Reasons a car won’t start

12 minute read Published on May 3, 2024 by BrokerLink Communications

Woman calling autoservice on the phone with an open-hood car behind her

There are a number of reasons that your car may have trouble starting. Thankfully, understanding the possible culprits can help you identify the problem and even fix it. Continue reading for a list of the most common reasons that cars won’t start, from a dead battery to an empty gas tank.

The most common reasons that a car won’t start

If you get into your car in the morning and find that it won’t turn on, there could be a few reasons for this. Knowing what to do in this type of worst-case scenario can help you avoid an engine replacement. That said, depending on the cause of the engine problem, there is a chance that your car insurance policy might cover it, which we will get to later:

1. Dead battery

Perhaps the most common reason a car won’t start is a dead battery. Many people assume that their car battery will last forever, but this isn’t the truth. Both regular car batteries and electric car batteries are prone to wear and tear, and if your battery stops working, then your engine won’t turn on. The good news about a dead battery being the problem is that you don’t necessarily need to take your car to a mechanic to get it working again. If you know how to jumpstart a car battery, you might be able to do this in the interim while you come up with a long-term solution for your car, such as replacing the battery.

2. Bad alternator

A bad alternator is a second possible reason that your car isn’t starting. An alternator is the car part responsible for recharging the battery and keeping the vehicle’s electrical systems running once the car has been started. Thus, if you are dealing with a bad alternator, your car could have trouble turning on. A problem with the alternator could also mean a battery issue, so be sure to check on both the alternator and battery if you think one or both could be to blame.

3. Starter motor

Another possible problem that could prevent your car from starting relates to the starter motor. An issue with your car’s starter motor could also stop the ignition from functioning. The starter motor is the car part that receives the electrical signal to turn on the engine, so if something is wrong, it’s possible that nothing will happen when you try to start your car.

The most common sign that a bad starter motor is a culprit is if the lights turn on when you start the ignition, but the engine does not. Generally speaking, any signs of electrical failure could mean a problem with the starter motor. In extreme cases, a bad starter motor could even overheat and produce smoke; this is usually the result of repeatedly trying to use a failed starter motor.

4. Bad ignition switch

Next, a bad ignition switch could be to blame if your car won’t start. The ignition switch is another part of the process that is involved in turning on your car. Its role occurs between the battery and the starter motor, as it distributes power from the battery to the engine. If you have a bad ignition switch, you likely won’t be able to hear the starter motor working to turn on the engine. Similar to a bad starter motor, you might also notice evidence of electrical issues since the ignition switch is what activates your vehicle’s main electrical systems. A prime example of an electrical issue is flickering dashboard lights.

5. Spark plugs

If your car is having trouble starting, spark plugs could be the problem. If your spark plugs are old or dirty, they can become defective. In turn, this can impact fuel economy, make it more difficult to accelerate, and even cause engine issues. If your car engine becomes damaged, it can cause misfires and lead to you being unable to start your car.

6. Broken distributor cap

Another reason that your car may not start is due to a broken distributor cap. The distributor cap is the part responsible for distributing power from the engine’s ignition coil to the spark plugs. So, although you might think that bad spark plugs are the problem, it could actually be an issue with the distributor cap. These caps are prone to breaking or malfunctioning, and if this occurs, your engine may misfire. It can also lead to strange noises coming from your car, cause the check engine light to turn on, and prevent your car from starting altogether. If you suspect that the distributor cap is to blame, locate it in your car if you’re able and replace it. You should also do your best to make sure that moisture doesn’t build up beneath the distributor cap.

7. Bad timing belt

Since the timing belt is another car part that is vital to a properly functioning engine, a problem with it can stop the engine from starting. The timing belt rotates the engine’s camshaft and crankshaft at the same time, which leads to the cylinders firing when they need to. Thus, if something is wrong with your timing belt, it can cause the engine not to turn on. Indicators that a bad timing belt is to blame include ticking noises coming from the engine or weird changes in your engine’s revving. As with a transmission or car radiator, the timing belt is something that you may need to replace from time to time. So if you notice any issues, be sure to contact a mechanic.

