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Old 5th February 2013, 16:24   #1
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Default "My Car Won't Start" | What To Do

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A driver's worst nightmare is that time when his car won't start. Or, the engine dies exactly when he is negotiating a tricky crossing. It's even more worrisome if the driver is a lady (especially in India) and the sun has already set, or if the location is a lonely highway instead of the city. This is the time when one regrets not knowing a little more about how cars work.

Good news is, diagnosing why your car won't start isn't exactly rocket science. This guide, a little bit of common sense and a cool head might just be enough to get you back home.

Last edited by GTO : 5th February 2013 at 21:01.
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Old 5th February 2013, 16:25   #2
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Step 1: Understanding the Basics

Before you begin the process of troubleshooting, it is absolutely essential that you ensure your own as well as others' safety by pushing the dead car safely to the side of the road.

"My Car Won't Start" | What To Do-troubleshooting.jpg

There are essentially 3 systems that start your engine up.

1. The Electricals. Powered initially by the battery, the electrical system runs your starter motor which turns over the engine and allows it to fire up. It also provides the spark to the spark plugs in a petrol engine (to ignite the fuel-air mixture). In modern engines, the electricals need to supply power to the electronic control module (ECM) as well.

Once the engine is running, the alternator recharges the battery and also keeps the other electrical systems running.

2. The Fuel. Usually petrol or diesel, but alternate fuels like CNG and LPG are also used by a small percentage of owners. Since the car has stopped and it is an emergency, CNG / LPG-fueled cars should switch over to petrol. Thus, our troubleshooting sequence remains the same.

3. The Engine. The fuel, air and (in petrols) a high voltage electric charge come together to generate the motive force in a mechanical manner by the engine. Things rarely go wrong here, but if they do, you should be able to identify what happened.

In the next few posts, we shall progressively try to identify what is preventing your engine from running, and explain some quick repair methods. The ultimate solution for the mechanically-challenged individual is to call the manufacturer's helpline and / or have the car towed to a workshop. But before you do that (it can take an hour or more for roadside assistance to turn up), let's try to get you home safe.

Last edited by GTO : 5th February 2013 at 21:01.
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Old 5th February 2013, 16:27   #3
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Step 2: Checking the Electrical System

"My Car Won't Start" | What To Do-electrics.jpg

About Push Starts:

A push start may or may not work with the problems listed below. Do note that a push start won't get you anywhere if your battery is completely flat and the fuel delivery system gets no power. As an example, check this thread out. Also, not all cars can be push started; check your owner's manual for details.

The commonest culprit at the root of preventing your engine from starting up, or that caused it to die suddenly, is the electrical system. Turn on the ignition switch, but don't crank the starter. Are all the telltale lights on the dashboard coming on & fully illuminated?

If YES (all dashboard lights are on):

Determine if the battery has enough charge to be able to start the car. A quick way to check is to turn on the headlights and blow the horn. If the lights dim and the horn sounds hoarse, you have a nearly flat battery. It's push-starting or jump start cables to the rescue!

If there are absolutely NO telltale lights on the dashboard:
  • A loose connection at the battery terminal (check if the terminals are tight, or if there is excessive corrosion).
  • A blown main fuse. Check your owner's manual to locate the main fuse. Replace the fuse (if you have a spare) and try again.

    Be prepared that the fuse might blow again, in which case there is a short circuit somewhere and you need to summon professional help.

If the starter motor is turning over, but is slower than normal:
  • Your battery has low charge. You may start the car with a push-start or call for assistance from those jump start cables. No point in persistently trying to crank in the hope that the engine will fire because it usually doesn't, and the battery will run down completely.

If there is no noise from the starter at all:
  • Some cars won't crank unless you depress the clutch pedal fully, or shift the transmission to 'neutral' or 'park' position. Silly mistakes happen to the best of us.
  • If you do not hear a clicking sound from the starter solenoid (relay) when you attempt to crank the engine, you may have a defective starter solenoid, and the starter motor isn't getting any current at all.
  • The starter motor cable may have come loose (no contact). Tighten and re-try to start the car.
  • Your ignition switch is burnt out (older cars) or faulty.

If you hear an audible "click", but the motor doesn't turn over:
  • The starter motor solenoid (relay) is actuating, but the Bendix gear is perhaps jammed up against the ring gear. Place the car in 3rd / 4th gear and push / rock the car backwards to release the Bendix from the ring gear. You'll hear an audible click as the car moves backwards a little, in case the Bendix has actually jammed against the ring gear (usually caused by broken/worn teeth in the Bendix or ring gear). Try starting the car again. Warning: DO NOT hold the key in "start" position for too long if you hear the click and the starter motor won't turn. It'll burn out the starter armature windings.
  • A loose connection on the starter motor cable - not enough current getting through for the starter to turn.
  • Starter motor brushes worn out.
  • Check and tighten the contacts, and tap the starter motor body with a heavy stick or rod. Watch the following video, especially from the 1:28 point onward.

