Car doesn’t start – Possible causes and their solutions

Car doesn't start – Possible causes and their solutions

A car refusing to start or the engine simply stalling during driving is a real nuisance although there is no immediate reason for panic. It is more than likely that a minor defect is causing the malfunction. Finding the cause, however, requires a thorough knowledge of a car’s operation. Read everything on what can cause the stalling of a car in this guide and how you can help yourself in such a case.

What does a car need for driving?

A car with a combustion engine needs six elements to enable propulsion. These are:

car doesn't start whyFuel: petrol, diesel or gas.
Drive: belts tuning the moving components.
Energy: electric ignition current for the operation of the starter.
Air: for preparation of the air-fuel mix.
Oil: for lubrication of the moving elements.
Water: for cooling the engine.

If only one of these elements fails, the entire engine stalls. Depending on which system is affected, the car is either very simply made functional again, or a lot of work is involved for its repair.

Car doesn’t start – fuel supply failure

car doesn't start at allIf a car doesn’t start or stalls, the first suspicion falls on the fuel supply. If the car rattles but refuses to start, possibly the fuel tank is empty. If the fuel indicator indicates presence of fuel, possibly the tank float is stuck. This can be checked by filling some petrol in the tank and attempting to start again. This requires a bit of patience as a completely empty fuel system must be allowed to vent itself first.

If the tank empties unusually fast, be sure to check for a petrol smell. Possibly the fuel hose is leaking. Alternatively the fuel pump might be malfunctioning.

Car repeatedly refuses operation – belt drive failure

car doesn't start belt drive failureBelt drive malfunctions often have fatal consequences. If the timing belt or chain has ruptured, the engine stalls and will not start again. Often, the engine has sustained considerable damage in this case and an expensive repair is necessary. This can be checked by removing the cover of the belt or chain. If the drive components have come off, the cause is found. Repair will take more than only belt replacement. In this case the engine must be completely disassembled.

Ignition doesn’t start – Electricity supply failure

car doesn't start spark plugsThe most common cause for an engine failing to start is a failure in the electricity supply. The electric current is generated in the generator, stored in the battery and lead to the spark plugs in the engine by way of the ignition coil and the ignition distributor. Current always runs in a circuit. If the circuit is interrupted, there is no supply. The return current to the generator always goes by way of the bodywork. Therefore, generator as well as the battery need to be grounded, which means, be connected to the bodywork by cables.

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Between cables and bodywork, corrosion can always occur. If this is not timely spotted, starting the car becomes increasingly difficult until it no longer starts at all. The solution is very simple: the earth cable should be removed, sanded and greased with pole grease. Screw the cable on again and the problem is solved.

engine doesn't start ignition coilThe ignition coil transforms the 24 Volt current supplied by the generator into 10.000 Volt ignition current. A cable runs between the ignition coil and the ignition distributor. In older cars, the distributor cable might have become disengaged. This is the most evident reason for a car refusing to start: simply plugging in the cable enables the car to drive on. If the cable is in its place but generates sparks, the insulation is damaged. This could be the result of a rodent’s bite. An emergency measure is wrapping the ignition cable with insulation tape.

If the car now starts, it has to be checked on further rodent damage. A gnawed coolant hose constitutes a risk of serious engine damage.

car doesn't start battery is chargedA problem connected to the electricity supply can be the starter. This element consists of an electric motor and an electro-magnetic driven relay. Over time, the starter can wear down or its connecting contacts might be corroded. A starter failure makes itself heard by a humming sound. The electro-magnet cannot fully disengage the starter drive, while the electric motor is still running. With a bit of luck this defect can be repaired. Very often, replacement is the only option.starter of very best quality onlycar doesn't start no soundIf the generator fails, the battery is not charged. This is indicated by a permanent warning light on the dashboard. If this is ignored for too long, sooner or later the ignition coil no longer receives ignition current. In that case, the battery needs charging first and then the generator must be checked. Generally, generator defects are minor: either the drive belt is defective or the carbon brushes are worn. Both can be simply repaired at little cost.

Car no longer starts suddenly – air supply failure

car doesn't start air filterA car stalling due to an air supply failure rarely ever occurs, although it is theoretically possible. If a foreign object lands in the inlet tract or if an air filter is clogged, the engine receives insufficient oxygen for the air-fuel mix. This error is often announced by an increased fuel consumption and a hot engine. Replacing the air filter and checking the inlet tract generally should make the car work again.

Car doesn’t start – oil and water supply failure

car doesn't start no sound when startingIf coolant or oil supply fails, serious engine damage could occur. The dreaded piston seizure is a result of a shortage of one of these two components. If this occurs, the car can no longer be repaired with household remedies and a thorough engine revision is required. Therefore: if engine control lights or warning lights for the coolant or oil pressure light up, immediately switch off the engine!

car doesn't start what to doWhat to do if engine goes on strike

The following checklist allows you to narrow down the causes of a stalling car:

Has the car stalled during driving?
– No more petrol.
– Ignition contacts defective.
– Engine damage.
Does the car now refuse to start?
Starter rattles: belt drive ok, no petrol or ignition cable has become loose.
– Check the fuel indicator
– If the tank is empty: fill up.
– If the indicator indicates sufficient fuel: check ignition cables.
– If the ignition cable has become loose, plug it in again.
– If the ignition cable generates sparks when starting: Insulation is damaged. Wrap cable with insulation tape and replace it as soon as possible.
– If the ignition cable is ok, add fuel.
– If the car doesn’t start despite sufficient fuel: push-start the car.
– If the car allows push-starting: check generator, earth cable and ignition coil.
– If the car doesn’t allow push-starting: check ignition contacts.
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The starter doesn’t make any sound: Engine damage, engine blocked.
The car doesn’t start in cold condition.
– The car is totally dead, no light burns or only very weakly: Battery is totally empty. Jump-start is required.
(In this case, the battery often needs replacement)
– Starter rattles at jump-start, car refuses to start: check fuel supply, air supply and ignition cables.
– Starter makes no sound: starter is defective or engine damage. Try to tow-start the car. (Attention: diesel cars can’t be tow-started in cold condition!)
– Car doesn’t start despite tow-starting and wheels block: engine damage, immediate repair is necessary.

If all these measures have no effect, there is one more possibility prior to going to a garage: check all fuses, especially in diesel cars. The glow plug fuses can be defective. If everything is alright here too, the car should definitely be checked in the garage.

Foto: crazystocker, Andrey_Popov, lzf, Brian A Jackson, Dmitry Kalinovsky, Maksim Toome, Photomontage, Peter Gudella, peang, Alison Hancock, Charles Knowles /

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