8. Jammed steering lock

A jammed steering lock is yet another reason that your car may not be functioning as it should be. When a steering lock jams, you usually won’t even have the ability to turn your key in the ignition. A steering lock activates when someone attempts to turn the wheel while the key is not inserted into the ignition. It does this as an anti-theft measure. If you think you’ve got a jammed steering lock on your hands, attempt to wiggle the key left and then right, and gently turn the key in whichever direction allows minimal movement. You may have to try to move the steering wheel and the key in the ignition at the same time to allow the vehicle to start. Once the lock is unjammed, you should have no problems turning on your ignition.

9. Clogged fuel filter

Next up is a clogged fuel filter. If gas is unable to reach your engine, it might have trouble turning on, and one of the main reasons for this is if your fuel filter is clogged or blocked. If a clogged fuel filter is the issue, you will likely notice other fuel-related problems. For example, your usually fuel-efficient car might be suffering from worse gas mileage lately. You might also hear your engine sputtering, and of course, there’s also the possibility that it won’t start at all. Auto experts typically recommend that drivers replace their fuel filters every 30,000 miles, so if yours hasn’t been replaced in quite some time, consider taking it to a mechanic in the near future.

10. Empty gas tank

An empty gas tank could be the reason that your car isn’t starting. No one purposely runs out of gas, but failing to notice when the gas meter is at zero happens to the best of us. The good news is that an empty fuel tank isn’t a serious issue and can easily and inexpensively be rectified. If your tank is empty, do what you can to find a can of gas and pour some into your car. A couple of gallons worth of gas should be plenty to get you to the nearest gas station.

11. Your car isn’t in park or neutral

Another easily fixable reason that your car won’t start is if you’re trying to turn it on, but the car is in drive or reverse. Many modern vehicles have safety precautions that prevent drivers from turning on their ignitions when the car is in any gear other than park or neutral. So, if your car doesn’t start, take a look at the transmission. If your car is in gear, switch gears to move it into park. Further, if you’re able to turn on your ignition while your car is in gear, this is a serious problem, and you should take your car to a mechanic as soon as possible.

12. Dead key fob battery

It’s possible that a dead key fob battery could be to blame for an engine not starting. That said, this is usually only an issue with newer models of cars that use key fobs to turn on the ignition. Therefore, if your car uses a key fob to start before you worry about having to replace your engine, consider the possibility that the fob battery is simply dead. In some models, if your battery is dead, you can push the button with your key fob and start your vehicle as normal. However, if not, you may have to locate a screwdriver so that you can open the battery coverage, find out what type of battery you need, and replace it. Then try to turn on your ignition, and you might just be in luck.

13. Malfunctioning immobilizer

A malfunctioning immobilizer is another reason that your car may not be starting, and it also relates to key fobs. If your key fob battery is low or dead, then your vehicle might not recognize it as you. In turn, your car may not allow you to turn it on or drive it if it thinks that you do not have the fob. This is another example of an anti-theft measure introduced into modern vehicle models. The good news is that if a low battery on your key fob is to blame, you should be able to tell via a blinking light on the fob or no light at all. If you notice this, simply open up the back of the fob with a screwdriver or coil and replace the battery.

14. Faulty fuse

A faulty fuse could also be to blame for a car not starting. A car’s electrical system runs through fuse boxes, and it’s possible for fuses to become faulty or for the wiring to become damaged. Thankfully, replacing them is relatively easy since car fuses are located under the hood of the car and the steering wheel of the car. If the situation is bad enough, the fuse box might be so damaged that it prevents your car from starting.

15. Failed fuel pump

If you want your car’s engine to start consistently, you have to take care of the fuel system. Though we already talked about the issues of a clogged fuel filter or an empty gas take, a failed fuel pump relay could also be a fuel-related problem. If you try to start your car but you don’t hear a noise from the fuel pump in the fuse box, this could be a sign that your fuel pump has failed. The purpose of a fuel pump is to draw fuel into the combustion chamber, which the engine requires to function. If you suspect that this is the issue, take your car to a mechanic or attempt to fix it yourself by replacing the fuel pump relay fuse or swapping it with a different relay fuse and trying to restart the engine.