If the starter motor churns over normally, but the engine will not fire:
  • A push-start won't help in this situation.
  • Your central locking / security system may be intervening by cutting out power to the ECM. Reset the central locking system and try again.
  • Some cars have a fuel cut-off inertia switch. If someone had rammed your parked car, it could have triggered the inertia switch to cut off the fuel supply. Check your owner's manual for details on resetting the inertia switch.
  • For petrol engines : No spark at the plugs. The HT coil may have failed. For older distributor-type engines, there could be moisture in the distributor cap, or a fouled set of contact breaker points. For newer engines, OBD may be needed (i.e. hooking up a laptop to the car) to detect what is causing this. The spark plugs usually require special tools to remove and check, which may not be possible for the average motorist. Call for professional help.
  • For diesel engines : Air in the fuel line. More about fuel systems later.
  • For both, petrol and diesel engines : The engine isn't getting enough fuel.

The engine starts, but refuses to rev up or dies out after a few seconds:
  • Check if there is fuel in the tank? Is there coolant in the radiator and is the engine temperature normal? Fuel flowing from tank to pipe into the engine?
  • Electricals. Open up the fuse box. Take out the relevant relays / fuses for fuel injection and other vitals. Ensure that they aren't blown, clean contacts and reinstall.
  • The fuel feed is erratic (such as with a choked fuel filter; more info in the next posts).

WARNING: Do not continue to run down the battery by repeatedly cranking the starter motor, if the engine turns over well but will not start. You don't want a dead battery over and above other issues.

Last edited by GTO : 8th February 2013 at 11:10. Reason: Typo
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Old 5th February 2013, 16:28   #4
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Step 3 | Part A: The PETROL Fuel System

"My Car Won't Start" | What To Do-petrol.jpg

Once you've made sure there are no gremlins in your electrical system, it's time to check whether the engine is receiving fuel.
  • An empty tank does not run a car. However, the only way we think we can find out whether there is fuel in the tank is to depend on the fuel gauge. What if the fuel gauge has malfunctioned and is stuck at half-full? A quick solution is to open the filler cap and place your ear close to it. Ask someone to shake the car from side to side. The resultant sloshing sound inside gives a fairly good idea of whether there is sufficient fuel there. Applies to both, diesels and petrols. If you've been caught unawares with an empty tank, well, it's time to deploy / borrow a jerrycan.
  • Once you have filled up, turn on the ignition and wait for a minute or two to allow the electric fuel pump to prime the fuel injection system / carburettor, before trying to crank the engine.
  • If you do have fuel in the tank already, disconnect the fuel feed pipe in the engine and hold its tip inside the mouth of the jerrycan. Then, ask someone to turn on the ignition. This will cause the electric fuel pump to run and you should be able to see a steady stream of petrol filling the can up (at least 1 liter per minute).
  • If you have no fuel coming out, the fuel pump inside the tank isn't working. It could be a blown fuse or relay (simple to replace a fuse, or tap the relay a few times and see if it comes back to life). On the other hand, if the fuel pump has failed, you need to tow the car to a service station and get a replacement.
  • If fuel flow is erratic (intermittent or very slow flow), one of the fuel filters (either the coarse filter inside the tank or the fine filter inside the engine bay) is choked. Try shaking the rear end of the car from side to side to dislodge some of the muck from the in-tank filter, then take out the engine-side filter and tap out the dirt in it (fill with petrol, shake well, then tap gently on a hard surface with the "IN" side facing down).
  • Also check the fuse / relay for the FI pump (for modern fuel-injected engines).
  • For a carburetted engine, make sure that the engine isn't flooded with petrol, and that the choke isn't applied.

Last edited by GTO : 5th February 2013 at 20:58.
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Old 5th February 2013, 16:30   #5
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Step 3 | Part B: The DIESEL Fuel System

"My Car Won't Start" | What To Do-diesel.jpg

It's more trouble to end up with an empty tank in a diesel car compared to a petrol car, because a diesel fuel system absolutely abhors air in the lines. Running on empty automatically means air has been sucked into the fuel lines, and one needs to bleed off air and prime the system.

Each type and model of diesel engine will be slightly different in how the bleeding is done. Almost all diesels (DI, IDI, CRDi) have a manual bleeding mechanism of some sort at the fuel filter. It's usually a lever (like some Jeeps), bulb (like the Safari) or a push-button (like the Scorpio) that is pumped repeatedly to push out air from the system.

