Why Won’t My Car Start? 

Car issues always seem to pop up when you least expect them. There's nothing more annoying than getting ready to head out, sitting in your car, only to then find out that the engine refuses to start. As inconvenient as it is, there are a number of reasons why your car won't start. Depending on the severity of the issue, it can cost you less than $50 to repair it or several hundred dollars if it's something more serious.

Reasons why your car might not start can include:

  • Flat or dead battery
  • Starter motor issues
  • Fuel problems
  • Bad timing belt
  • Bad ignition coil
  • Alternator issues

This article will help you figure out why your car isn't starting and diagnose the issue easily. We'll also recommend how you can rectify the problem and get back on the road no time.

The engine doesn’t crank at all 

Person attempting to start the car

If your car’s engine refuses to crank when you turn the ignition key, you might potentially have a dead battery on your hands. Coincidentally, a dead battery is the most common reason why your car doesn’t want to start. 

If you have a battery tester, the first thing you’ll want to do is to check the battery and see if it’s weak. If you don’t have a battery tester or you desperately need to get somewhere, you can try jump-starting your car using jumper cables. Note that if you successfully start your car you’ll need to leave it running for several minutes to allow the alternator an ample amount of time to recharge the battery. The best thing you can do though is to use a battery charger to top it up, and the old saying, “low and slow” applies here. 

Sometimes, something as simple as battery corrosion can prevent you from starting the engine. If you haven’t replaced your battery in a very long time, the terminals might be corroded and unable of providing a clean connection. Simply cleaning the terminals can do the trick in this instance. 

If none of this works, you’ll need a new battery that’s able to hold a charge and provide enough electrical energy to start the engine. 

If you notice a clicking sound when attempting to start the engine but the engine itself doesn’t turn or crank over, you’ve probably got a bad starter. It’s the starter motor’s job to physically turn the engine over and help the engine burst to life. Starter motors have a pretty long service life, but sometimes they can fail in as little as 30,000 miles. A new starter motor will fix this issue. 

The ignition coil is responsible for transforming the battery’s voltage into an electric spark that the engine uses to ignite the fuel/air mixture. A bad ignition coil is recognizable if your car won’t start but all of the lights work normally. This indicates that the battery is operational and is able to hold a charge, so there’s probably an issue somewhere else, possibly with the ignition coil itself. 

The engine cranks but it doesn’t start 

A person using a serpentine belt tool to loosen and remove the old belt before installing a new one.

A clogged fuel filter is a common reason why your car doesn’t start, assuming the battery isn’t dead. Generally speaking, fuel filters need to be replaced once every two years or once every 30,000 miles. Failure to do so might cause a clogged-up fuel filter that is unable to let enough fuel flow through to the engine. Simply replacing the fuel filter might solve these fueling issues. 

Another reason why your car doesn’t want to start could be because of a failed fuel pump, though this is relatively rare. A damaged pump will usually need to be replaced by a professional and is significantly more expensive than simply replacing the fuel filter. 

Last but not least, as rare as it is, you might have a bad timing belt on your hands. As its name would imply, the timing belt opens and closes the valves, ensuring they never touch the pistons and cause catastrophic engine damage. The timing belt needs to be replaced in regular intervals, before it can snap and blow up the engine. This is usually once every 60,000 to 100,000 miles. 

Other reasons why your car won’t start 

As silly as it sounds, you want to check the fuel level in your fuel tank and make sure that it isn’t empty. Most of us have probably been there at one point or another, so there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Forgetting to put enough fuel in your car is something most of us will do at least once in our lifetime, so just make sure your fuel tank isn’t empty if your car refuses to start. The silver lining in all of this is that there’s nothing wrong with your car mechanically and it won’t cost you anything to fix. Simply fill up your fuel tank and be on your way. 

AdBlue is a diesel exhaust fluid that most modern diesel engines used to reduce harmful gases from being released into the atmosphere. Much like fuel, your car uses AdBlue the more you drive it and you’ll eventually need to top it up. Unfortunately, some modern cars will refuse to start at all if there isn’t enough AdBlue in the tank. In this case, filling up the tank with enough AdBlue will allow you to start the engine. 

Quite often, the reason why your car doesn’t want to start is something as simple as a dead battery or a clogged-up fuel filter. Fixing these will be relatively inexpensive and quick. If you need to replace a fuel pump or a timing belt on the other hand, you’re probably going to spend a bit more money to get your car in working order. 

Whatever you need to fix your car, whether that’s a fuel filter, a fuel pump, or even an ignition coil, you can find it at AutoZone. You can even sort by year, make, model, and engine size, to ensure correct fitment for your specific vehicle. 

If the job is too big for you, seek out one of our Preferred Shops to help you do the job.

Advice, how-to guides, and car care information featured on and AutoZone Advice & How-To’s are presented as helpful resources for general maintenance and automotive repairs from a general perspective only and should be used at your own risk. Information is accurate and true to the best of AutoZone’s knowledge, however, there may be omissions, errors or mistakes.

Be sure to consult your owner’s manual, a repair guide, an AutoZoner at a store near you, or a licensed, professional mechanic for vehicle-specific repair information. Refer to the service manual for specific diagnostic, repair and tool information for your particular vehicle. Always chock your wheels prior to lifting a vehicle. Always disconnect the negative battery cable before servicing an electrical application on the vehicle to protect its electrical circuits in the event that a wire is accidentally pierced or grounded. Use caution when working with automotive batteries. Sulfuric acid is caustic and can burn clothing and skin or cause blindness. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and other personal protection equipment, and work in a well-ventilated area. Should electrolyte get on your body or clothing, neutralize it immediately with a solution of baking soda and water. Do not wear ties or loose clothing when working on your vehicle.

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