5 Immediate Next Steps to Take When Your Car Won’t Start

Marc Skirvin
Marc Skirvin

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In the middle of a cold winter night, have you woke to find them sputtering, clicking, or just refusing to make any noise at all? That lifeless reaction can be a sign that your relationship is well and truly over. If your car won’t start, no matter how much you need and want it, it may be time to move on. 

If you are in this predicament, you have a number of options. Below, we discuss how to get it started with a quick fix, then how to decide if you should keep or sell if your car won’t start.

How to Prepare

Preparing for a breakdown will make the eventual event so much easier to deal with. Nothing will be more frustrating than knowing what the problem is and how to fix it, but not having the tools to do the repair. You can pre-empt this dilemma by keeping a number of items in your vehicle at all times for car maintenance. 

Keep a selection of screwdrivers in your vehicle. They should have both standard and Phillips (crossed) heads. As well as normal shaped once, try to get some offset ones for hard to reach places.  

Screw holders can also help, so make sure you have one of these. They will hold the screw in place without the use of fingers, so you can insert and tighten it with the screwdriver. 

Next, you need a set of wrenches. These are easy to get hold of, and you will need them to have both SAE and metric measurements. Adjustable wrenches and torque wrenches are also advised along with a selection of pliers. 

Get a good set of socket wrenches. You need one ratchet handle and a wide range of socket extenders for the hard to reach places. 

Gauges and Measuring Tools

There are a lot of measuring tools and gauges you should also keep handy in case your car will not start. The best tool to have when your car will not start is a voltmeter. It can be used to measure the strength of your battery, so may come in handy if you need to test the voltage when your car won’t start.

Another tool related to the battery is a pair of jump leads. They can attach to the battery of your car, and allow it to ‘jump’ start by taking power from another vehicle. They can be a lifesaver, so tuck a pair away in the trunk. 

Finally, keep a tow rope. You may need to get pulled onto a pickup vehicle or to a local garage. Having a tow rope can save scrambling about for one at the last minute. 

1. No Sound and No Power

If you turn the ignition and get no sound from the engine, then it could be one of a few problems. The first thing you need to do is check the dashboard, to see if you have lights on the dash. 

If you are getting no sound and no electrics or lights, it could be a dead battery or a connection problem. Start by checking the cables connected to the battery. If you can move them by hand, then they are not connected enough and need tightening. 

Remove them, and clean the connections with a mix of bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. Dry them with a cloth, reaffix and tighten with a wrench. Try the car once more. 

After failing these tests, the logical solution is that your battery is dead. Try a jump start or replace the battery with a new one. You can also test this using a voltmeter if you have one to hand. 

2. No Sound With Power

When you find that the dashboard lights are going on, but you have no engine noise, then the electrics are fine and you can eliminate a battery problem. If the car is a manual transmission, then push the accelerator all the way to the floor. Make sure nothing is obstructing you from getting it right to the matt and nothing has gone behind the pedal to prevent this. 

If you are driving an automatic transmission, select park, move it out, and then back again. Try the ignition once more, or try to start it in neutral. 

Next, check the key fob or responder. If it uses a battery to start the car, then check this is working. 

If you are still not getting any response, then you will need to call a mechanic. The ignition switch or starter motor is probably faulty, and unless you are professional you will find it hard to fix this yourself. 

3. Car Won’t Start but the Starter Clicks

Fast and rapid clicking once the key is turned, indicates that low voltage or high resistance from the battery is the problem. You can check the battery with a voltmeter, which needs to read around 12.65 volts. Anything less than 12.45 counts as low voltage, likely the cause of the problem. 

Another test you can do is to turn on the car headlights. If they are bright, then the battery is fine and you have a bad starter or connection. Dim lights indicate a battery with a low voltage. 

You can try cleaning the battery terminals as mentioned in the step above. If you are on the roadside, this will be impossible, so try to dislodge corrosion by hitting it the terminals with a small tool. 

Using the same tool, try to hit the starter motor. Electrical contacts can get stuck, and this is a way to free them. 

4. The Engine Won’t Fire but Cranks

Firstly, check your fuel levels. Even if your indicator says you have fuel in the tank, you may be very low. 

When an old car won’t start it may have a flooded engine. This is when too much fuel enters the engine. The sparks plugs become wet and fail to ignite. 

When this is the case you will probably be able to smell gas. Press the accelerator to the floor and hold it while the engine cranks. Doing this may help you unflood the engine. 