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If you are sure about there being enough fuel in the tank, you need to check whether a fuse for the in-tank (low pressure) pump has blown, whether the low pressure pump has gone kaput or if the filter inside the tank is clogged. The procedure is similar to what has been described for petrol engines in the post above.

Diesels also have this nasty habit of refusing to run when there's any water in the fuel. Unfortunately, petrol pumps have a nasty habit of selling you water-laden diesel in the monsoons (not completely their fault, but we need to blame someone, don't we?). Once that happens, the sedimenter bowl below the diesel filter fills up with water, a warning light shows up on the dashboard and the engine refuses to start / runs erratically / cuts out suddenly.


Here's how to drain water from the fuel filter of an Innova. The basics remain the same, but each car has its own required technique.

In rare instances, even with a tankful of diesel, the fuel system will draw in air and cut off the engine as a result. This can happen because of a leaking (damaged) fuel line, or (for avid off-roaders) if your car has tilted so sharply that the suction end of the electric fuel pump is not completely immersed in the diesel inside your tank. After the root cause is addressed (sealing a fuel line leak or getting the car back straight and leveled), the method of bleeding and priming the system remains the same as described above.

The adventurers among us have, on many occasions, found their diesel engines refusing to start at high altitudes in cold climates. Read these threads:

Thread 1

Thread 2

In most cases, if you've been caught unawares and cannot start your car at 14,000 ft and (-)5 degrees C, it's best to wait it out until the sun comes up and the weather is warmer.

Last edited by GTO : 5th February 2013 at 20:56.
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Old 5th February 2013, 16:32   #6
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Step 4: Knowing when to say "I Give Up!"

Apart from the electricals and fuel feed system, there are a thousand other things that could go wrong and prevent your engine from firing up. If the culprit is the engine itself, there isn't much that one can do on the roadside, and towing the car to a garage is the only way out. From a blown head gasket to a broken crankshaft, from fouled injectors to ECM failures, from seized pistons to snapped timing belts, anything can make an engine dead and leave you stranded. Of course, it's another matter that the engines of today are far more reliable and robust than those manufactured even 20 years ago, but catastrophic failures are still not unheard of. Some of the reasons may be poor compliance with maintenance schedules and / or use of sub-standard spare parts. Here's a word of warning:

If you hear strange / unusual noises coming from your engine when trying to restart it, or if your engine stopped running after making weird noises, do NOT attempt to restart. The same applies if you find smoke pouring out of the engine bay or tailpipe, or if the engine overheated and stopped.

Some other notable vehicle-specific threads about failure to start:

1. Tata Indica

2. Hyundai Verna

3. Honda Civic

4. Skoda Octavia

5. Tata Manza

6. Ford Fiesta

Jump Start Cables

Having a pair of jump start cables around might help you, a neighbour or a friend. The cost is marginal and it's a good idea to park a set in your car or garage (Image Source : Ebay.com). A basic tool kit & spare fuses are other essentials, while a jerrycan and tow straps can come handy.
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Image Credits : The pictures of this Article have been sourced from various Team-BHP threads. Thanks to BHPians for shooting & sharing them.

Last edited by GTO : 6th February 2013 at 09:29.
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Old 6th February 2013, 09:37   #7
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Default Re: "My Car Won't Start" | What To Do

Superb article, SS-Traveller . Thanks for sharing. Rating your definitive guide a fully-deserved 5 stars.

Your article made me go out and buy myself a pair of jump start cables. Cost a little over Rs. 1,000. They might help my cars on bad mornings, or those of my neighbours. However reliable the car, starting issues plague them all. Equally, for 90% of starting issues, a jump / push start usually works.

- The Vtec : Bust fuel pump (after my brother drove the car on fumes).

- Civic / C220 : Battery suddenly gave up. Without sufficient warning the previous day.

- Jeep : Variety of starting issues, including a starter gone bad (water seepage while offroading).

Here's a very useful link with details to a free jumpstart service : BatMobile

Last edited by GTO : 6th February 2013 at 09:42.
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Old 6th February 2013, 10:26   #8
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Default Re: "My Car Won't Start" | What To Do

Quote:
Originally Posted by GTO View Post
Rating your definitive guide a fully-deserved 5 stars.
Thank you.
Quote:
Your article made me go out and buy myself a pair of jump start cables.
For those hunting for a place to buy jump start cables, here's a couple of online vendors:
http://shopping.rediff.com/product/c...oster/11278145
http://shop.cardekho.com/cables/boos...00a~10808.html
Any cable with a rating of 300A & above will do for starting LMVs, as long as the connecting clips are heavy-duty (no loose contacts).

