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Troubleshooting a Car That Won't Start: 10 Helpful Tips & Tricks

 Imagine this scenario - you're ready to head out, but when you try to start your car, all you hear is a clicking noise. To make matters worse, nothing happens. In such a situation, you have two choices: wait for a mechanic or towing service, or attempt to fix it yourself. However, due to the complexity of the various components in your car, it's not as simple as replacing a light bulb. There's a good chance that you can troubleshoot the issue with your vehicle and get it up and running again without needing to visit a mechanic.

If your vehicle fails to start, it is often the result of a malfunction in one of the components activated when the ignition is engaged. This occurrence should not be unexpected, as wear and tear may lead to malfunctions. The issue could range from the car's battery to its fuel pump, and in many cases, it may be relatively simple to diagnose and repair independently. Below are some typical troubleshooting suggestions to consider when your car refuses to start.

Get your car up and running with a jump start

The electrical units and engine of your car are powered by the battery. However, like any other component, the car's battery has a limited lifespan. Over time, batteries weaken and lose their ability to hold a charge sufficient to start the engine. A drained batterybattery is often the most common reason for starting issues.

If you haven't used your car for a month or two, the battery may drain, making it difficult to start the engine. Leaving electrical units like headlights on for an extended period while the engine is off can also drain the battery. Fortunately, recharging the battery is not expensive. You can jump start your car using another car's battery to provide an initial electrical charge and allow the engine to recharge your battery.

In order to jump start your car, you will require a set of jumper cables to connect your car's engine to an alternate power source. These cables are typically marked with positive (+) and negative (-) signs, or color coded to indicate where they should be attached to your battery. Simply clip one end onto the battery terminal of your car and the other end onto the battery of the vehicle you are using to jump start yours. Once connected, start your engine and listen for the sound of your vehicle starting up. After your car has started, allow the engine to run for a short while to allow the battery to recharge.

Clean the corroded terminals of the battery

If you find that your car's battery is in good shape, but upon closer inspection you notice a powdery substance that is whitish, greenish, or even bluish surrounding the terminal connecting it to the rest of the car, then you are seeing evidence of corrosion. This corrosion is caused by overheating and leaking fluids, and is more prevalent in older batteries.

The battery terminal may appear insignificant, but it plays a crucial role in distributing power from the car battery to the rest of the vehicle. A corroded terminal can disrupt the vehicle's electrical system and, over time, it can even prevent the car from starting.

If you notice corrosion on your battery terminal, you can clean it yourself using some household items. Start by mixing a spoonful of baking soda with water to create a cleaning solution. After disconnecting both terminals, use a brush dipped in the solution to gently scrape away the corrosion. Once the terminal is clean, apply some grease before reconnecting the terminals. If the corrosion persists and damage increases despite regular maintenance, it may be necessary to completely replace the terminals. In such cases, it's best to seek expert help.

Turn the steering wheel from side to side

At times, the issue may arise when your key fails to turn in the ignition. Surprisingly, this is a frequent occurrence and fortunately, it has a simple solution. It's crucial to understand the reason behind the key's refusal to turn, as this understanding will aid in resolving the problem and possibly preventing it in the future.

The ignition key is responsible for starting the flow of current to the starter motor, which in turn starts the engine. This allows the current to move through the ignition system. If the ignition key is unable to do this, a common issue may be a stuck steering wheel. Many steering wheels are designed to lock once the ignition key is removed, causing the wheel to remain in place. However, if the steering wheel is not straight, it can create a problem. This often occurs when parking and forgetting to realign the steering and straighten the tires.

Now that you understand the cause, you can firmly jiggle the steering wheel while attempting to turn the ignition key. After rocking the steering wheel back and forth and gently wiggling the ignition key, the key should eventually turn, the steering wheel will unlock, and the car should start.

Clean the spark plug thoroughly

One of the three essential elements required for an internal combustion engine is a spark, making spark plugs a crucial component of your vehicle. As time passes, these spark plugs may become dirty or malfunction. When this happens, you may observe your engine stalling upon starting the car. The next course of action would be to either clean the spark plugs or replace them entirely.

When it comes to cleaning your spark plug, start by removing the engine cover and then the ignition coil. Spark plugs can often be difficult to remove, so spraying them with WD-40 and allowing them to sit for a few minutes can make the removal process easier. Once removed, wipe the spark plugs clean and then reinstall them.

On the other hand, replacing spark plugs is not an exact science and will depend on factors such as the type of plug, the gasoline used in your vehicle, and the mileage. Typically, spark plugs should be changed every 30,000 to 55,000 miles, but this can vary depending on the make of the vehicle. If you suspect a bad spark plug before reaching the recommended mileage, there are signs to look out for. For example, if you notice black soot or a burnt insulator tip when cleaning the spark plug, it's a good indication that it needs to be replaced.

Refuel your vehicle

At times, your vehicle issues may not necessitate a visit to a mechanic or professional—perhaps you simply need to refuel. If this is the situation, you may observe your car jerking, having difficulty accelerating, and even the engine emitting a coughing sound. Although running out of fuel is not part of your plan, it can still occur unexpectedly.

