Car Won't Start: Battery Tips for Checking the Problem

February 17, 2012

If your car won't start, the usual culprits are battery problems, fuel and ignition problems, or a faulty starter. Learn how to make the right call.

Diagnosing Car Battery Problems

Starting problems can be common among older vehicles, but when your car won't start, battery trouble may be a possible cause. In order to diagnose and remedy the problem, it is vital to pay attention to any symptoms that may arise.

1. Symptoms of Battery Problems

When attempting to start a vehicle with a dead battery, a few key signs will be noticeable. Slow cranking is a telltale sign of a dead battery, as is any dimming of the lighting or display on the gauges and dashboard. An ailing battery will also tend to show significant dimming of the headlights during start up. If your battery is found to be the cause of the problem, jump starting the car will allow you to get home or to an auto parts store for a replacement, should the cause be an old battery that simply can no longer hold a charge. Should your dead battery be the result of simply forgetting your headlights or leaving the key in the ignition, a car battery charge is a good first step that should remedy the problem completely.

2. Fuel and Ignition Problems

It doesn't take much energy to illuminate the lights on your dashboard or your stereo, so unless your vehicle has not been started for several days or weeks, chances are, even with a dying battery you should see some manner of activity on your dash or stereo when the ignition has been turned to the "On" position. No activity at all may be a sign of a faulty ignition switch. Should you attempt to start your car and receive normal cranking despite the vehicle not starting, fuel or ignition may be the problem rather than the battery. Fuel and ignition problems are commonly accompanied by a check engine light, though this may not always be the case in older vehicles.

3. Signs of an Ailing Starter

The starter is a simple electric motor that helps to spin the engine and aid it in starting. Should the starter begin to malfunction, there are a few key symptoms that may accompany the condition. A clicking sound and no starting is one possible sign, as is nothing happening at all, especially if there is no headlight dimming or interruption with the electrical accessories of your vehicle during the attempted starts. Signs of a damaged starter gear or solenoid may include a metallic scraping or whirling sound during start, accompanied by a lack or difficulty in starting. Remedying the problem will generally require replacement of the starter, although double checking that all wiring connections are secure, especially the ground wire, is a simple step that can sometimes save you the cost of a repair bill.

The first step to repairing a vehicle that won't start is finding the root of the problem. The most common causes of a failure to start generally stem from either a dying battery, ailing starter or problems in the fuel and ignition system. By narrowing down the problem, you can greatly reduce repair fees and even possibly evade them completely, as would be the case with discharged battery or simple starter wiring issues.