Why Won't My Car Start? Identifying Common Causes in 2023

By: HowStuffWorks  | 
why won't my car start
Battery Troubles: Weak or dead batteries are the top cause of starting problems, often due to lights left on. Coppy / Getty Images

Picture this: you’re heading out for an important meeting, and you’re left wondering, “why won’t my car start?” Frustrating, isn’t it? Before you call the mechanic or tow truck, let’s explore some common causes of this problem and how to resolve them. In this blog post, we’ll discuss everything from dead batteries to faulty ignition switches and even unique challenges faced by modern vehicles, all related to the question, “why won’t my car start?”

Short Summary

  • Dead battery, fuel system and starter motor issues can prevent a car from starting.
  • Regular maintenance of the battery terminals, fuel filter and spark plugs is essential to ensure reliable vehicle performance.
  • Cold weather can Compound these problems. Prevention tips should be taken into consideration for modern vehicles with key fobs and AdBlue requirements.


Dead Battery Dilemma

A dead battery is the most common reason why a car won’t start. When you turn the key, your vehicle’s electrical power is directed to the starter motor to ignite the engine. If your car’s battery is low on charge, it may not produce enough electrical power to start the engine.

Cold weather can exacerbate battery problems, making it even more challenging to get your car started. So, how can you tell if a dead battery is the culprit behind your car troubles?


Identifying a Dead Battery

One telltale sign of a dead car battery is dim headlights or slow cranking when you attempt to start your car. If you notice the dome light goes out or remains lit while trying to start the engine, it could indicate a dead battery or a faulty starter motor.

Another symptom is a clicking sound when turning the ignition key, which suggests that the battery is not providing enough power to the starter motor. Remember, a dead battery doesn’t always mean the battery itself is faulty; it could also be a sign of a bad alternator or corroded battery terminals.

Jumpstarting Your Car

If you suspect a dead battery is causing your car troubles, jumpstarting your vehicle might be the answer. To jumpstart your car, you’ll need another vehicle with a working battery, jumper cables, and a safe area to connect the cables. Follow these steps to jumpstart your car:

  1. Park the working vehicle close to your car, ensuring both engines are off.
  2. Connect one end of the red jumper cable to the positive (+) terminal of the dead battery and the other end to the positive (+) terminal of the working battery.
  3. Connect one end of the black jumper cable to the negative (-) terminal of the working battery.
  4. Attach the other end of the black jumper cable to an unpainted metal part of your car’s engine, away from the battery.
  5. Start the working vehicle and let it run for a few minutes.
  6. Try starting your car. If successful, disconnect the jumper cables in reverse order and let your car run for some time to recharge the battery.

If your car starts after jumpstarting, it’s a good idea to have your battery checked by a professional to determine if it needs to be replaced.

Battery Maintenance Tips

Maintaining your car battery can help prolong its life and prevent future dead battery issues. Here are some tips to keep your battery in top shape.

  1. Keep your battery clean and free from corrosion. Inspect the battery terminals regularly and clean them if necessary.
  2. Ensure your battery is fully charged before starting your car, especially during colder weather.
  3. Have your battery tested periodically at a quick-fix auto shop, such as an oil changing franchise.


Fuel System Frustrations

Aside from dead batteries, fuel system issues can also prevent your car from starting. Problems with the fuel pump, clogged fuel filter, or other electrical or mechanical issues with the fuel system can all contribute to starting troubles.

Let’s delve deeper into the two most common fuel system issues: clogged fuel filters and faulty fuel pumps.


Clogged Fuel Filter

A fuel filter’s primary function is to ensure that no foreign material reaches the combustion chambers. A clogged fuel filter can impede the flow of gas to the engine, preventing your car from starting. Decreasing gas mileage and a rougher running of the vehicle are common signs of a clogged fuel filter. It’s important to keep an eye out for these symptoms.

It’s essential to replace a clogged fuel filter when necessary or when recommended by the manufacturer.