If you find yourself stuck in unexpected traffic, it's easy to lose track of your fuel usage. A fuel leak or a faulty fuel gauge can also catch you off guard. To prepare for these situations, it's a good idea to keep a fuel canister and a funnel in your car's trunk. This way, if you encounter any gas issues, you'll be able to get fuel from the nearest gas station using the canister, and then carefully pour it into your tank using the funnel.

To prevent finding yourself in this situation, make it a habit to regularly check your car for fuel leaks and ensure that your odometer reading is accurate. Additionally, try to avoid letting your fuel tank drop below the one-third mark to ensure you always have enough fuel for unexpected trips.

Replace the filters in your fuel system

If your vehicle is having trouble starting, one possible cause could be a clogged fuel filter. Similar to how an air filter cleans the air by removing dust and debris, a fuel filter performs the same function for the fuel that goes into your car. Although the exact placement of the fuel filter can differ, it is typically situated between the fuel tank and the engine. Because fuel filters act as purifiers, it's logical that they can become clogged over time.

If the fuel filters become clogged for an extended period, they will start to obstruct fuel flow, preventing your car from circulating the necessary fuel to start. It's important to regularly replace your fuel filters. To do so, first turn off the engine and disconnect the negative battery terminal to prevent any sparks. Position a bucket underneath the fuel filter to catch any spilled fuel. Then, disconnect the fuel line and let any excess fuel drain into the bucket before removing the filter. Depending on your car's model, you may need to use a spanner for this step. Once the old filter is removed, release any remaining fuel and insert the replacement filter.

Testing the starter

Your car's starter serves as a crucial link between the battery and the engine, responsible for initiating the engine's operation. When the starter malfunctions, you may observe that the electronic components of the car, such as the radio and lights, continue to function, but the engine fails to start. Additionally, you might hear a clicking noise when attempting to start the car.

Issues with your starter are typically the result of loose wiring, battery corrosion, oil leaks, or a faulty relay. If you have a malfunctioning starter, it's best to seek professional assistance, but there are temporary solutions to get your engine started. You can locate the starter motor, usually found under the hood of your vehicle, and try tapping it with a hammer or another tool to get it functioning again. It's similar to the scenes in movies where banging on a machine miraculously gets it working again.

Test the alternator's functionality

If you've experienced battery problems, you've likely come across the term "alternator." But what exactly is an alternator? It's the component responsible for keeping your car battery charged when the engine is running. If you're having issues with starting the car or if your battery keeps losing charge even after a jumpstart, the culprit is likely the alternator. One way to identify this problem is by observing battery warning lights on your dashboard. Another sign of a faulty alternator is when your headlights flicker, alternating between being very bright and suddenly becoming dim.

Jump starting your car is not an ideal long-term solution, but it is the fastest way to get moving again if you're stuck. After jump starting, leave the cables connected for a few minutes to allow your battery to recharge slightly. It's important to then drive straight to your mechanic's workshop to prevent your battery from losing charge again.

Please inspect the fuse box and relays

It's possible that you've experienced a blown fuse at home, causing the power to go out. Just like in your home, the fuses in your car protect its electrical components from power surges that could cause damage. The car's fuse box contains a variety of fuses and relays to safeguard the electrical system. When there's an abnormal flow of electricity, the fuse interrupts the circuit, but the downside is that it can result in a blown fuse. Unfortunately, a blown fuse can prevent enough power from reaching your car's starter relay, leading to difficulty starting the car.

If your car won't start, you can open the hood and inspect the fuse box for any blown fuses. One way to determine if a fuse is blown is by visually checking the metal strip inside. This strip acts as a filament and melts in the presence of high current. If the metal strip is intact, the fuse is still good. If it's broken, the fuse is blown. Replacing the blown fuse should get your car running again, but it's important to have a mechanic diagnose the root cause of the issue.

Similarly, if your car is having trouble starting, it could be due to a faulty fuel pump relay. Relays are also located in the fuse box, and you can try swapping the fuel pump relay with another one to see if it resolves the issue.

Inspect the fuel pump

The fuel pump is responsible for transferring fuel from the tank to the engine. If it malfunctions, your car may not start. Signs of a failing fuel pump include sputtering or jerking, loss of power during acceleration, and unusual noises from the fuel tank. It's important to also inspect the fuel filters, injectors, and fuel pump relay for potential issues before proceeding with any repairs.

If your fuel pump is damaged, there are a few options to consider. The best course of action is to replace the fuel pump entirely, especially if it is significantly damaged and beyond repair. While this may be expensive, it is preferable to the inconvenience and potential problems caused by a faulty fuel pump. Alternatively, you could opt for fuel pump repair, which is suitable for minor damage, but you will need to seek assistance from a mechanic. To ensure your fuel pump lasts for its intended lifespan of 100,000 miles, it is important to consistently purchase fuel from reputable gas stations.


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