Auto mechanics often receive complaints like, “My car won’t turn over.” Fortunately, the cause is often simple, and fixing the problem is usually inexpensive. However, if you don’t know what’s going on and you end up in an expensive repair shop, you might lose some good money from your wallet.

People use different terms to mean that their engines won’t start. Some people say their car won’t crank, which may mean that their starter does not turn the engine on. Others say that the engine won’t start, which can mean that it does not crank then start, or that it will crank, but not start. Still others use the expression like, “my car won’t turn over” to mean that it won’t start, when they might mean that it won’t crank. Read on to find out the possible causes and solutions for your car problem.

Possible Causes That a Car Won't Turn Over


Dead or drained batteries

This is the most likely problem, but it doesn’t mean you have to go and buy a new battery right away. Batteries can lose charge because of power drain, especially if you accidentally leave the headlights on overnight, causing your car not to turn over in the morning. However, the dead battery will regain a full charge after recharging it. 


Corrosion of connecting cables

The cable that connects your battery to the starter is the thickest cable in the car’s electrical system, which carries the most current. It is susceptible to corrosion, but this can be fixed by removing the ends from the battery and the starter and using a wire brush to clean it. 


Corrosion of ground cables

The ground cables can also be corroded, or they may be poorly connected, so your car won’t turn over. Disconnect and clean the ground wires and connections with a wire brush.


Bad starters

Starters can go bad slowly, over time, and you will notice that your engine starts more slowly in the mornings. You may hear the starter turning slower as you turn the key, or your car just fails to start one day. It may be a sign that you need to get a new starter for your engine.

What to Do If Car Won't Turn Over

Check the battery and starter

1.      Check your battery. See if your battery has sufficient voltage and power, which is 12.6 volts for most car batteries. You can use a simple multimeter, which is available in hardware stores.

2.      Have your battery tested. Retail stores that sell car batteries can test them for proper cranking amperage needed to start the engine.

3.      Ask someone to attach booster cables to the battery if the engine turns over slow.

4.      Check the battery cables for corrosion or loose connections at the terminals.

5.      If the battery is charged, check if the starter is the problem. Changing the car starter is not difficult, but it is simpler to find someone to help you, or use a DIY manual with instructions and pictures. If the engine turns quick enough, but doesn't start, check the engine’s fuel input.

Check the fuel system

1.      Check if you have fuel in the tank. If the fuel gauge is not working, it might register some remaining fuel even when the tank is empty. A true fuel injected system cannot be opened, but in older cars, the air filter can be removed from the breather housing. Just take out the wing nut or fastener and lift the cover. When the accelerator pedal is pumped, you will see gasoline spraying into the body of the carburetor throttle.

2.      Use a test gauge to make sure you have sufficient fuel supply. Check if the electric fuel pump situated in the gas tank is working by asking someone to listen at the filler cap while the ignition switch is turned.

3.      Check the fuel filter to see if it is allowing fuel to enter through it. The Fuel filter can become clogged over time, and changing it is easier and less expensive than changing the fuel pump.

Test the ignition system

1.      Boost and try turning and engine again. Remove a wire from your spark plug and ground the metal fitting inside the spark plug boot to the engine, using an insulated screwdriver. Ask someone to turn the engine. If you do not see a spark, you may have a problem with the ignition circuit. You may have to replace a coil wire or worse, an ignition computer.

2.      Check the ignition for loose or damaged components. These include cylinder coils, spark plugs and spark plug wires. You may also have problems with the distributor cap, condenser, and other parts that fail.

  • Look at the components under the car’s hood. An unplugged wire or a broken fuel line may be the problem, which are simple to fix.
  • Check your owner's manual to locate the relays, fuses, and circuit breakers. See if they are not tripped or blown. Test the ignition relay by exchanging relays of the same size.
  • Listen to the engine as you crank it. A knocking sound, misfiring, or backfiring may indicate a flooded carburetor, jumped timing, or broken valves, which may be serious engine problems.
  • Your car may show an "error code" or information from the car computer that can help a technician find the problem. This can be a light, "check engine," or other indicator.
  • If a fuse or relay for the fuel pump is not listed on the owner's manual, your car may have a mechanical pump. It may be dangerous to check it yourself, as this requires removing a fuel line and turning the engine over to see if fuel comes out.
  • It is highly recommended to have your car checked once a month by a good mechanic to find any problems in advance.
  • Find a DIY book to solve specific problems not covered by this article.

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