Your 2020 Guide to Car Starting Problems

Whether you start your car by pushing a button, turning a key, tapping an app, or saying, “Alexa, start my car,” you expect the engine to respond. Unfortunately, car starting problems can leave you stranded. Recently, we’ve been covering jumper cables and booster packs. In keeping with this theme, here are some other car starting problems and possible solutions.

Faulty ignition switch – In vehicles with keys, the ignition cylinder mechanically drives the ignition switch. This multi-position switch routes power to the accessories, ignition system, and starter motor. Worn or corroded contacts can prevent the current from driving the starter. First, check the fuses and relays. The next step in the circuit might be the ignition switch. In some cases, you can use a heavy jumper wire to “hot wire” the starter circuit with the ignition in the Run position.

Faulty key fob battery – In vehicles with remote keyless entry systems, a small transceiver inside the key fob communicates with the vehicle. If the battery in the fob is weak or dead, it can’t communicate its unique ID codes to start the engine. Try holding the key fob up to the starter button to start the engine. Otherwise, drive to your local auto parts store for a new key fob battery.

Faulty starter motor – The starter drives the flywheel or torque converter ring gear. Because it’s exposed to engine heat and the elements—oil leaks are notorious—it can overheat and burn out. Use also wears the starter solenoid contacts, usually mounted to the starter. If you’ve eliminated other car cranking problems, a Wilson Electrical Remanufactured Starter will solve the problem.

Faulty fuel delivery – You put fuel in the tank, right? Some starting problems are caused by fuel delivery problems. The cylinders need a certain amount of fuel to ignite your engine, but gelled diesel fuel, water in the gas, a dead fuel injector relay, a failing fuel pump, or a stuffed fuel filter can starve the engine, which may kick over a few times or sputter and die—a good indicator of fuel delivery problems. Check the fuel system fuses and relays and listen for a fuel pump whine or fuel injector ticking.

Corrosion – When a car engine starts, power flows through the battery’s positive cable to the solenoid, to the starter windings, back to the battery through the engine block, to the vehicle body, and finally, to the battery ground cable—we’re not talking electron theory, so bear with us! Any interruptions in this circuit can result in car starting problems mimicking a dead battery. Corrosion can prevent even a good battery from delivering full current to the starter. Look for corrosion on the battery terminals and vehicle ground points, as well as rotting ground straps. Temporarily jumping the negative battery terminal to the engine block may solve the problem.

Faulty neutral safety switch – This switch is most common in manual transmission vehicles, but can also be found in some form or another in automatic transmission systems, on the engine control handle or mounted on the shift lever. It disables the starter if the transmission is in any position other than Park or Neutral. If the switch fails, perhaps due to corrosion or wire damage, the engine will not start because it can’t detect that it’s safe to do so. Try wiggling the shift lever or shifting in and out of Neutral to loosen a stuck switch or contacts.

While a dead battery is one of the most common reasons a car will fail to start, there are a multitude of other possible causes. In fact, with the complexity of the modern automobile, there are plenty of factors that can prevent your car from starting. Read our article on keeping your battery and charging system in shape.

By Benjamin Jerew

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