And for those who are technically minded and may be interested in a proper diagnosis flow chart regarding why the car won't start, here it is:

Last edited by SS-Traveller : 6th February 2013 at 10:30.
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Old 6th February 2013, 11:05   #9
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Default Re: "My Car Won't Start" | What To Do

Thanks for sharing this excellent article SS-Traveller.

Very timely indeed. I had 'the car won't start' experience this Sunday, when my sisters' i10 packed up. We were at the church and the car was driven by one of our relatives and the i10 refused to start after the service.

I was summoned and I tried to crank but there was no sign from the starter motor. I checked the power windows and they were working fine. So, I deduced it was not the battery.

Then, I turned my attention to the fuse box on the right hand side beside the steering column. I tapped the fuse for the starter motor and cranked the motor and voila, the i10 roared to life. I saved my skin on a very hot day.

But I wonder what happened? The fuse was not lose and what could have happened when the car is parked for 2 hours or so? I have asked my BIL to take the car to HASS.

Edit:
Quote:
Originally Posted by SS-Traveller View Post
Each type and model of diesel engine will be slightly different in how the bleeding is done. Almost all diesels (DI, IDI, CRDi) have a manual bleeding mechanism of some sort at the fuel filter. It's usually a lever (like some Jeeps), bulb (like the Safari) or a push-button (like the Scorpio) that is pumped repeatedly to push out air from the system.
I recall having manually pumped our old BMC Ambassador after filling Diesel some 10 or 15 years back. It ran out of fuel after the fuel indicator stopped working. It is relatively easy to do it in the Ambassador, as you got so much space under the hood.

Does the MJD/ DDiS have a manual bleeding mechanism? I have never bothered about this.

Last edited by deetjohn : 6th February 2013 at 11:20. Reason: Adding text.
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Old 6th February 2013, 11:20   #10
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Default Re: "My Car Won't Start" | What To Do

An absolutely wonderful and informative thread.
It will really help all of us in taking interest in getting to know our cars a little better and to diagnose simple faults.

Rated 5 stars.

It would also be helpful if members can put up photos of critical components inside the engine bay to identify important parts.
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Old 6th February 2013, 11:22   #11
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Great article SS-Traveller. Thanks for sharing. Extremely useful.
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Old 6th February 2013, 11:40   #12
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Default Re: "My Car Won't Start" | What To Do

Super Article SST!


My 2 cents to this thread:

While push starting:
  • 2nd gear works better than the 1st.
  • If you have a 4x4, 4H works better than 2WD.
Sometimes, after a highway run, when you park your car for a 5 min break and the car isn't starting. ie, the starting motor turns, albeit slowly. Starting motor bushes, or the batter sp gvty is the culprit.

If so: Don't drain off your battery trying to crank over and over again. Wait till the starting motor and battery cools down, and in all probability the car will start.
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Old 6th February 2013, 11:58   #13
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Default Re: "My Car Won't Start" | What To Do

@SS-Traveller : Thanks a lot for the superb article and also for enriching my knowledge base.

I have already shared the link with some of my friends.

Plan to get the Jump start cable and the tow straps at the earliest.
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Old 6th February 2013, 13:20   #14
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Default Re: "My Car Won't Start" | What To Do

Quote:
Originally Posted by deetjohn View Post
Does the MJD/ DDiS have a manual bleeding mechanism? I have never bothered about this.
Quote:
Originally Posted by speedmiester View Post
It would also be helpful if members can put up photos of critical components inside the engine bay to identify important parts.
Yes, the MJD fuel filter has it too.

A quick pictorial look at the Hyundai Verna's fuel filter, and how to bleed air and water from the filter.

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Old 6th February 2013, 18:30   #15
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Default Re: "My Car Won't Start" | What To Do

Excellent, in depth article, with lots of very practical tips. I like your very analytical approach, rather than trial and error!

From my own experience; these days with so much electronics in our cars, if a car doesn't start you might want to check what happens on your dashboard as well. Are there any tell tales warning lamps on that shouldn't be lit up? If the engine does crank over but doesn't fire do you see any warning lamps that shouldn't be there. For instance the 'dreaded check engine light'?

I actually carry a handheld OBDII meter in the back of my Jaguar XJR, because these car are notorious for throwing out spurious alarms and warnings all the time. Always at the most inappropriate moment. So I can actually use it to check the codes and reset it. Takes all but 60 seconds.

Lacking that, if you do suspect an electronic issue, disconnect the battery for a minute or so, reconnect and see what happens. On many cars, disconnecting the battery will reset the ECU partially and is known to often clear these sort of issues. The Jaguar forums around the world are full of this simple tip.

Very unsatisfactory, because is does appear to be a little bit 'trial and error' but if it gets your car started to make that important meeting, take your wife to hospital who cares!

Jeroen
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