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Car Starting Problems

  • Author :
  • TATA AIG Team
  • Published on :
  • 06/12/2023

Every car owner has experienced this at some point in their lives. They hop into their car, turn the key and then nothing. For reasons beyond them, their car is not taking self, i.e., it refuses to start. This can be frustrating, especially if you have plans or an urgent appointment to attend.

Your car self not working could be attributed to several reasons, ranging from a dead battery, a blown fuse, clogged fuel filters or even an empty fuel tank.

Luckily, you can resolve this issue through some simple troubleshooting if there are no major issues with your car. Read on to learn how with Tata AIG!

Diagnosing Car Self-Start Problems

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Problem Potential Reason 
No noise when starting the car Could be a problem with the car battery’s connection
Rapid clicking noise when starting the ignitionCould be a problem with the car’s electrical system: Weak/low battery Alternator problem
Single click when the ignition starts Could be a problem with the starter, starter relay or an electrical circuit issue, like a bad earth connection.
The engine cranks, but the car will not startFlooded engine. Blocked fuel filter. Faulty fuel pump. Empty fuel tank.
The engine starts but cuts outFuel Line Problem: Fuel injection or carburettor. Flooded engine (if you also notice a strong fuel/petrol smell) Immobiliser problem

Top Reasons for Your Car not Starting

There could be several reasons you could be having car self-start problems. It may not always be due to a major issue or breakdown. In most cases, it is a minor glitch, like a defective ignition switch or a dead battery, that is causing this problem.

Generally, these car starter problems can be narrowed down to issues with the battery, fuel lines, or the electrical/self-start system. Given below are some of the most common reasons for a car not starting**-

A Bad or Dead Battery

While most cars run on gasoline, they still need electrical power to start up. In other words, the starter that cranks your car engine requires electricity to function.

Signs of a Bad/Dead Battery- If you do not hear a cranking sound when you turn your keys or none of the electrical components like the dashboard light, headlights, or horn work, the battery may be dead.

When is it not the Battery?- If the electrical components like headlights, horn, interior lights, etc., work, your battery is not the reason for your vehicle not starting.

Bad Alternator

The alternator is responsible for recharging your car’s battery. It converts mechanical energy into electrical energy. A bad battery and an alternator can go hand in hand.

Signs of a Bad Alternator- Dim or overly bright interior lights when stopping and accelerating, growling noises when starting the car, or the smell of burning rubber or hotwire (overheating alternator).

When is it not the Alternator?- If your car’s electrical components work well with no issues and there are no growling noises when starting the engine, it may not be your alternator causing the problem.

Bad Battery Terminal/Spark Plugs

If your car self is not working, it could be due to old spark plugs or a bad connection with the battery terminals. This can be caused by an accumulation of dirt, rust or a sign of corrosion. We recommend changing your spark plugs every 100,000 miles of driving.

Signs of a Bad Connection- Presence of a white, chalky substance on the terminals indicates corrosion. Electrical components do not receive adequate power or do not work at all.

Bad spark plugs could lead to engine misfires, bad acceleration, reduced gas mileage and rough engine sounds when idling.

When is it not the Terminal?- There is no accumulation of corrosion, dirt or rust on the spark plugs and the terminal connections are all secured and clean as well.

Problem with Ignition Switch

The ignition carries power from the battery to the engine. It can be found by your steering wheel and is used to start the car engine. It is the place where you insert your car keys to start your car. A bad ignition switch can lead to car starter problems.

Signs of a Bad Ignition Switch- The starter motor will not receive any electrical power and you will not hear the engine crank when you turn on the ignition. Note that some lights and the horn may still work since they have separate wiring.

You may not hear any clicking or cranking noise when you start your car, flickering or dying dashboard lights, or difficulty turning your keys.

When is it not the Ignition Switch?- A clicking noise when starting your engine indicates that the ignition works. No stalling problems, intermittent loss of lighting or a silent starter motor.

Important**-

A bad/broken ignition switch must be replaced by a professional. A faulty installation can prevent your car’s airbags from deploying during collisions and road accidents.

Key Fob Not Working

If your car has a push-start button system and the vehicle is not starting, there may be a problem with the key fob. In most cases, the batteries need to be replaced, or the fob must be reprogrammed.

Signs of a Bad Key Fob- The car engine does not start when you press start. If the fob only works intermittently, the batteries may need to be replaced.

Sometimes, the internal components may be damaged due to shock or water exposure, or the transmitter/receiver may be damaged. If so, you must have it repaired by an automotive locksmith or main dealer.

