There are many reasons your car won’t start.

There are few things worse than the feeling you get when you put your key in the ignition of your car, turn it, and… nothing. Silence. Probably more aggravating is when your car does make sounds like it’s going to start – it’s trying, it’s turning over, chugging, coughing. It just won’t catch and sputter to life.

Here are a few of the most common causes of your car not starting.

Starting with the starter…

A bad starter might lead you to think that the battery is weak or nearly dead. If the starter pulls more current than the battery has, it will turn slowly and make a “GRR, GRR, GRR” cranking noise, which sounds a lot like a weak or dying battery. If you hear a lot of grinding, that’s the starter, and it might be damaged – either the fly wheel or the teeth should be checked. If the starter doesn’t even respond, its relay or, solenoid might be burned out. The ignition switch could be the culprit, too.

image of jumper cables attached to car battery terminals.Of course, it’s the battery!

That is what many people immediately assume. It is indeed one of the most common causes of a car refusing to start, but a dead battery doesn’t mean a completely bad battery to be thrown away. It just means the battery doesn’t have a charge, and it might be that another component has failed. There are a lot of ways to knock out a battery.

  • Forgetting to turn off the headlights.
  • Door/courtesy light has been left on (door ajar, switch set to on).
  • Defective interior light generally unnoticed – trunk, glovebox.
  • Dirty, corroded battery terminals, or low battery water.
  • A defective, failing charging system that does not recharge the battery (see alternator).

Of course, batteries do get old and start to fail. Most have a life expectancy of about 3 to 5 years, depending on quality and your driving habits and conditions. Batteries have to work harder in cold temperatures, and usually show signs of failing when the weather turns cold.

Related: Transmission Problems Caused by Battery Corrosion

The alternator has failed and nothing is getting any electric love.

If the alternator has died, the battery has not been getting a return on its output and has not been charging. When the car is running, the charging system (alternator, voltage regulator) should recharge the battery and provide sufficient electrical power to the vehicle. The battery then serves merely as a backup. If the vehicle requires more electrical current than the charging system can provide, the battery picks up the slack. This can happen in extremely cold weather, particularly if you’re stuck in traffic and it’s snowing or raining. You’re constantly starting and stopping, brake lights are constantly on, headlights on, heater, defogger (which usually is accomplished through the air conditioning), interior dash lights, devices like smart phones being charged, radio on, possibly integrated wireless, phone, Bluetooth, onboard computer, entertainment, internet/satellite/cell service connections. It all takes electrical power. The alternator has a pretty tough, thankless job. The battery just sits there!

If the starter can crank the engine without a problem, then the battery and alternator are probably fine.

So, the engine cranks fine, but won’t turn over and go.

When you turn the key in the ignition and the engine cranks normally, but won’t catch or fire and start running, this means the battery and alternator are working as they should, and the problem lies elsewhere. If you keep cranking the engine, the battery will eventually run down and need to be recharged. So, what else could be wrong? Determining where or what might require a trip to a mechanic, but here are some things to be aware of.

Image - mechanic fixing fuel pumpThe fuel pump has conked out.

Here’s another component with a dirty, thankless job. The fuel pump sits in the gaseous darkness of the gas tank, pumping fuel the length of the car to the engine. A malfunctioning fuel pump can give different signs of imminent failure: faint whining, chugging or sputtering at high speeds, chugging or lack of power during acceleration, noticeable loss of power and performance, unexpected surging, and of course, an engine that won’t start.

Out of gas?

If the fuel pump is operating properly, then maybe you’re just out of gas. Check the needle on the dash. In some older cars you might have to turn on the ignition for the needle to register, but you shouldn’t have to start the entire engine. Of course, if the battery is dead, then checking the needle is not an option.

Cold weather and ethanol can cause problems.

Sometimes in cold weather, ethanol that is mixed in the gasoline can cause water vapor condensation in the fuel tank or fuel line. In cold weather, this water can freeze and cause blockages in the fuel line. Keep your gas tank at least half full during the winter to avoid this problem.

Your car might just need a tune-up.

