What to Do When Your Car Won’t Start
It's not much fun when your car won't start – especially if its dark and/or raining outside. Frankly, you just want to know: is it time to pull out the jumper cables or call AAA? There's a big difference between those two options, especially if you are in an area that you don't feel safe.
In this guide, rather than explain how your car's starting system works and all the techy stuff, we will examine the "symptoms" and give some quick guidance as to what to do.
Turn the key, the engine cranks and cranks but does not start. Headlights turn on.
This symptom means that your starter system is working just fine, something else is not working. It's most likely that you have a failure with your ignition or fuel system. This, of course, is a situation where the best option is to call AAA because your car needs to be seen by a mechanic.
Turn the key, no noise and nothing happens. Headlights do not turn on.
This is usually the symptom of a dead battery. If the car was running a few hours ago but just not now, your battery is probably just dead and needs a jump start. (Who left the lights on?) This can come from someone who will help you out or by calling AAA.
Note: this is a good time to mention that it's a good idea to carry jumper cables in your car. You can get them in handy storage cases or pouches that can be stashed in the trunk.
Turn the key, you only hear a loud "whirring" sound. Headlights turn on.
Probably a bad starter. Here's what we learned from Rockland Chrysler of Nanuet, a local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer of Nanuet, NY. Car starters are standard DC motors and use a device called an overrunning clutch. When you turn the ignition key on, the starter solenoid kicks the starter's pinion gear with the flywheel. If the solenoid mechanism is too worn to engage the flywheel, then all you'll hear is a whirring sound as it whirs away. This is a time to AAA.
Turn the key, you hear a loud click sound. Headlights turn on.
One of two things:
1) Your battery is charged up but you have a bad connection to it. If you feel comfortable with it, open the hood and check the battery connections to make sure they aren't loose. If they are loose, then tighten them up or have a mechanic do it for you.
2) You have just enough charge to cause the solenoid to click, but your battery is almost dead. If this is the case, you just need a jump start.
By the way, if you are having car trouble and you do not feel safe, it is entirely acceptable to call the local police. They won't usually help you out with AAA or help jump your car, but they can provide safety while you wait for help to arrive.