My car won’t start, what should I do?

Your car won’t start, but what could be wrong and what should you do? We take a look at some common reasons for your car not starting – and possible solutions.

Your car won’t start, but what could be wrong and what should you do? We take a look at some common reasons for your car not starting – and possible solutions.

Daniel Hutson
From the Motor team
minute read
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Posted 09 NOVEMBER 2020

Check for… a flat or faulty battery

Is there a faint click or complete silence when you try to start the engine? There are many different things that could be wrong if your car’s not starting. But the most likely reason is that your battery is flat or faulty.

It’s a common problem to find that your car won’t start after not being used for a while, for example over the Christmas holidays. Your battery can also go flat if you accidentally leave your lights on overnight.

To get your car going again, you may need to jumpstart the engine with the help of jump leads and another car that has a fully charged battery – but only if you know what you’re doing. A mistake could lead to injury or worse, or damage your car’s engine.

If the battery is faulty, you may need to tighten and safely clean the connections, or get help from a professional mechanic. Of course, your battery might just be getting old - most batteries will need to be replaced after about five to seven years.

Check for… a faulty starter motor

While a loud clicking noise when trying to start your car could mean something’s wrong with the battery, it could also hint at a problem with the starter motor. This is the electrical motor connected to your car’s battery that sets the engine in motion when you turn on the ignition.

A poor wiring connection or faulty solenoids (electromagnets) are the most likely culprits. A sick starter motor is difficult to fix yourself, so you may need to phone a friend to tow you to a garage.

Check for… fuel problems

If it’s especially cold outside, more fuel will be needed to start your car. If you’re already running low, this could mean that the engine has trouble starting. A simple top-up should solve the problem.

If your fuel filter is clogged, the petrol or diesel won’t be able to reach the engine. This obviously makes it a struggle for it to burn the fuel required to start. It’s generally recommended that fuel filters are replaced every two years or 15,000-20,000 miles, but you should follow your manufacturer’s handbook for guidance.

Check for… low oil levels

Without enough oil in your car’s system, there’ll be more strain on the battery when starting the engine. If it sounds like your car is trying to start up but keeps falling short, your oil levels could be running low. An oil top-up might be the easy solution.

When checking the oil, your vehicle should be stationary on flat ground and the engine ought to be cold.

Turn off the engine if it’s running, then remove the dipstick. Using a clean cloth, wipe the oil off before putting the dipstick back in position. After about half a minute, take it out again. If the oil mark shows up between the minimum and maximum indicators on the dipstick, you can drive off. If the oil level is below the minimum mark, you must top up before driving away.

Check for…a flooded engine

If your car won’t restart or keeps cutting out after you’ve moved it a little way – out of the garage for example – you may have a flooded engine. This is a problem that can happen with older petrol cars when there’s too much fuel and not enough air in the engine, stopping the spark plugs from working.

To start the car again, be patient and wait a while. Then, with the gear in neutral and the handbrake safely on, put your foot flat on the accelerator and start the engine. Once it catches, leave it to idle for a few seconds so it warms up properly before you set off. If this doesn’t work, you might have to call in the professionals.

Check for… a faulty key fob

Some modern cars come with keyless entry and keyless ignition where the car is started with the push of a button. The start button must receive a coded signal from the smart key fob to work, so if the engine fails to recognise your key, it won’t start.

If this happens, it might just be a case of replacing the battery in the key fob. This will be apparent if the central locking system won’t work either. On some vehicles you can start your car with a dead key fob by holding it right up against the start button and pressing start.
If you think the key fob itself might be faulty, you should contact your dealer for help.

Top tip
If your car won't start because you can’t turn the ignition key, the steering wheel may have locked. You might be able to free it by slowly turning the steering wheel left and right while carefully turning the key in the ignition.

Check for… cold weather problems

If it’s particularly chilly outside or your car’s spent some time in the snow, you may have a frozen fuel line. This happens when water collects in the fuel line and is more common when your tank is on the empty side. Typically mechanics recommend keeping your tank at least half full at all times during the winter months to help prevent this from happening. If your fuel line isn’t at fault, you may have damp spark plugs. If you’re unsure, it’s best to have a qualified mechanic inspect your car – and your insurance could help with this.

Breakdown cover

No matter what the cause of your breakdown, you’re likely to need help when it happens. That’s when breakdown cover comes into its own.

Compare the Market is here to help you find car insurance and breakdown cover at a price that’s right for you. Start a quote today to see if you could save on your car insurance.

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