Top 10 Reasons Your Car Won't Start And How To Fix Them

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A car not starting often instigates the five stages of grief. There’s denial, “No, no, no, start!” Then anger, “CURSE YOU, YOU CLUNKER!” Bargaining, “Please start, please, please, please, start?!” Depression, “My God, I’m going to be late again. They’re going to fire me and it’s all my fault!” And finally, acceptance, and that’s where we come in.

Failed starts are caused by a variety of issues, from bad batteries, faulty starters, gross gasoline, bad engine parts, and a lot of others. That makes diagnosing the issue somewhat of an undertaking, especially for those who don’t normally work on their own cars. Luckily, you have The Drive’s editors. 

We’ve gone through those stages and came out the other side alive. Our knuckles might have been bruised and sometimes bloodied, but we got the cars working. So follow along as we give you the top 10 reasons why your car won’t start and how to fix them. 

Let’s do this!

What appears to be Skyline engine…

Car Not Starting Basics

Estimated Time Needed: 1 hour-1 day

Skill Level: Beginner-Intermediate

Vehicle System: Electrical, combustion, remote 

Automotive Safety

Working on your car can be dangerous and messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you don’t die, get maimed, or lose a finger and that you keep your jeans, shirt, and skin spotless—hopefully.

  • Microfiber towels for car’s body to prevent scratches
  • Mechanic gloves
  • Safety glasses

Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You won’t need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)

You’ll need a flat surface such as a garage floor, driveway, or street parking. If you’re in a garage, open the door to let in as much fresh air as possible. If you’re using the street, check your local laws to make sure you’re not violating any codes because we ain’t getting your car out of the impound yard.

Everything You’ll Need To Fix a Car That Won’t Start

We’re not psychic, and we aren’t snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done. 

Tool List

  • Wire brush
  • Socket wrench set
  • Screwdriver (assorted)
  • Work light
  • Drain pan to catch fuel spillage 
  • Car jack
  • Jack stands
  • Wheel chock
  • Screwdriver
  • Class B fire extinguisher
  • Jumper cables
  • Gas siphon/pump

Parts List

  • Remote battery
  • Car battery
  • Fuel filter
  • Spark plugs
  • Starter motor

Jump starting a car.

10 Reasons Your Car Won’t Start and How to Fix Each

Now that you understand what you need and what safety precautions you must take, let’s get down to brass tacks and diagnose why your car won’t start.

Bad Remote Battery

One of the easiest, and most common, issues why your car may not start is your remote’s battery is dead, and we’re not talking about the ones that simply lock the doors. Most modern cars do not have keys, they have push-button starts, so they require a signal from the remote to power up. Here’s how to test it.

Unsynced Car Remote

Did you know your car remote might unsync itself, and you’ll have to reprogram it? Now you do! You’ll need to consult your car’s dusty, old owner’s manual to find your remote’s programming procedure. 

How To Change Your Starter Motor

We’ve all heard the dreaded “click, click, click, click” that occurs when you turn the key and nothing happens. Something is wrong with the car’s electrical system, and after replacing the battery, or attempting to jump-start the car, you’ve determined it’s likely your starter motor. Here’s a brief and general explanation of how to replace your starter motor.

For more information about starters, read The Drive’s guides, This is Why Your Car is Clicking and Won’t Start or What Does A Bad Starter Sound Like?

A corroded battery. 

Bad Car Battery

An old battery is one of the most straightforward reasons why your car won’t start. Learn how to replace a battery with The Drive’s guide, How To Change a Car Battery.

Corroded Battery Terminals or Leads

Batteries get old, and the terminals or leads can become corroded. Here’s how to repair both and ensure your next startup actually works. 

How To Jump-Start a Car 

Your car’s battery can go through periods of charge and discharge and might occasionally require a jump. To do so, follow The Drive’s instructions on How To Jump-Start a Car.

How To Check If Your Gasoline Is Bad

Just like milk, gasoline can go bad if you’ve left it for too long. Modern ethanol-based gasoline has a shelf-life of about six months, though stabilizers could extend its life. But excising the bad gasoline from your car’s tank takes a little more than just funneling it down the drain, so let’s see if it’s bad first. Here’s how to check if your gasoline is bad.

An old fuel filter. 

Clogged Fuel Filter

There are a few things that can clog a fuel filter, including rust from somewhere in the fuel system, poorly refined gasoline, dust and debris from the gas pump entering the fuel system, or a faulty fuel filter. You can follow The Drive’s step-by-step guide for How To Change Your Fuel Filter here. 

Broken Timing Belt/Chain

A timing belt/chain is an engine component that synchronizes the engine’s camshafts and the crankshaft so the engine’s valves open on time with the intake and exhaust strokes. When it goes bad, the engine could hiccup, run extremely rough, or refuse to operate at all. 

Because of the meticulous labor-intensive process and the real possibility that you could seriously damage your engine, we highly recommend taking your car in to have this serviced by a professional. 

Faulty Spark Plugs

Spark plugs can go bad for a variety of reasons, but most commonly, they’re just old and need replacement. Our guide on how to replace spark plugs can be found here. 

A timing belt. 

Get Help With Why Your Car Won’t Start From a Mechanic On JustAnswer

Although The Drive’s detailed how-to guides are easy to follow, a rusty bolt, an engine component not in the correct position, or a messy oil leak can derail a project. That’s why we’ve partnered with JustAnswer, which connects you to certified mechanics around the globe, to get you through even the toughest jobs. 

So if you have a question or are stuck, click here and talk to a mechanic near you. 

Pro Tips To Fixing A Car That Won’t Start

The Drive’s editors and writers have been getting oily and servicing cars in their own garages for years. Follow these pro tips to avoid finding yourself with a dead car.

  • Modern cars have automatic headlights. Make sure they’re on auto because if you’ve just left them on, they’ll drain the battery.
  • Always keep to your vehicle’s maintenance schedule. Doing so will alleviate many of the issues that could cause your vehicle to fail. 
  • If you don’t have the tools to perform your own maintenance, check with your local auto parts stores such as Autozone or Advanced Auto Parts. They typically have tools that can be rented, often for free.

There bad gas in there?

FAQs About Broken Why Your Car Won’t Start

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers! 

Q. What is a Car Maintenance Schedule?

A. A car maintenance schedule is a calendar that entails set guidelines, rules, and requirements for your vehicle’s key components. The schedule covers inspections, replacements, cleanings, rotations, and other care that will preserve and sustain the life and efficiency of the vehicle. Without following these guidelines, your vehicle could fail, or worse, create unsafe driving conditions.

Q. My Car Won’t Start, But the Headlights Come On. What Gives?

A. Most likely, your car’s battery is on its way out. It still has enough juice to power up the lights, and even some of the accessories, but not enough to turn over the engine. Scroll on up to see how to replace it.

Q. What Is Wrong With My Car When I Turn the Key and Nothing Happens?

A. Your car’s battery is deader than King Tut, it’s time to replace it. 

Q. My Car Is Making Clicking Noises. Is that Okay?

A. Let me ask you a question instead. Is it okay when your shoulder or knee starts clicking? No! Clicking noises usually mean your starter has gone kaput. Don’t worry, we’ve got a guide for that and detailed it above!

Q. Can You Jump a Car With a Bad Starter?

A. Yes, you absolutely can. However, that doesn’t fix the starter nor does it avert you potentially getting stranded. Our advice is to jump the car and head to get the starter repaired.

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