a sign you have a problem with the battery, which we cover in this article.
Causes of a Car Cranking But Not Starting (No-Start Condition)
You may think you need a new battery if your car doesn’t start. Failed batteries are a common reason for a no-start condition, but there are other parts that can cause this problem.
1. Bad Battery
Check the battery for power. It may need replacing or it may need to be charged.
2. Bad Starter
Every vehicle has a starter. While you’ll find them in different locations depending on the model, most are located underneath the vehicle near the housing of the transmission. You can tell if the starter is causing a condition where your car is cranking but not starting by trying an easy test.
2 methods to test a starter in your car
- Tap the Starter with a Hammer as the Engine Is Cranked
Have an assistant turn the car on, and as they’re cranking and starting the car, tap the starter with a hammer. This may temporarily start the vehicle and indicates the starter as a cause.
- Test the Starter for Power with a Test Light
The starter has power and ground. In the example in this article’s video, the starter is bolted to the engine block for ground. A cable travels from the battery to the starter for power. When you turn the ignition switch to the cranking position, battery positive engages the starter motor.
You can also test the starter with a test light. You’ll need to attach one side to ground and see if you have power going to the starter. Then touch the terminal where the starter needs to be switch on with the test light. Have an assistant turn the key. If the test light turns on, power is getting to the starter. This means there is an issue with the starter and not something else liek the cable or its connection.
3. Bad Alternator
If there’s a problem with the alternator, it’ll give you a dead battery condition. You may try to change the battery and find out you still have a no-start condition. You may try to change the battery and find out you still have a no-start condition. If the alternator is not charging the battery, it’ll cause a no-start condition. The alternator charges and maintains the battery, so if it isn’t the battery will weaken over time until eventually your vehicle doesn’t start.
You can tell if the proem is with the battery or alternator with a multimeter. If the battery is charging less than 13 volts, the alternator is defective and will need to be replaced.
Causes of a Car Engine Not Turning Over
1. Bad Battery
If your engine sounds like it’s cranking slower than usual, that’s a sign there’s a problem with the battery like an issue where it’s not charging properly or it’s weak. If the battery is too old, generally over 5 years, it’ll need to be replaced. Once a battery has been drained too many times, putting in a new one is the only way to fix it.
2. Problems with Fuel
The engine will need fuel and spark to start. A fuel pump assembly has a level sensor. The vehicle may not have gas or the level sensor could be defective, registering a higher level of fuel than the car actually has. The pump also has a filter that could clog. Electric fuel pumps will also need power and ground to pump fuel into the engine. You’ll hear it turn on for about 2-3 seconds with the key in the ON position.
You can have an assistant start the vehicle while you tap the bottom of the fuel tank with a rubber mallet to release any potential sediment blocking the pump. This is a temporary fix. For a long-term solution, you’ll need to replace the fuel pump if it has this problem.
You can check the fuel pressure at the fuel line or rail with a fuel pressure tester.
3. Problems with Spark
You’ll also need spark for your engine to run. The spark for the spark plug combusts with the fuel and gives the power needed to move your vehicle. The ignition coil sends this spark to the spark plug. If there’s a problem with these parts, the engine is not going to run properly and it can cause problems like the engine cranking but not turning over.
Usually with spark plugs and ignition coils, if there’s a problem they’ll likely cause conditions like a check engine light or rough running engine before a crank no-start condition, unless you have a coil pack that’s integrated the coils into one.
You can check for spark with a spark tester. You’ll place it in between the ignition coil and spark plug, and then try to start the engine. If it lights it up, and that means spark is reaching the spark plug. Then remove and inspect the spark plug. Check for damage or signs of malfunctioning like residue or fuel. That’s a sign the spark plug needs replacing, and it can also indicate other problems depending on the kind of damage.
We recommend replacing the spark plugs at your manufacturer’s recommend intervals that you can usually find in the owner’s manual to prevent this problem.