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Car won’t start, symptoms, diagnosis, and possible cure

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Welcome to Hints and Things Car Doctor

Diagnosis on demand.

We have all
been there – jump into the car and it won’t start.  There can be many
different reasons for this, the most basic of which are shown below.

Unfortunately, modern cars are much more complicated and, therefore, harder
to diagnose as there are so many sensors, computer software involved which
have to be diagnosed by specialised equipment.  The following may,
however, help if you own an older vehicle or to give you some idea as to
what may be causing the problem.

Diagnosis Cure
Starter turns
engine slowly: lights dim or don’t work
Weak or flat
Push start a manual gearbox car or
use jump leads (Check vehicles handbook first to see if this is possible).

How to use jump leads.

Recharge battery.

Get garage to check the battery and charging system.

Starter doesn’t
operate;  no sound from engine, lights and windscreen wipers don’t work.
Completely dead battery
or faulty battery connections.
Check and clean the battery
connectors at the terminals, also earth lead from the battery to the car body.

If this does not work you will have to call the garage or motoring

Loud clicking
noise when ignition key is turned to start position. Starter does not operate but lights
and windscreen wipers work.
Starter motor problem,
possibly a stuck gear in the starter.
Try rocking the car back and forth in
top gear with handbrake off to free the gear.

If you can
locate the starter motor sometimes a sharp tap on it with a spanner does the trick.

If nothing happens push start a manual gearbox car or call for help
if the car has automatic transmission.

No sound from
engine.  Lights and windscreen wipers work O.K.
Faulty ignition switch,
wiring, solenoid or starter motor.
Try jiggling ignition key whilst
turning it.

If you can locate solenoid (by battery) check if
there are any loose connections, if so tighten them.

If this doesn’t work push start a manual gearbox car or call for
help if the car has automatic transmission.

Starter motor
turns engine strongly, but engine doesn’t start.
No fuel in tank.



Moisture in the ignition system









Disconnected or loose wires in the ignition system.


Petrol hose broken or disconnected

Don’t rely on fuel
gauge.  Remove petrol cap and rock car you should be able to hear a sloshing sound if
there is any petrol in the tank.

Disconnect the spark plug
leads one at a time to avoid confusing their positions.  Wipe with dry cloth or paper
towel. Wipe top of each spark plug before refitting lead.

Wipe moisture from top of ignition coil.

Remove distributor cap (fixed with either spring clips or screws)
and wipe both the inside and outside of the cap.

If possible, spray the whole ignition system with a moisture
repellent aerosol e.g. WD40.

Check leads from the ignition coil to the distributor and from the
distributor to the spark plugs.

Check all petrol hoses.

Starter motor
turns engine strongly; strong smell of petrol after repeated attempts at starting.
Engine flooded with
Wait 15 minutes for excess petrol to
evaporate, then try again without using manual choke.

the accelerator pedal slowly to the floor and keep it there. Don’t pump the pedal, you
will flood the carburettor again.





Car problems often start with a
warning light on the dashboard but these can be confusing so I was
delighted to find the following guide compiled by
Claytons MOT and
Service Centre,
covering the universal warning symbols used on UK

It doesn’t include them all. Some
manufacturers use varying symbol designs and, depending on the amount of
technology within the vehicle, you can have upwards of 40 different

Dashboard warning lights, what they mean and how they act

I have also recently come across an interactive car
maintenance guide written by experienced mechanics that will help
diagnose and fix problems.

This in-depth, clickable resource from


covers all the common car maintenance hiccups, plus some how-to guides,
packed with expertise, for more challenging issues. 

Car maintenance resource features: 

  • Over 20 common car problems, diagnosed.
  • 5 in-depth step-by-step guides – explaining how to perform common
    maintenance tasks such as changing a battery, or changing a flat tyre.
  • Advice and insight from mechanics across the country.

Whether you’ve problems with your windscreen wipers, want to know how to
top up your brake fluid or are looking for a step-by-step tutorial for
changing a spark plug, this ultimate guide tells you how.




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