16. Cable wiring

One final reason that your car may not be starting is due to a cable wiring problem. There is one main cable that distributes electricity to the body of the car. Within the body of the car, there are a number of ground wires. If the reason your vehicle won’t start is due to a cable wiring issue, you may notice a flickering dome light, sporadic sensor failure, or hard starting. It is important to note that a dead battery or a damaged throttle could be another sign of faulty cable wiring. You should be able to tell if there’s a ground cable issue by looking at the wires around the car’s engine.

The importance of regular car maintenance to avoid common problems

If you want to avoid common problems, such as your car not starting, regular vehicle maintenance is key. Car maintenance has plenty of benefits, from improved safety to better performance. Plus, car maintenance appointments are usually elaborate, featuring oil changes, tire rotations, power steering fluid checks, and more. Read on to learn more about the advantages of maintaining your car below:

Improved safety

If you want to improve your safety on the road, keeping up with routine vehicle maintenance is important. When you take your car in for tune-ups, you can prevent small problems from turning into big ones. The more serious the issue, the more likely it is to impact the safety and reliability of your car. For example, a small brake issue might not affect daily performance, but if left untreated, it could lead to major problems, like your car not braking as it should.

Better performance

In addition, you will get better performance out of your car by taking it to a mechanic every so often. This is because maintenance services include a full tune-up of your car, from the steering and brakes to the tires and engine. As a result, you can expect more stable steering, better handling, a more reliable engine, and increased tire traction.


Car maintenance is also more cost-effective because it prevents small issues from turning into big ones. Beyond the safety risks associated with big problems, there is usually also an increased cost. Major problems are often more expensive to fix than smaller ones. So if you want to keep the costs of car ownership down, be sure to schedule maintenance appointments no less than once per year.

Better fuel efficiency

Another way that auto maintenance is cost-effective is because it reduces your fuel costs. When you take your vehicle in for maintenance, the services that a mechanic will perform can improve its fuel efficiency. This translates to less money spent on gas.

Saves time and energy

Another perk of car maintenance is that it can save you time and energy. If you stay on top of your maintenance schedule, your car is far less likely to encounter problems. Plus, as we all know, not only do problems cost money, but they are also inconvenient. A major problem could mean that you are without your car for days or even weeks while it gets repaired. During this time, you would be forced to find your own way around or rely on public transportation. But with frequent maintenance appointments, you can significantly minimize the odds of something going wrong that would necessitate a multi-day or week trip to the auto body shop.

Maintain car value

Lastly, car maintenance can help keep your car’s value as high as possible. Maintaining vehicle value is crucial, especially if you plan to sell or trade-in your car in the future, which most drivers do. If you want to earn the most money for your car, be sure to take good care of it while it's in your possession, and that means scheduling regular type-ups or visits to your mechanic.

Car insurance and engine problems

If something goes wrong with your car, you might be wondering whether your insurance covers repairs. Ultimately, it depends on what caused the issue in the first place, as well as the type of auto insurance coverage you have. No car insurance plan will cover general wear and tear. However, if your car’s engine or other part was damaged in an accident, then the odds are much greater that your insurance will cover it. For example, if you got into an accident where another driver was deemed at fault, their third-party liability insurance would likely cover the cost of repairs.

Meanwhile, your uninsured automobile coverage would likely cover you if you got into an accident with an uninsured or anonymous driver. Direct compensation coverage can also pay for your vehicle to be repaired in certain scenarios. If you want to learn more about how car insurance works and what types will protect against property damage, like a damaged engine, reach out to BrokerLink today.

Contact BrokerLink

If you want to know more about the common reasons that a car won’t start or you have general questions about vehicles, such as when to change transmission fluid or what items to always keep in your car, don’t hesitate to contact BrokerLink today.

Get in touch with BrokerLink to request a free quote now. Free car insurance quotes are available to all customers and can be obtained over the phone, in person, or online using our online quote tool.

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