When is it not the Key Fob?- If the other buttons like lock/unlock work, the key fob may not be the problem.

Jammed Steering Wheel

This is a safety feature that activates when you try to turn the steering wheel when the key is not inserted into the ignition. It is also an anti-theft measure.

Signs of a Locked Steering Wheel- When the steering wheel is locked into one place and can not be turned. This can also happen due to low power steering fluid or dirty steering fluid, which can make it difficult to steer the car at lower speeds.

When is it not the Steering Wheel?- If the car engine does not start even after you unlock the steering wheel.

Important**-

If your steering locks up while the car is still in motion, do what you can to bring the car safely to a stop and call a tow service. Do not panic; you should still be able to turn the wheel with a bit more effort. It will not be completely immobile in most cases.

Faulty Starter Motor

Your car’s starter motor is responsible for receiving the electrical power to crank the engine. If something is wrong with the starter motor, you may experience a car self-start problem, as your engine will not respond when you turn the key in the ignition.

Signs of a Bad Starter Motor- Nothing happens when you turn the key on the ignition or you hear unusual noises like clicking, grinding or whirring. It could also take you a couple of attempts to get your car started, which could be a start relay problem.

Smoke coming up from under the hood could be a sign that the starter is overheating.

When is it not the Starter Motor?- If there is no strange noise when cranking the car engine, your starter motor may not be the problem.

Blown Fuse in the Starter or Ignition Circuit

A blown fuse can cause a malfunction or fuel leak in the ignition circuit. You can recognise a blown fuse by the bare metal strip or black border around it.

Signs of a Blown Fuse- Back lights, radio, turn signals and other electrical components not working properly or at all. The best way to know for sure is to open the fuse box and check for any blown fuses.

When is it not a Blown Fuse?- You can try removing the fuse, replacing it, starting the car and listening to the engine sound.

If the problem persists, it could be a problem with the ignition relay or other electrical/mechanical car components causing the fuse to overheat.

Important**-

Do not try to replace a blown ignition fuse with a different ampere voltage, as this could cause further damage to a crucial component. Always replace fuses with an identical fuse with the same current rating/voltage.

If you are not sure how to fix a blown fuse, the best solution is to take your car to a qualified mechanic. They should be able to check which fuse is causing the problem and replace it for you.

A Bad Fuel Line

Your car’s fuel system consists of a fuel pump, fuel filter and fuel injection system. A good fuel line ensures consistent fuel supply to different parts of your car. Problems with the fuel line can cause car starter problems.

Signs of a Bad Fuel Line- Poor fuel delivery depletes engine power, resulting in poor acceleration, petrol/diesel smell and visible fuel leaks. You may also smell fuel inside your car if you run it on “vent” or “norm” mode.

Moreover, any drops or puddles of gas under your vehicle should be a good indicator and cause for concern.

Check for visible cracks, leaks and damp areas with a build-up of gunk along any fuel tubes/hoses. If so, it is likely a bad fuel line, which must be replaced.

When is it not the Fuel Line- If there is no hard starting, visible fuel leaks, rough idling or engine misfires, the fuel lines may not be the problem.

Clogged Fuel Filter

The fuel filter can be found between the fuel tank and the engine. It removes impurities, like dirt, rust, and debris, from the fuel before it reaches your car’s engine. A build-up of debris can prevent fuel from reaching your car engine and you may find the vehicle not starting.

Signs of a Clogged Fuel Filter- Stalling or sputtering or delays in engine starting could indicate the fuel filter is clogged. A disrupted fuel flow can also cause engine misfire, leading to rough idling or hesitation.

When is it not the Fuel Filter?- If the fuel filter is clean when checking, then it may be a different issue. You should also be able to faintly smell fuel when starting your car.

Important**-

Your car fuel filter should be replaced every 30,000 miles, so if your car has a car self-start problem, it is worth checking and replacing.

Transmission Glitch

This can arise in automatic cars when your car is in the wrong gear position on starting. Some common causes for this are low transmission fluid due to leakage, the shifter or shifter cable, or maybe even a problem with the valve body.

Signs of a Transmission Glitch- The engine will not start if the stick shift is in Drive mode. It also may not start if the shift is in Park mode rather than Neutral – could be a problem with the neutral safety switch.

When is this not a Transmission Glitch?- Ensure the gear shift is in Park or Neutral before starting your car. If the engine cranks, then it may be a different problem.

Empty Fuel Tank

Sometimes, you just forget to refuel your car. This could lead to your car self not working. We advise not letting your fuel tank run too low as it can damage the fuel injectors and other engine components.

