Its 10 o’çlock on a Saturday morning. It’s a beautiful day outside. The sun is shining and the weather is perfect. You have your fishing gear packed, a cooler box with the braai meat and Windhoeks, when - uh oh!— your car won’t start.
There are many reasons why your car won’t start. But you don’t have to cancel the day’s plans yet! Sometimes its just a quick and easy fix.
No-starts fall into two basic categories:
1. The engine will not crank or cranks slowly
2. The engine cranks, but does not run
No or Slow cranks
• Dead battery
A dead battery is the No. 1 cause of a no-start. If the battery is weak, but not totally dead, the starter may turn slowly. You will hear that slow, groaning RRR-RRR-RRR sound. As the voltage drops further, the sound may become a staccato K-K-K. When the battery voltage drops even further, there will be no sound. Even the telltale lights on the instrument panel may dim when you turn the key
• Loss of Contact Of Battery Clamps
This could be due to corrosion or even a clamp which has come loose. Check and clean your battery posts to make sure there is a clean, complete connection, then try to start your car again.
If the alternator is not working properly, the battery may not get charged. Although the alternator could be the culprit, don't overlook a worn or slipping accessory drive belt. If the alternator fails or the belt breaks, a warning light will illuminate. If the charging system output is only poor, there may be no warning light. If you have a gauge on your instrument panel, it should show about 14 volts.
A bad starter may give the illusion of a weak battery if it draws more current than the battery is able to supply. It will spin slowly and draw excessive power. It will make that GRR ... GRR ... GRR sound, similar to a weak battery.If you hear a nasty grinding clashing sound like trying to shift with a bad clutch, the starter drive gear or the engine's flywheel ring gear may have damaged teeth.If the starter does not even turn, its relay or solenoid may be shot or the ignition switch could be the culprit.
Cranks, doesn't run
If the starter cranks the engine normally, but the engine refuses to run, the battery, starter and alternator are probably fine. The cause lies elsewhere.
Is the car out of fuel? Yeah, it sounds dumb, but it happens. Sometimes the gauge deceptively drops from a quarter tank to empty in a few kilometres, or the digital fuel range display predicts you will get further than you actually do. Check that needle.
• Fuel pump
Even if there is plenty of fuel in the tank, a weak fuel pump or failed fuel pump relay may prevent the fuel from reaching the engine. If you listen closely, you should be able to hear the in-tank pump running for a few seconds when you first turn the key to the "on" position — before cranking the starter.
• Blocked or damaged fuel line
A blocked or damaged fuel pipe can also be the culprit. Metal fuel pipes can be damaged or bent closed, typically by stones thrown up on a gravel road. It worth checking them if you have recently done some offroad driving.
• Spark plugs
Secondary ignition system problems, although rare nowadays, can cause a no-start. It is easy to forget about the spark plugs but they too have a, albeit relatively long, lifespan - and eventually give up the ghost! If you religiously change them when servicing your car, this should never be an issue.
• Air Filter
Like all things with life, air is very important, and your car has to 'breathe'. Road dust, grease, and all sorts of muck are trapped by your air filter to allow your car to breath clean filtered air. Kilometers and years of accumulated debris build up can reduce the flow of air into your cars intake. Without air, the fuel cannot ignite, and without ignition, there is no “combustion” to complete the recipe for a proper internal combustion operation. Once again, this is a quick and relatively cheap part which should be replaced at every service.
• Fuel Filter
Like all life needs air, all life also needs fuel to move. Your car needs fuel to keep moving, and clean fuel at that. Which means that any impurities present in your fuel or fuel tank have to be stopped in their tracks. The fuel filters job is to block these unwanted items, but after time and neglect it will get blocked. Once more, this filter should be replaced at every service.
• Broken or cracked distributor cap
On cars with a distributor, the distribution cap routes voltage from the engine’s ignition coil to the spark plugs. If moisture gets under the cap, it can cause problems for your car. Wipe it out with a clean, dry cloth before reinstalling. Be sure to replace a damaged cap.
• Bad Engine Temperature Sensor
If you have starting problems and the 'check engine' light doesn't come on, you may have a bad engine coolant temperature sensor, especially If you have to pump the accelerator pedal in the morning to keep your car running. Another indication is if your car only struggles to start in colder weather. The computer in every fuel-injected car must know two things before it can figure out the correct cold-start air/fuel mixture: the engine coolant temperature and the outside air temperature. When the thermostat gives the incorrect temperature, The computer is calculating an air/fuel mixture that is too lean, and the car will struggle to start
• Bad ignition coil
The ignition coil transforms a battery’s voltage into an electric spark. A damaged ignition coil means there’s not enough current to do that. You’ll need a multimeter to measure electrical current, voltage and resistance to test the strength of the current running through the coil.
Ultimately, you may have to cancel your fishing trip, and braai on the stoep instead. You may even have to call for a tow truck and have your car sent in to your workshop for repairs. You can take comfort in knowing that you are not alone, and that you won’t have to wait interminably for spares.
At Start My Car, we have wide ranges of almost all the offending parts listed above. That includes the spark plugs, air filters, fuel filters, thermostats, fuel pumps and batteries.
Have a look on our site and reach out to us if you need any assistance!