Why Does My Car Have Trouble Starting (Battery or Alternator)

Why Does My Car Have Trouble Starting

Car not starting? Don’t worry. It is much more common than you may think.

While some car starting issues will probably involve a trip to your local garage, you will be surprised at just how many problems can be fixed by yourself, even without any technical expertise.

Here are the 10 reasons your car has trouble starting:

1.         Your Car Isn’t Set To Park

2.         Your Car’s Battery Is Fully Drained

3.         Your Vehicle’s Ignition Switch Is Damaged

4.         The Vehicle’s Starter is Damaged

5.         You Have Run Out of Gas

6.         Your Vehicle’s Steering Wheel Is Locked

7.         Your Vehicle’s Fuel Filter Is Dirty

8.         Your Spark Plug May Need Replacing

9.         The Vehicle Immobilizer Is Broken

10.       Your Vehicle’s Engine Is Broken

On this page, we are going to take a look at ten of the most common reasons why your vehicle may not be starting. 

1. Your Car Isn’t Set To Park

Whenever you park your vehicle, you should always set the gear to park (or neutral, depending on what you call it).

In many cases, vehicles that are set to a gear when they are parked up won’t start. So, if your vehicle is failing to start, have a look at the gear stick. If it isn’t set to park, then set it to park.

We are almost certain that your vehicle will start right away!

This is a surprisingly common issue, and you will be surprised at the number of people that call a roadside assistance service because of it. You don’t need to!

2. Your Car’s Battery Is Fully Drained

Unless you have either:

  • Left your vehicle running for a period of time without using it.
  • Left the vehicle in storage for a long period of time.

Chances are that your battery won’t be the problem. Car batteries will charge as you drive your vehicle, and they can last a good 5-10 years before you run into any issues.

Still, if it seems as if there is no power going into that vehicle when you turn that ignition, then there is a good chance that your vehicle’s battery has been completely drained.

If you can find somebody to help, you may be able to jump-start your vehicle. However, eventually, you are going to need to charge that vehicle’s battery. 

Read also >> Can You Jump Start A Generator Battery?

Read also >> Chevy Truck Cranks But Won’t Start (Silverado 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2012, 2018)

3. Your Vehicle’s Ignition Switch Is Damaged

If you have been a little bit too forceful with putting keys into the ignition switch in the past, then there is a chance that the switch could end up getting damaged. 

If can turn the key in your vehicle’s ignition switch and the lights come on, but the vehicle’s engine doesn’t, then there is a strong chance that the ignition switch is going to be the issue.

Sadly, this isn’t an issue that you are going to be able to fix yourself. In most cases, the entire ignition switch assembly is going to need to be replaced.

4. The Vehicle’s Starter is Damaged

The vehicle’s starter is a small component in your vehicle. When you switch the vehicle on with your key, the starter will activate. The starter basically kicks that engine into life.

If your vehicle’s starter switch is damaged, there is nothing that will start that engine. You may not even hear the engine ‘chug’ trying to force itself alive. Instead, you may hear a bit of light clicking and that’s it.

Sadly, this is another problem that you won’t be able to deal with yourself. Instead, you are going to need to head to your local mechanic. Thankfully, replacing starters isn’t that expensive.

5. You Have Run Out of Gas

Your vehicle needs gas to run. Well, unless you are driving an electric vehicle, we guess. In a time when gas prices are hitting an all-time high, it is not uncommon for people to vastly overestimate the amount of gas they have in their tanks.

Don’t worry if this is something that has happened to you. The problem is far, far more common than you may think.

Obviously, this is a problem that you will be able to fix yourself. All it takes is a walk to your local gas station, with a rather hefty wad of cash. Once that tank is filled up, everything is going to be perfect.

6. Your Vehicle’s Steering Wheel Is Locked

Turning your ignition key doesn’t just switch on the vehicle. It also unlocks the steering wheel. In rare cases, that steering wheel can become locked. If the steering wheel is locked, the vehicle won’t start.