Faulty Fuel Pump

A fuel pump plays a crucial role in supplying fuel from the gas tank to the engine. A malfunctioning or inadequate fuel pump can significantly impact your car’s performance. To verify if your fuel pump is working correctly, switch the key to the ‘on’ position and listen for the sound of the tank pump running.

If you suspect a faulty fuel pump, it’s best to consult a professional mechanic for further examination and repair.


Starter Motor Struggles

The starter motor is another critical component in starting your car. It receives the electrical signal from the car’s electrical system to initiate the engine, essentially activating your car’s engine when the engine cranks. However, starter motor issues can sometimes prevent your vehicle from starting, leaving you stranded.

Let’s explore the symptoms of a bad starter motor and how to test and replace it, if necessary.


Symptoms of a Bad Starter Motor

If your car’s dashboard lights come on but you hear unusual noises like clicking or whirring when turning the ignition key, it’s likely a starter motor issue. Other signs of a faulty starter motor include audible clicks or even smoke emissions.

These symptoms can be easily confused with a dead battery, so it’s crucial to diagnose the problem correctly.

Testing and Replacing the Starter Motor

To test a starter motor, first, locate it under the hood of your vehicle. Then, refer to your owner’s manual and use a voltmeter to test the starter motor.

If your starter motor is indeed faulty, it’s best to call a tow truck and take your car to a mechanic shop for a replacement. A professional mechanic can efficiently remove the old starter motor and install a new one, ensuring your car starts reliably.


Ignition Switch Issues

A car’s ignition switch plays a critical role in starting the engine. If your ignition switch is faulty, it may not make a proper connection, preventing your car from starting.

In this section, we’ll discuss the signs of a bad ignition switch and how to repair or replace it.


Signs of a Bad Ignition Switch

Symptoms of a bad ignition switch include flickering dashboard lights, other electrical problems, and difficulty turning the ignition key. If you encounter these issues, it’s essential to troubleshoot the ignition switch and diagnose the problem correctly.

Replacing the ignition switch is a relatively simple job, but it’s important to make sure the ignition switch is properly replaced.

Repairing or Replacing the Ignition Switch

If your ignition switch is indeed faulty, you can try turning the wheel back and forth to free the ignition cylinder. If that doesn’t work, it’s best to consult a professional locksmith or mechanic to replace the ignition switch. They can efficiently remove the old switch and install a new one, ensuring your car starts reliably.

Replacing the ignition switch is a relatively simple process, but it’s important to do so.


Spark Plug Problems

Spark plugs play a vital role in starting your car’s engine. They ignite the fuel in the combustion chamber, allowing your vehicle to start and run. However, old or dirty spark plugs can cause starting problems and negatively impact your car’s performance.

Let’s discuss the symptoms of old or dirty spark plugs and how to replace them to keep your engine running smoothly.


Recognizing Old or Dirty Spark Plugs

Old or dirty spark plugs can cause various issues, such as:

  • Engine misfires
  • Reduced fuel efficiency
  • Difficulty starting the engine
  • Uneven engine idling
  • Diminished fuel efficiency
  • Engine misfiring
  • Engine surging
  • Elevated fuel consumption
  • Lack of acceleration
  • Unresponsiveness to the accelerator

If you notice any of these issues, it’s time to inspect and possibly replace your spark plugs.

Replacing Spark Plugs

To replace your spark plugs, follow these steps:

  1. Consult your owner’s manual for the recommended replacement schedule.
  2. Use a spark plug socket to carefully unscrew the old spark plugs from the engine.
  3. Install the new spark plugs by tightening them slightly beyond manual tightness.

Reconnect the spark plug wires and test your car to ensure it starts and runs smoothly. Regularly inspecting and replacing your spark plugs can help prevent starting issues and improve your car’s overall performance.


Steering Lock Snags

A jammed steering lock is a security feature that locks the steering wheel to help deter theft. When this feature is activated, it can prevent the key from turning in the ignition, making it difficult to start your car.

