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. Crystal says

    I have a 2015 Chevy sonic.. I’ve been given a boost 3 times, it’s revving but not catching.. its very cold out.. what could b the problem

  2. Aileen says

    My car been dine while I drive it starts back up but dies my rpm was below 1 so I turned my idle up this seemed to fix the problem. It started doing it again when I idle or slow down I stall if I rev the engine it wont it works better in cold now nothing it wont start at all I have lights an radio an it makes a click sound when I turn the key i don’t know what is wrong I did hear a winning sound a few days ago .

  3. Sheila says

    I’m having car trouble.the car won’t start. It From what I just read, it may be that I have a flooded engine a bad starter or bad alternator. Or just a simple battery problem.. I wish I knew an honest mechqnic who don’t tel lies for a living so they can get all of my little bit of money. I just want to drive.

  4. Brenda Chen says

    Hi Nathan,
    I had a dead battery for my car, maybe because I have left the light on all night, and it was in the snow overnight. Does Geico cover the service to jump start the car in the insurance? I don’t have a jumper cable in place now. Thank you!

  5. Sarah Cornelius says

    Thanks for these auto care articles. Here’s a problem with my car that I can’t solve.: occasionally after it has been running and I turn off the engine, I will be unable to start my car, no response to key being turned. I will call for help and when I try the key again, after at least 30 minutes, the car starts.

    This condition is unpredictable. The dealership made me new ignition keys, thinking that was the problem. It’s not; it happened again w/new keys.

    Do you have any suggestions?

    • Armand says

      I had a Chevrolet station wager one time,it dit the same thing,explained to the
      dealer the problem,they said bring it in we will check it out..So, I called the factory,explained to them in details the problem.They could not come up with a answer,but this is what they ssy.”trade it in”well I bough me a new car.”problem solved.

  6. Andries says

    My v6 ford sierra made a crackling noise when started .noise became louder wile driving and suddenly engine just stopped what can be the problem ?

  7. Jackie Oliver says

    I really like what you said about checking your lights to check your battery. It’s a really clever idea! I’ve been stuck with a broken down car a few times, and have had to call someone to come rescue me. With this, I could at least check it myself, and have an idea of what is going on. That way, I would know if I needed a tow truck, or just a little jump start.

  8. Juancarlos Estrada says

    My car doent want to turn on and when i try turning it on, the lights dim and it doesnt start just clicking noise so what does that mean?

  9. John Carston says

    I’m glad to have found these tips for what to do when my car won’t start. I’ve been stranded before and luckily I was able to get a towing service to help me but I’d like to be better prepared in the future. Thanks for your post.

  10. Braden Bills says

    I’ve had this big fear of having my car break down out in the middle of nowhere. It’s nice to know that I can rely on someone who can get me out of that situation if it comes about. It doesn’t hurt to try to prevent the situation from happening in the first place, though. It’s always good to check your car battery before going out on a big trip. Thanks for the information!

  11. John Carston says

    I’m glad I came across this article. I’ve had a few issues starting my car but so far I’ve been able to get it going after a few tries. After reading a few of these tips I think it could be my battery connections but I will try cleaning the wires first in case they are corroded before I find I may need to call a 24 hour towing service. Thanks for the information.

  12. Vince Burns says

    I think it is the worst when you find out that your battery doesn’t work or that your ignition is just not working the way it should. I know a lot of people that will panic at this time, but all you really need to do is visit a car service center and get it looked at. They usually can get you started and make sure you can get it fixed.

  13. John Blake says

    I have always wondered what I would do if my car wouldn’t start in the middle the night. I had no idea that there is 24 hour tow service. I will need to give you a call. Thank you for your help.