In some cases, this may be a problem that you can fix yourself. You will have to put a little bit of pressure on the key as you are turning it in the hope that you can unlock the steering wheel.

If the key does appear to be fully turned, then rock the steering wheel gently from side to side. This may force the steering wheel lock to release.

If you are turning to the key, then it is vital that you ensure that you do not turn the key too hard or put too much pressure on it. Trust us, those keys are delicate, and there is a massive chance that they will end up breaking in the lock.

If you can’t free the steering wheel, or it seems to be a problem that you are frequently encountering, then you won’t have much choice other than to head to the local mechanic and get the issue dealt with.

Chances are that the steering wheel’s locking mechanism is faulty.

Read also > > How to Start a Car with a Clogged Catalytic Converter (Explained)

7. Your Vehicle’s Fuel Filter Is Dirty

Nowadays, a fuel filter would have to be seriously filthy if it is going to prevent your vehicle from starting. In the past, this would have been an exceedingly common issue.

Still, if the fuel filter is too heavily clogged, then fuel won’t be able to run through to your engine. This can make it incredibly difficult to start the vehicle. Engines need fuel, after all.

Thankfully, fuel filters are something that you should be able to change yourself without too much hassle.

You will need to purchase a brand new fuel filter from a place that sells vehicle spare parts, but these aren’t going to be that expensive.

Of course, if you don’t feel like putting the effort in, then a trip to the mechanic will probably work too. 

Read also >> 8 Main Signs You Need to Change Your Fuel Filter (Act Now!)

8. Your Spark Plug May Need Replacing

Spark plugs last longer than ever nowadays. So much so that people often forget that they will need to switch out their spark plugs every few years.

While a vehicle not starting is a sign that the spark plug probably does need to be replaced, the vehicle not starting is likely to be the last symptom.

If you have experienced a chugging engine, higher than normal fuel consumption, or poor acceleration, then you know that your spark plug needs to be replaced.

Luckily, spark plug replacement won’t need a trip to your local garage. You can easily purchase a brand-new spark plug. With most modern vehicles, it is a case of unscrewing the old one and sliding the new one in there.

It is a job that shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes.

9. The Vehicle Immobilizer Is Broken

Most modern vehicles have a security system in place.

A vehicle cannot be started unless the security system has been deactivated. This normally happens with a key fob. If the battery is dying.

Some vehicles have immobilizers built into the ignition switch, though. If nothing about your vehicle is starting, then there is a good chance that the immobilizer has broken.

Once again, this is a problem that you probably won’t be able to fix yourself. Obviously, if your vehicle’s keys have a battery built into it, you can replace that (batteries should only cost a few dollars), but most other issues can be dealt with by heading to a mechanic.

10. Your Vehicle’s Engine Is Broken

Thankfully, this issue is exceedingly rare. Your vehicle will have likely needed to travel tens of thousands of miles without an engine service for this to even likely be a problem.

Still, engines are pretty sophisticated pieces of tech. They can eventually die.

If you believe your engine to be broken, then there isn’t all that much you can do. Obviously, you can head to a mechanic and they may be able to fix smaller issues with the engine for you. However, if the engine has completely died, then that is it.

It is one of the most expensive components in the vehicle. If your vehicle isn’t under warranty, then it may be time to pick yourself up a new vehicle instead. It will probably work out much cheaper. 


Vehicle not starting? Don’t fret. In most cases, the problem should be easy to fix. It could be a case of there not being enough fuel in the tank, or you may have a flat battery.

Most problems can be easily rectified yourself. There are some issues that may a trip to your local mechanic e.g. broken locking mechanisms, or even a faulty engine.

However, we can assure you that those issues are a lot less common than you may think.

Go through this list in order, and we are fairly confident that it won’t be long before you are able to get your vehicle up and running again! 




Jeff is an automotive technician, technical writer, and Managing Editor. He has held a lifelong passion for cars, with a particular interest in cars like the Buick Reatta. Jeff has been creating written and video content about transportation, automotive, electric cars, future vehicles as well as new, used for more than 18 years. Jeff is based in Boulder, Colorado.

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