Signs of an Empty Fuel Tank- The fuel gauge reads red, or the indicator is closer to empty rather than full and is past the halfway mark.

When is it not an Empty Fuel Tank?- The fuel gauge may sometimes give faulty readings and it is better to open up the fuel filler cap and check.

How to Fix Common Car Starter Problems?

Look Under the Hood- The best way to diagnose any car starter problem is to open up the hood and directly check if everything is in working order.

Faulty cables, rust, build-up of dirt/debris, corrosion, or blown fuses must all be directly checked. The battery cables should not move freely when wiggled.

Switch to Better Fuel Options- Low-quality, contaminated, or certain fuel additives can accelerate fuel filter clogging. Use fuels from reputable sources to avoid this and replace the filter every 20,000 - 40,000 miles.

Jump Start With the Help of Another Car- You can find the exact steps in your car owner’s manual and this process is usually done using jumper cables. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to jump-start your car**-

**Jumper cables are colour-coded – red for positive and black for negative.

Connect one end of the positive clamp to the positive terminal of the dead battery and the other end to the positive terminal of the live battery. Do the same with the negative cable – both ends to the negative terminals.

Have someone start the working car and let it run for a few minutes. Attempt to start your car after a few minutes with the cables still connected.

Once your car starts, keep it running and carefully disconnect the cables. Remove the negative clamp from the live vehicle first and then from your car; do the same with the positive cable. Remember, live car first and then your car.

Do not turn off your car until you reach your desired destination. This is only a temporary solution. We recommend taking your car to a qualified mechanic/technician.

Tap the Starter Motor- Clicking noise when starting your car is indicative of a bad starter motor. It will look like a large metal cylinder with a smaller cylinder stacked on top.

You can try gently tapping/rapping it with a hammer. Do not do this too forcefully, as it can damage its internal components.

This can be a temporary fix until you can make the drive back home or to a garage/service centre nearby.

Be careful, as exhaust parts can be extremely hot and electric terminals on the starter may be directly attached to the battery, which will short/spark.

Key Cycling Technique- If there is a cycling noise when starting your car, it could be due to a weak/dead battery.

Heating the battery by turning the key to the engine start position repeatedly – 10 times, waiting 5 minutes and then starting your engine may solve the problem.

Swap the Relays (Fuel Pump Issue)- If your engine cranks but the vehicle is not starting, it may be the fuel pump relay, which will need to be replaced.

Locate the fuel pump relay using your car owner’s manual and replace it with another relay with the same part number.

Replace the Blown Fuse- Your car will have two fuse boxes**- One near the engine, under the hood and another located near the driver seat.

The first protects the engine control unit (ECU), ABS motor, the cooling fan and the battery. The one near the dashboard protects interior components like power windows, interior lights, etc.

The engine fuse box is likely the one causing your car starter problem. Open the fuse box and replace the blown fuse with a new one of the same voltage/current rating.

Manufacturers offer fuse diagrams that you can refer to when doing this. Your car’s fuse box may also have spare fuses that you can use. Ensure the ampere limits printed on the fuses match when doing replacements.

Unflood the Engine- If you smell petrol or diesel when starting your car or if you hear a high-pitched cranking/whirring sound, a flooded engine is most likely.

You can unflood the engine by cranking the engine – for around 10 seconds until you hear your engine start.

Fully press down on the accelerator pedal and hold it while you crank the engine.

It should start up after 10 seconds. If not, there may be another issue.

If All Else Fails, Call Tata AIG’s Car Roadside Assistance

If you have tried everything stated above and your car still does not start, it may be time to inform your insurance provider and have your car taken to the nearest network garage or service centre to get it checked out.

This service can be made readily available to you if your car is insured under a four-wheeler insurance policy from Tata AIG. Our comprehensive car insurance plans also offer a roadside assistance add-on that provides towing services, onsite repairs and fuel delivery services.

Moreover, our online services ensure quick and hassle-free car insurance claims for major repair services so you get reimbursed on time. Feel free to browse our website and find your perfect car insurance policy at Tata AIG!

Also Read: Roadside Assistance Cover In Car Insurance

Conclusion

Your car may not be starting for any number of reasons. You will have to do a thorough analysis and rule out the more common reasons for your car not starting if you want to ensure that it is not a serious issue.

By checking the components listed in this blog and trying the common fixes stated here, you should be able to get your car up and working again, at least until you reach the nearest service centre or garage, to ascertain what the real issue is.

As always, if you are not sure how to do any of these repairs, it is best to call a towing service and seek help from an expert, as faulty repairs can result in more damage.

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