It’s easy to forget about more simple, smaller parts and processes that happen in the engine. Spark plugs are a good example of things that often go overlooked. A thorough engine tune-up will address any basic operational issues, including spark plugs, timing, air/fuel mixture, and other things that can affect your car’s ability to start and run reliably.

image of happy female driver leaning out window showing thumbs up.AAMCO Minnesota Can Help Get Your Car Started

If your car won’t start and you want help figuring out what’s wrong and having it fixed right, it’s time to call a mechanic and have it inspected and repaired. If you start noticing any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, or suspect that there could be some issues with your engine or other systems that are causing your car to not start, stall, or perform poorly, schedule an appointment with a professional mechanic to diagnose the problem and recommend next steps for repair. It might be that it’s just time for a good tune-up – and at your local AAMCO Minnesota auto and transmission repair center, it won’t cost a lot. We diagnose the problem, tell you what needs to be done, and fix it right. We get you back on the road quickly and safely.

Find Your Local Minnesota AAMCO Auto Repair & Transmission Center

If you have any questions, feel free to call and talk with one of our courteous technicians. Or, book an appointment online to reserve your time, date, and location.

 

 
AAMCO West St. Paul

1571 S Robert St | St Paul, MN, 55118

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AAMCO Transmissions West St. Paul is your Twin Cities one-stop shop for transmission repairs, rebuilds, and car maintenance. Our certified technicians can handle any transmission repair or rebuild, as well as auto repair and maintenance service for your vehicle. You can rely on our mechanics for automatic and manual transmission problems and rebuilds, clutch service and replacement, and more. We use modern computer diagnostics to identify transmission and engine issues so we can repair your car quickly and get you back on the road. We work on all makes and models, including 4x4s.

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AAMCO Minneapolis

5231 West Broadway | Minneapolis, MN, 55429

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Transmission repair and rebuilds are our specialty. From transmissions to brakes, radiators, air conditioning repair, tune ups, check engine light diagnosis and car maintenance, people who know call AAMCO Minneapolis Transmission Repair and Auto Services. Our expert technicians use the latest tools and technology to diagnose and repair your vehicle. From automatic and manual transmission repairs, clutch service and replacement, and more, we know all vehicle makes and models. We back our work with the best nationwide warranty. AAMCO of Minneapolis, MN is your one-stop transmission rebuild and total car care center.

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AAMCO Maplewood

1905 County Rd D E | Maplewood, MN, 55109

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People come to AAMCO of Maplewood, MN because we care about making sure you car is running safely and reliably. You can count on us for all your automotive repairs and maintenance. From transmission repairs and rebuilds to brakes, radiators, air conditioning, check engine light and tune ups. AAMCO Maplewood transmission and auto repair technicians use the latest technology to diagnose and repair your vehicle right the first time - and we back it with the best nationwide warranty. At your local Minnesota AAMCO of Maplewood we know all vehicle makes and models - we're your one-stop total car care specialists.

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AAMCO Fridley

940 Osborne Rd NE | Minneapolis, MN, 55432

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At AAMCO Fridley we believe in performing honest and affordable transmission and auto repair services. We do the job right and get you back on the road safely and reliably. From transmission repair and rebuild to brake service, air conditioning repair, tune ups, check engine light and car maintenance, AAMCO Fridley, MN is your one-stop auto mechanic. Trust AAMCO’s expert auto technicians to use the latest tools and technology to diagnose and repair your vehicle, and back it with the best nationwide warranty. At AAMCO of Fridley, Minnesota we know all vehicle makes and models and have the latest in diagnostic tools and technology. We are your total car care specialists.

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AAMCO Hopkins

10921 Excelsior Blvd #117 | 10921 Excelsior Blvd #117, MN, 55343

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At AAMCO Hopkins, MN we believe in the value of good, honest work and giving you and your family the peace of mind a safe, reliable car provides on a daily basis. From transmission repair and rebuild to brake service, air conditioning repair, auto tune ups, check engine light and car maintenance, AAMCO of Hopkins is your one-stop shop for car repairs and maintenance. Trust the transmission experts at AAMCO of Hopkins transmission repair to diagnose and repair your vehicle right the first time and back it with the best nationwide warranty. At AAMCO Hopkins transmission and car repair we know all vehicle makes and models and have the latest in diagnostic tools and technology. We are your total car care and repair specialists.

Convenient payment plans available.

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Mission Statement

Our mission is to provide the best auto repair and maintenance in Minnesota. With 6 convenient locations and nearly 50 years in business, you can count on your locally-owned Minnesota AAMCO Center to provide expert transmission repair, brake service, tune-ups, oil and filter changes, electrical system repair, fluid service, and much more for your car, truck, or SUV.

Our comprehensive 36-step ProtectCheck® Inspection, expert technicians, and no-nonsense pay-only-for-what-you-need approach makes us the most trusted name in car care. Come see why people who know go to AAMCO.

If you would like to schedule an appointment, please visit here

 

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