Drivers of more modern cars will have a host of computers and electronics onboard. Vacuum leaks or faulty temperature sensors can result in a mix that will not start a cold engine. Press the accelerator halfway, then start the engine, so the computer adds more fuel. 

Another possible problem is a blown fuse for the ignition circuit or fuel pump. You will need to find the fuse box location in your car to replace the fuse. Look for a fuse that has a metal strip surrounded by black dust or dirt. 

One final test is to check the radio is turned off and turn the key to the run position. A two-second buzzing sound should be the fuel pump priming the injection. If this sound does not occur, then the fuel pump relay is broken or ready to give in. 

This can be fixed, but not immediately. You need to source a fuel pump relay that has the same part number as yours. Try to start the car after the replacement and see what if it starts. 

5. The Car Cranks and Grinds

When you hear a grinding, the flywheel is not engaging with the starter. The first trick to try is by cycling the key. Cycling the key involves turning it on and off, backward and forward until the car starts up. 

If it does startup, then you must still seek a mechanic. You have broken teeth on your flywheel that need immediate repair. 

Should the cranking be extremely fast and accompanied by a spinning or whirring noise, you have a damaged or faulty timing belt. The connection between the two halves of the engine is not working correctly. As such, the pistons are moving up and down quicker than usual because nothing is resisting them. 

Your timing belt is a serious problem. Do not continue trying to start the car. Call for assistance to take you to a garage. 

To Keep or Sell

If you have managed to get a car running, and it can be repaired by minor procedures or maintenance, then you need to consider whether you are going to keep or sell it. If it has problems, it may be that the car could have other troubles waiting in the wings, so ask a trusted mechanic to look over it for you.

Some problems are never worth fixing. Once your car does not run because of these problems, then it is better to sell the car and get whatever you can for it. 

The first is to do with your wiring. If you have turned your vehicle on to find electrical faults are stopping it from working, take a good look under the hood in daylight. Believe it or not, but you are looking for signs of rodent infestation.

Creatures making a home in your engine are bad news. They will have chewed through the internal wiring. Tracking down what they have and have not had for lunch is tedious and expensive. 

Mice, rats, squirrels, and chipmunks like engine bays. They are warm and sheltered, and if you have a dirty car, a great source of food. Changing a whole wiring set will definitely blow your bank account wide open.

Selling a Car That Does Not Run

If you are looking to sell a car that does not run, you actually have more options than you think. They all depend on the time and effort you want to put into the sale. 

Firstly, you can offer to sell the car for parts. Place an ad online or in local trade papers. Expect a range of offers, some genuine, and some from people who will offer lowball prices so they can turn it over for scrap and make a profit.

Don’t sell low, as you could go and scrap the car yourself to make more profit. Of course, if you do not want the hassle or are pushed for time, this may be the best offer. There are also a number of salvage companies who will make you a much better offer than someone scouring classifieds to make a quick profit. 

Scrap yards are one option. They will take your car to bits and sell the parts back to auto dealers for a profit. As such, junk yards will not take any car, as if they can not make a profit, it is not worth their time and money. 

While you will not get the best deal at a scrap dealer, they will generally get the car towed or picked up for you. If it is not working at all, this can save you money on the logistics of moving the vehicle itself. 

Talk with local car dealers. They may be able to get parts and repairs done cheaper than you can, and may be more able to make a profit from the car. While you may not get a great price, it can be worth asking. 

Anyone who knows a little bit about mechanics and repairs could consider stripping the vehicle and selling it for parts themself. This will generate the most amount of profit, but it will also take the most time. You will need a place to store all of those parts and an area in which you can strip them down. 

It will also take time to test the functioning parts individually before you sell them. You will then have to take the remaining shell to a scrap metal yard after the vehicle has been stripped. 

Time and Effort

In summary, it all depends on if your car is repairable or beyond repair. After this, you need to know if you are willing to fix it or have the time and effort to sell it for the maximum amount you can. 

Of course, if your car won’t start you can decide to sell it to Cash Auto Salvage for a quick sale, at a great price. We have an instant online generator, so you can get an immediate quote. We pay up to $20,000 for cars, trucks, and SUVs, so contact us today and get the cash you need to buy a brand new, more reliable vehicle. 

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About the Author


Marc is the Co-Founder of Cash Auto Salvage and Director of daily operations. He retired from a leading Internet Marketing company in 2013 and has been involved in the automotive industry ever since.

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