Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Car wont start — Diagnose by sounds

Car wont start — Diagnose by sound

Everyone asks this question but it’s the wrong way to get help. If you really want some step-by-step assistance, start by describing the symptoms, not the effect. Here’s some help getting started. Just click on the links when you find your symptom.

Car won’t start and there are NO sounds when you turn the key


Car won’t start, no click

You turn the key and hear nothing, not even a click. This can be caused by dirty battery cables, a bad ignition switch, a bad starter relay, a bad starter solenoid, or a bad starter motor. It can also be caused by a completely dead battery. To check that, check for dash lights and door chime.  If they come on then you should at least hear a click when you turn the key, which would rule out a completely dead battery.

Car won’t start but starter clicks one time or clicks rapidly but won’t crank the engine

At least this tells us the ignition switch is sending power to the starter relay and starter motor.

Click here for step by step

If you hear a single click, try this:

Turn on the dome light and try again. If the dome light dims to almost nothing when you turn the key to START, that can be a sign of a dead battery or a shorted starter motor.

If you’re stuck away from home, continue to turn the key to START 6 or 7 more times. Then let it sit for about 5 minutes. If the problem is the battery, the continued key turning may heat the battery up enough to get you enough power to turn the starter motor.

However, if you detect a burning smell, stop immediately. That means you’re cooking the starter motor. (Not that you care that much, you’re going to have to replace it anyway, but it could ignite the insulation on the motor windings). Click here to see how to check the battery.

Car won’t start but you hear rapid clicking when trying to start your engine

A rapid clicking, sounding almost like a machine gun, is a sign of a weak battery. The battery is providing just enough power to pull the starter drive towards the teeth in the flywheel, but not enough power to hold it in place and turn the starter. This can be the sign of a weak battery or corroded battery terminals that are reducing the power to the starter motor. Clean the battery terminals. In an emergency situation, try tapping the battery terminals with the heal of your shoe. That may move them just enough to reestablish good contact. If the engine starts, make sure you get it to a shop to have the battery inspected and the battery terminals cleaned.

For other tips on “won’t crank” click here

Starter makes a high pitched WHIRRRRing spinning sound

That’s the sign of a failed starter motor drive gear. The starter must be replaced. But many times you can get it to start by turning the key to START 5 or 6 more times. That heats up the the grease inside the starter motor drive, allowing it to engage. That may buy you one more start. But that trick won’t work forever, so drive it right to the shop and have them replace the starter motor.

Car cranks but won’t fire up- CLICK HERE FOR STEP BY STEP

If the engine cranks as fast as it normally does but won’t fire up, that can be a sign of a bad sensor, an ignition system problem, low or no fuel pressure, a problem with your anti-theft system (SECURITY light blinking), engine is flooded or a mechanical issue is present.

If you own a Ford vehicle, turn the key to the RUN position and wait for the Check Engine light to come on. Then crank the engine. The light should go out while cranking. If it does, that means the computer is getting a good signal from the crankshaft position sensor. If the light stays lit, start your diagnosis with that sensor.

Next, check the inertia fuel cutoff switch. This is fairly exclusive to Ford products. It’s designed to turn off power to the fuel pump if the vehicle is ever involved in a crash. But the sensor can also activate if someone bumps your car in a parking lot. It’s in a different place for each Ford model. So get out your owner’s manual. Find the location and press the reset button.

Next, try starting the vehicle by holding the gas pedal down part-way. If that helps at all, chances are you have a failing engine coolant temperature sensor. Those sensors can fail partially—not enough to set a check engine light, but enough to throw off the computer. The failed sensor makes the computer think the engine is warmer than it really is. So it provides a very lean mixture to a cold engine. By pressing the gas pedal, you override the computer’s commands and force it to provide more gas. If that works, test or replace the sensor.

If the engine isn’t getting fuel, you’ll have to perform a fuel pressure and fuel volume test and that requires special tools. Not a job for a DIYer.

Car starts and dies

This can be can be caused by a dirty or failed idle air control valve or a vacuum leak or a myriad of other problems. The idle air control valve regulates how much air comes into the engine when you’re at idle. If it’s not working properly or the passages are dirty, the engine will either have too much air or will be starved for air. A vacuum leak can also cause an engine to die after starting because the leak dilutes the rich mixture the computer is providing.

© 2012 Rick Muscoplat

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat


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