So, how do you know if a jammed steering lock is causing your car troubles, and what can you do to fix it?


Identifying a Jammed Steering Lock

Signs of a jammed steering lock include difficulty turning the key or wheel. A jammed steering lock can be caused by a situation such as a wheel pressed firmly against a curb or parking with the steering wheel in full lock.

If you suspect your steering lock is jammed, it’s essential to unjam it to get your car started.

Unjamming the Steering Lock

Wiggling the steering wheel may help unjam the steering lock. Gently attempt to turn the key again and this should do the job. If that doesn’t work, use a small amount of electrical cleaner in the keyhole and try pulling the wheel down in the same direction it was initially locked.

If none of these strategies work, it’s best to consult a professional mechanic to diagnose and resolve the issue. Regularly inspecting your steering lock mechanism and keeping your key clean and lubricated can help prevent future steering lock issues.


Modern Vehicle Considerations

Modern vehicles come with their own unique set of starting issues. Some potential starting issues may include a faulty temperature sensor, a malfunctioning alternator, or even a depleted key fob battery.

It’s essential to understand these unique challenges and how to resolve them to keep your modern vehicle running smoothly.


Key Fob Battery Replacement

A depleted key fob battery can impede your vehicle’s ability to recognize the fob and start the engine. To replace the battery in your key fob, follow these steps:

  1. Carefully pry apart the two halves of the fob using a small, thin flat-bladed screwdriver or a sturdy fingernail.
  2. Remove the old battery.
  3. Insert the new battery, ensuring it is properly aligned.

Snap the two halves of the key fob back together and test the fob to ensure it’s working correctly.

AdBlue Requirements

AdBlue is a non-toxic liquid used in diesel vehicles to reduce emissions. If your vehicle runs out of AdBlue, the engine will not restart. Your vehicle will display a warning on the dashboard with a countdown, providing you ample time to replenish the AdBlue.

Regularly checking and refilling your AdBlue reservoir can help prevent starting issues and keep your modern diesel vehicle running efficiently.


Cold Weather Challenges

Cold weather can bring its own set of challenges when it comes to starting your car. Some common issues include:

  • Reduced power of car batteries
  • Thickening oil
  • Clogging fuel lines
  • Freezing fuel

These challenges can make it challenging to start the engine in freezing temperatures, especially when dealing with a flooded engine.


Let’s discuss some tips for preventing and resolving cold weather-related starting problems. These include making sure your battery is in good condition, and keeping your fuel tank at least half full.

Battery Performance in Cold Weather

Cold weather can decrease the amount of charge stored in a battery, making it more difficult to start your car. Signs of a weak battery in cold weather include slow engine cranking, dim headlights, and a clicking sound when the key is turned.

To prevent permanent damage to the battery, it’s essential to keep it warm and adequately charged during colder months.

Preventing Cold Weather Starting Issues

To prevent cold weather starting issues, follow these tips:

  1. Ensure your battery is fully charged and kept warm during colder months.
  2. Keep your fuel tank at least half full to reduce condensation and avoid fuel line clogging.
  3. Use a thicker or winter-grade oil to prevent oil thickening in cold temperatures.
  4. Avoid using unnecessary accessories such as the radio, fan, headlights, and seat heating before starting your car in cold weather.

This will help ensure your car starts reliably in cold weather and reduce the risk.



In conclusion, starting issues in your car can arise from various causes, such as a dead battery, fuel system problems, faulty starter motor, ignition switch issues, old or dirty spark plugs, a jammed steering lock, or even unique challenges faced by modern vehicles and cold weather. By understanding these common causes and following the tips and guidance provided in this blog post, you can resolve most starting issues and get your car back on the road quickly and efficiently. Keep your car well-maintained and stay vigilant for any warning signs, and you’ll be better prepared to tackle any unexpected starting problems.

This article was created using AI technology.