What To Do If Your Car Won’t Start

Woman on cell phone in front of broken down carOver the years, cars have become much more reliable. But with so many moving parts, even the most well maintained vehicles can still be temperamental. If your car won’t start, it’s important to note what’s happening when you turn the key. While a dead battery is a likely culprit of a car that won’t start, the sound the engine makes can give you more information about the cause of the problem. Assuming you’re not a mechanic, let’s take a look at the most common situations and how to deal with them.

You Turn the Key to Start the Car, But Nothing Happens.

Listen to your car. Even though it has betrayed you by not starting, it’s still considerate enough to give you hints as to why. If you turn the key and the engine doesn’t crank at all, things may not be all that bad (believe it or not).

If your car won’t start, the problem most likely lies with the battery, especially in cold weather. When your car responds with silence or clicking:

  • Turn on the car lights. If they’re dim, you may have poor battery connections or a dead battery. Did you leave your headlights on last night or keep an interior light on? It happens to the best of us.
  • Tighten and clean the battery connections and try again. They could just be corroded or loose.
  • Jump start the car.
  • If this works, immediately have the battery tested, especially if it’s old. An auto parts store will often test your battery for free and can replace it if you need a new one.
  • Things could still be worse — such as a bad starter or alternator. At this point, you’ll need a tow truck.

Car Cranks But Won’t Start. Now What?

If the starter turns, but the engine won’t start, the problem can be much harder to diagnose. One common problem is a frozen fuel line. In the winter, be sure to always keep your fuel tank half full. If water accumulates in your fuel line, the condensation will freeze and your car won’t start. If you’ve been driving in wet conditions or deep snow, wet spark plugs or other engine components can prevent your car from starting.

At this point, you’ll probably want to leave it in the hands of your trusty mechanic. If you have GEICO’s 24-hour Emergency Roadside Service, you can call for a tow anytime. It’s also easy to access GEICO’s emergency services through our award-winning mobile app, which includes additional features like where to find the nearest auto mechanic and fill-up on gas.

Preventative maintenance and preparedness can be the difference between a car that starts versus one that becomes the world’s biggest paperweight.

By Nathan Erb

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  1. Walter Kowalski says

    Thank you for this information. I tried to start my car this morning, and it cranked, but it didn’t start. I’m not very good with cars, so I thought I should do some research to see if I could figure out what the problem was. Your information was very helpful. I’ll be sure to take your advice and have my car taken to an auto service.

  2. Irena Ryans says

    Thanks for the information. My car has a problem with not starting. I’ve noticed that it especially happens when it’s cold outside, or even when it’s too hot outside. I’m going to follow your tip about taking it in to have it looked at. Is there anything I should tell the people at the shop?

  3. Chase Wilson says

    Great tips! My battery died in the middle of a snowstorm last winter. Extremely thankful that roadside assistance exists by they way. I think it’s because I left my lights on. It’s a german car so you’d think it would be engineered to handle a little bit of foul weather! Are all car batteries the same, or do they vary in size and power?

  4. Paige Smith says

    These are all really good ideas. Something else that would be really good to think of, is to get a tow truck ride to the mechanic. However, resolving the problem on your own is probably best.

  5. Jamarcus Dantley says

    I’ve been placed in this situation before a few times. It can be stressful when your car doesn’t start when it should. Sometimes towing is the only way to go. You’re right, being prepared is very important!

  6. Kent Nelson says

    This is a very helpful article. Thank you for sharing. I wish that my wife would have seen this article a few weeks ago. She was leaving work one day, and her car wouldn’t start. She panicked, and called me on the phone crying. I was out of town for work, and she thought that she was going to be stranded in the dark. I called a towing company, and got them to take her and the car home.

  7. Delores Lyon says

    Thanks for sharing this advice on what to do when your car doesn’t start. I think if this happened to me, I would turn to roadside assistance especially if it was a problem where the car cranks but doesn’t start. Like you said, when it is not a problem with the battery, then you should leave it in the hands of a professional.

  8. Julie Myers says

    Having to deal with a broken down car is really stressful. Just last week, my good friend was at the store, but her car wouldn’t start. She tried a few different things, but nothing seemed to be helping. She wasn’t sure what to do, so she was at the store for a while. It probably would have been a good idea for her to get the car jump started and try some of those things. She also should have gotten it towed instead of waiting for it to get started. If I ever have trouble with my own car, I will keep these things in mind!

  9. Susan Hirst says

    My car is over seventeen years old and it has been giving me trouble. There are times where it just won’t start. Usually, the battery is the culprit. These towing tips were very helpful. I’ll be sure to remember them if my car won’t start for me.

  10. paige smith says

    These are some great tips to help me if my car does not start. I think the most important part is being able to jump start the car. If I can get a boost then I can drive it to a mechanic shop and have them fix it.

  11. Zach Thalman says

    Over the past year the biggest reason why my car wouldn’t start was because the battery was dead. That is always the worst when you were just able to drive it around and now you are stranded from a dead battery. I like the idea of looking to see if the lights come on. that can indicate to you if there is a battery issue. I want to say the majority of the time it is a battery issue.

  12. Ted Smith says

    Thank you so much for the tips on what to do if my car won’t start. I didn’t know that if you turn your car lights on and they are dim, then you might have a poor battery connection. I will keep that in mind the next time my car won’t start. Thank you so much again!

  13. Deanna R. Jones says

    Thanks for the tips! My car has been having trouble starting once winter started, so it’s good to know about what I should do to help fix the problem. I really liked your tips about what I should do when my car responds with silence or clicking. I’ll be sure to try to tighten and clean the battery connections the next time my car won’t stop, then have it checked out by a mechanic as soon as I can get my car to one.

  14. Esther Oakley says

    In a lot of these situations it would really help to have towing services on your insurance. I love having the peace of mind that wherever I am my car will be protected. To add to that peace of mind I also carry a battery charger in my car, that way if I don’t have cellular service I have a higher chance of getting my car to safety.

  15. Mia Boyd says

    Thanks for the information. I have a pretty old car and it tends to break down pretty regularly. I’m going to keep these tips in mind, especially the one about turning on the car lights; that seems like such an obvious way to stay safe. Do you have any other ideas for me? What about calling a towing company?