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Engine Cranks but Car Won’t Start [Troubleshooting]


We all get frustrated if our engine is not starting even though the starter is engaged. Certain things are required to take place for the engine to start properly and that includes sufficient fuel supply, good compression, and an appropriately timed spark!

So what could go wrong with your car? If you do manage to start your engine, but it dies immediately, it is highly likely that fuel is a problem. If the engine keeps on cranking and does not start at all, then you should be checking for an issue with your spark plugs.

Since we are dealing with an engine that actually cranks, it is unlikely that the problem is with a starter motor (unless your engine starts making weird noises).

** Very important! Do NOT keep on cranking the engine hoping that a miracle will happen and the engine will start. This will only drain your battery and wear out the starter motor.

Basic troubleshooting

  • Fuel problems. Do you have enough gas in a tank? The fuel gauge does not always give you an accurate reading, so you may have to check manually. Also the cleaner the fuel that you supply to your car the better. If you recently got a portion of bad fuel, it could cause this type of problem.
  • Bad battery or wires. Do you have any juice left in the battery? Are your battery terminals free of corrosion? Are the starting system wires in a good condition? Check for loose terminals as well.
  • Bad spark plugs or wires. If there is a problem with worn-out spark plugs and their wires, the engine will have trouble starting (more info below).
  • Fuel and fuel filter problems. Is the fuel actually getting to the cylinders? This could easily be a problem if your engine is not starting (more details below).
  • Low compression. Compression testers could help you figure this one out. They are easy to read (see the video below).
  • Blown fuse. It is a good idea to check for a blown fuse that could be preventing your circuit from working properly.
  • Malfunctioning computer sensor or actuator. Check the trouble codes to find out what could possibly go wrong. A failed sensor could disable your spark plugs, which could end up being a cause for the engine to malfunction. Codes could be checked with the OBD2 scan tool (paid link):

Security system. A security system can control certain aspects of your car getting started, like disabling the fuel or ignition system. You can troubleshoot this one with your alarm system provider.

  • Inertia switch. Was your car in a crash recently? There is a safety feature many cars have (check the owner’s manual if your is one of them) that will shut off the power to the fuel pump after it encounters an impact. It could be a small impact, like backing into another car in the parking lot.

More advanced troubleshooting

If nothing of the above helps you, let’s dig deeper!

#1. You may be low on battery

The first and most reasonable thing to consider is that if any of your car components are failing, it could easily be happening because of some kind of power failure. Let’s start with a battery.

Check your battery with a multimeter and if it reads anything below 12.4 volts, there is a chance that it may not start the engine. Now, start the engine, and if it falls below 10 volts, your battery is dead.

If you have corrosion on your battery or its cables, it could contribute to faster battery discharge and not being able to provide power when you need it the most. If you know that your battery is getting old, you may consider getting a new one.

#2. You might have a blown fuse

Blown fuses are very common in cars. Check each fuse and replace any damaged ones.

#3. Your starter motor is getting weak

If your starter motor will start failing on you, it will not be able to give your ignition system and the fuel injectors enough power to turn them on. In this case, you will hear strange sounds while cranking your engine.

If you did notice strange noises while cranking previously and did not take care of it, now is a good time to do so before your engine gets ruined.

#4. Your engine is not getting enough fuel

Now we need to check if your engine is getting a good fuel flow. If there is a problem with fuel pressure, your engine will not start.

When you put your ignition into the ON position, you should hear a buzzing sound coming from the fuel tank. If there is none, there is a chance that your fuel pump is dead (applies only to some models, please check the owner’s manual).

Here is how to check if there is a problem with a fuel pump (fuse, wiring, and pump pressure):

If you are not getting any gauge readings, that means your fuel pump went bad. If the pressure is lower than specified in the owner’s manual, then there could be a problem with:

  1. Fuel injector.
  2. Clogged fuel filter
  3. Bad fuel pressure regulator.

Here is how to check if you think you have a problem with a fuel injector:

If everything is fine with your fuel injector, a clogged fuel filter could reason behind the engine not starting:

Now, let’s check for a leaking fuel pressure regulator:

If the above problem applies to you, replace your fuel pressure regulator.

#5. Your spark plugs may be out of shape

No spark or weak spark can prevent your engine from starting. You can use a spark tester to see if your spark is reaching the cylinders. Here are some possible spark problems:

  • Lack of spark. 
  • Inappropriately timed spark.
  • Flooded sparks. 

** Warning! Don’t forget to switch your engine OFF and take your key out before touching the spark plugs.

For this test, you will need somebody to crank your engine while you will be watching the light. It is recommended to use the adjustable tester where you can set it to 40KV and test it like in the video below:

If the spark is missing, set your tester to 30KV and repeat. If nothing, repeat with 10KV. If the spark is detected at 10KV or no spark is detected, you have a problem with your ignition system.

If that’s the case, your problem could be anything from:

  • Ignition coil.
  • Ignition module.
  • Igniter.

#6. You may be having compression issues

The combustion process (fuel and oxygen combined) in the cylinder should have no air leaks in order to ignite properly. You can check compression pressure by using a compression gauge:

There are many places where combustion leaks could occur:

  1. Damaged timing belt or chain.
  2. Burned valve.
  3. Worn-out compression rings.
  4. Blown head gasket.
Feel free to save the infoPin below for your future Reference :

Hope this helps and solves your problem. If not, find a professional near you:

Attention! This article is for informational purposes ONLY and is NOT a replacement for professional advice! ALWAYS consult your local specialist for an appropriate solution to your problem. All statements, prices, contact information, recommendations, and reviews contained herein came from sources that we believe to be reliable, but the accuracy or completeness thereof is not guaranteed. Please contact the service provider for complete details and updates.

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