It's a situation that most of us would recognize: you turn the key or push the starter, and the engine turns over or cranks, but the vehicle just doesn't want to start. The starter engine is working fine — that's the chirping sound you hear at the beginning — and usually, the engine then starts running by itself once the fuel is sparked. If you don't hear that sound, there's a problem with the starter engine, which is most often a flat battery. If you're cranking but not starting, there could be a number of possible reasons why.

There are four components that the car needs to start successfully: a spark, air, fuel, and compression. If there isn't a spark, it could be because of a mechanical fault in the engine. Overall, the best option is to bring your vehicle to a mechanic, and the folks down at Apple Honda of York, Pennsylvania, can certainly help in that regard. But before you get in touch, it's always a good idea to work through the possible causes of the car's failure to start. If you're lucky, it might be something simple that you can address fairly easily.


Picture of a check engine light on the dashboard in York, PA

Before you get your gloves on and open up the hood, it's best to work through an initial set of troubleshooting options. The first thing to do is to identify the possible causes for the car not starting by looking at what information you have available. Perhaps the first thing to check is that there’s fuel in the tank. It’s a check that can be easily ignored because it seems obvious, but it's best to be sure.

The second troubleshooting approach is to check the various error codes and sensors on the dashboard. Looking for the check engine light is an obvious step, although that doesn't usually tell you exactly what’s wrong. All the bells and whistles you have on the dashboard might not always offer the solution because they may not recognize the malfunction, or they may malfunction themselves. But it's still a good approach to take.

The third approach is to rule out the battery. What happens sometimes is that the engine cranks slowly but still fails to start. This is usually a problem with the battery. It could be due to a corroded battery terminal or problems with the starting system wires. If you haven't changed the battery for a few years, it should certainly be high on your list of suspects.

Another thing you can do is examine the car's security system. It's becoming increasingly common for cars to come with an engine immobilizer as a way of preventing theft. The system might have an error or could have been affected by the fuel ignition system, so it's worth checking. Consult the car's manual or look on the brand website for possible causes and double-check that isn't the case.

Finally, if you have an automatic, make sure the gearstick is in the “P” position. It seems obvious, but you can turn the car off without it being in position, but you won't be able to turn it on again.

Mechanical Failures

Honda engine being worked on at Apple Honda of York, PA

Low compression can stop your car from starting successfully. If the seals and gaskets in the engine are leaking, the car won't start. You might need to check the seals, the compression, and the gaskets, then replace key components for the car to start successfully.

Clogged fuel injectors are another possibility. The fuel injector nozzles distribute fuel to the right part of the engine, but over time they can become clogged and may not start the car properly. If gasoline has been improperly stored or contains particles of debris, it can affect the fuel injectors and their ability to run smoothly. The good news is that gasoline is usually clean and properly stored, so that isn't likely to be a problem, but over time problems can still develop.

A bad fuel pump may also be the result of poor fuel injections. The fuel pump is…. If it isn't working properly, there won’t be enough fuel getting to the engine, and the engine won't be able to run. It may not be a common problem, but the main solution, in that case, would be to have the fuel pump replaced.

An engine with good compression, fuel pumps, and injectors may still not start if the spark plugs aren’t working. Spark plugs ignite the mixture of fuel and air in the cylinders, and it’s the ensuing explosion that gives the car power. Spark plugs can last for at least 100,000 miles without anything going wrong, but sometimes oil leakage or other sources of malfunction can cause problems, and this can result in the fuel simply not firing up.

The timing of the explosion that gives the car the power it needs can take place at different times. If the spark plugs are firing correctly but the crankshaft is in the wrong position, the vehicle still may not start. It could be because the crankshaft sensor is malfunctioning or incorrectly calibrated, which would mean that the engine fires sparks at the wrong moment, and the car won't start.

So, What Should You Do if Your Car Won't Start?

Apple Honda mechanic working on a Honda Civic in York, PA

If your car doesn’t start, your response should be to work through the possibilities outlined in the first part of this article and then consider possible engine failures. Even if you can diagnose engine problems, such as low pressure, it's unlikely you’ll have the resources to fix them on the spot. However, it may help if you can give an expert an idea of what's wrong.

The best thing to do is to get a mechanic involved as quickly as possible. Even if you have a good idea of the cause, an expert diagnosis is more reliable. Better still, try and head off problems before they develop by booking a service at Apple Honda of York, Pennsylvania.

Image by Sigmund is licensed with Unsplash License
2014 Honda City - First Drive by The NRMA is licensed with CC BY-ND 2.0
Image by Christian Buehner is licensed with Unsplash license
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