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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.

Symptom Diagnosis Cure
Starter turns engine slowly: lights dim or don't work Weak or flat battery.  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 organisation.

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 petrol. Wait 15 minutes for excess petrol to evaporate, then try again without using manual choke.

Depress 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 cars.

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 lights.

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 https://www.whocanfixmycar.com/ultimate-car-maintenance-guide/  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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