There's nothing more frustrating than a car that struggles to start. The last thing anybody wants to see, hear, or feel when they're on the way to work in the morning is a car that barely starts. If this is your first time dealing with this, or if you've been here before, you may be wondering “what are the reasons why a car struggles to start?” Unfortunately, the answer is not quite as cut-and-dry as it may appear because there are numerous reasons why a car may not start up after its first crank, or even a second crank. It could be as simple as something like your starter or as complicated as something like a vacuum leak but rest assured we will cover all these topics so you can diagnose your car that struggles to start up.
Here are the top reasons why a car struggles to start:
- Dead Battery or Loose Cables
- Clogged Fuel Filter
- Bad or Failing Starter
- Faulty Ignition Switch
- Thick or Dirty Oil
- Low Fuel Levels
By the time you read this article, you should have a good place to start in order to diagnose your car that's having a hard time firing up. Let’s jump right into it.
Dead Battery or Loose Cables
The electrical and charging system in a vehicle is one of the primary culprits for a vehicle that struggles to start. All automotive batteries have a finite life-span and it will not last forever, which some people tend to forget. The battery will last anywhere from two to four years, and the reason for that wide variance is a range of environmental conditions and usage conditions that a battery is put through. If you live in a particularly hot climate, your battery is sure to die sooner. If you live in an extremely cold climate, your battery will die sooner. It's a matter of time but when that time comes is really down to where you live and how hard you use your vehicle.
On top of your battery, you will see two terminals that have cables attached to them. If these cables become loose on the terminals or if an excess of buildup, dirt or corrosion is on these terminals; your vehicle will have a hard time starting. This is actually the first place you should look because it is the cheapest and easiest fix! While you're inspecting these cables you should also take a look at the cables themselves to make sure there are no cracks or pieces of the cable that are missing due to rodents or other creatures chewing on them. I know this sounds crazy but trust me I have seen many vehicles with battery cables that have been eaten away by rats.
In order to see if your battery is on the way out, you can take it down to an auto parts store and they can actually check your battery to make sure it's still working properly. If you'd like to do this yourself, you can check your battery's voltage with a multimeter. Your battery should be pulling 12.6 volts or higher when the battery is at rest and anywhere from 13.2 to 14.7 volts while the battery is an operation and the engine is running. If you aren't seeing these levels, your battery is on the way out and your car may have trouble starting. If you need some advice on how to check your battery with a multimeter, there are dozens and dozens of videos you can watch on YouTube to tell you exactly how to accomplish this. Here’s a great video that makes the process very clear.
Clogged Fuel Filter
Your vehicle’s fuel tank has a very simple filter that is designed to catch small debris and prevent it from entering into your vehicle's injection system and causing a massive problem. Most people don't know this, but debris like rocks and dirt regularly makes its way into the fuel tank of a vehicle. This is especially true if you live in extremely Dusty or windy areas where the simple act of filling up your car can introduce dust and debris into the fuel tank. If your fuel filter is clogged or is nearly clogged, your motor will not get the amount of fuel it needs to fire up and it may struggle to start.
Depending on the type of vehicle you have, replacing a fuel can be a challenging process That involves the need to bleed the fuel lines of pressure and physically get underneath the vehicle to replace the clogged filter. If you'd like to take on this task, here's a Wiki How article that can help you get it done.
Bad or Failing Starter
When you turn the key on your car, electricity is drawn from your battery to turn a high-torque electric motor. This high-torque electric motor then spins the engine’s flywheel and starts up your car. If you're guessing that this high-torque electric motor is your starter, you'd be right. Starters are definitely a source of a vehicle that struggles to start and they do wear out over time due to repeated usage. Once the starter begins to fail it will have difficulty producing enough torque to spin the flywheel on your engine and the vehicle will not start unless it has multiple cranks of the flywheel. This is the sound you hear when turning the key.
Since the starter is part of the electrical system, you’ll need to spend some time figuring out which component is actually the problem. We discussed the battery as a possible source, so if you’ve checked your battery and it’s healthy, it's time to move on to your starter.
A bad starter will generally give itself away when these symptoms are present:
- You turn the key and hear a clicking noise from under the hood
- You have lights and electrical function (windows, etc.) but the car won’t start
- You jump the vehicle and nothing happens.
If you need a quick fix for a bad starter, you can use an old mechanics technique and whack the starter with a hammer. Mechanics do this to engage a stuck solenoid and it sometimes fixes the issue for a short period of time. Replacing a starter is a fairly straightforward process but again requires a good amount of DIY knowledge.
Faulty Ignition Switch
When you turn the key in your vehicle, it completes an electric circuit that sends a signal to your starter motor to draw power from your battery and start the vehicle. Over time the contacts in your ignition switch can become worn out, especially if you live in an area of high humidity. If you turn your key and absolutely nothing happens (including your lights/ starter motor) then you may have a faulty ignition switch. Other symptoms include intermittent loss of lighting and vehicle electronics while driving and an engine that spontaneously dies after it has already been started.
Replacing an ignition switch is a complicated process that often requires a complete dismantling of the entire steering column of your vehicle to reach the ignition cylinder. If you’re handy and feel like taking the job, there are several videos on how to complete the task like this one here.
Thick or Dirty Oil
This one may seem a little strange but it is not uncommon for people to completely neglect taking care of their vehicles to the point where the oil is so dirty that the vehicle has a hard time starting. Oil is like the blood of your engine and dirty oil that is laden down with sludge will not work well to lubricate your motor and it can actually make the starter motor work harder to turn on the vehicle. This is one of many cautionary tales for why vehicle maintenance is so incredibly important to achieving a long service life.
Thick oil is another culprit of an engine that finds difficulty starting. Every engine is designed to work with a specific viscosity of oil and if the oil in your engine is thicker (more viscous) then your starter may have trouble kicking on your motor. This issue can be exacerbated by cold conditions that make all oil thicker. This is often why vehicles have a hard time starting in colder conditions, so thick oil can just make the issue worse.
Make sure you use the right oil in your vehicle and get your oil changed on a regular basis to avoid any issues here.
Low Fuel Levels
If your vehicle has low fuel levels, it can have trouble starting due to the location of the fuel pump in the tank and the temperature of the outside air. Depending on the model of vehicle, the fuel pump location may not be advantageous to the process of moving fuel from the tank to the injectors due to a small difference in pressure from a full vs. a low tank. This symptom can be compounded by a failing fuel pump or a clogged fuel filter.
Secondly, cold air causes condensation in the fuel tank, which can lead to water vapor forming on the tank walls and running into the fuel. Once water enters into the fuel, it can cause hesitation and stumbling as the engine gets rid of the vapor in the combustion chambers.
What About Cash Cars Buyer?
If you’re tired of dealing with a car that won’t start or you don’t have the money to keep dropping on a vehicle that continuously has issues; maybe its time to give Cash Cars Buyer a shot. We can help get you the cash if your car struggles to start. The process is incredibly easy and we handle everything from getting you a comprehensive quote to taking away your vehicle. We give you the gift of time by taking away the hassle of a car that struggles to start. Give Cash Cars Buyer a shot today!