11 reasons the car engine cranks but the car won’t start

Nothing sucks more than an inoperational car – whether on a snowy winter morning or a dreadful heated day. There could be several reasons why this happens. If you are somewhat experienced with working on a car, or even if you’re not, tune into the possible reasons and solutions for this problem.

car engine

Summary

The most common reasons the engine cranks and turns over are a dead battery and problems with the ignition coil. However, it can also include the following reasons:

  • Issues with the spark plugs
  • A fuel filter that’s not cooperating
  • Issues with the fuel injector

Here are 11 reasons the engine cranks and turns over, but the car won’t start.

Table of Contents

Reasons the car engine cranks but the car won’t start

What gets an engine to start successfully is the optimum combination of four things – spark, fuel, air, timing, and compression. If either one gets compromised, you’re looking at a breakdown.

Let’s learn all about the reasons a car engine cranks but the car won’t start below.

Battery is dead

The most common reason for a car not starting is the battery. It can go dead at night if you leave the headlights on while parked. It can also give up after 4-5 years of use.

What you’ll need, therefore, is to jump-start the car with another battery. If the battery needs replacement altogether, you’re in for a chunk out of your pocket. A battery can range from $50 to $160 in the US.

Ignition coil

An ignition coil is what is responsible for the entire ignition system. Since the spark plug is the first point of contact for the car to start, the coil is crucial to providing current to the plug. It transfers energy from the battery to the spark plug and gets the car running.

ignition coils

A sign of the coil going bad is an obvious deafening misfire from the engine. But it can be silent too. So you’re having struggles to start the car, pay attention to the coil.

The spark plug

The spark plug is exactly what it sounds like. It sparks the ignition system of the entire car and gets it to start. So if it won’t start at all, check the spark plug too.

spark plugs

Sometimes a spark plug will wear out if you turn the engine too much, trying to get your car to start. That’s why one should not turn the key too much when the vehicle is not starting.

Spark plugs carry voltage that ignites the fuel. Usually, spark plugs need replacement every 50,000 miles or so. Those manufactured from tough materials like iridium won’t need replacing until 150000 miles.

Fuel filter

As we mentioned before, fuel is an essential component of the car. If this goes wrong, the car will malfunction. If a car dies while driving, check the fuel filter for contamination. There are so many contaminants as well as impurities in the fuel. All this must be cleansed before the fuel is burned so that the gases released are the least harmful we can imagine. These impurities can also cause the filter to be clogged, thus not letting the fuel through properly, reducing efficiency automatically.

Fuel Injector

This small device is responsible for big changes to the car. It provides fuel to the cylinder and through the filter so the car can start. If this is compromised, the car won’t start. Check the injectors for a possible diagnosis of your problem too.

If you noticed the car died while driving, the issue is most certainly the injectors.

Alternator

This device is responsible for transporting electricity to the rest of the car. It recharges the battery as well. So if this component is amiss or malfunctioning, it could hamper the starting of your car. You can spot that the problem is the alternator if the interior lights suddenly dim or the battery has issues.

Fuel pump

The fuel pump is the generator of pressure that ensures the fuel circulation is optimum. The motor rotates and sends the fuel stream in the right direction. Every 100,000 miles, you’ll need to replace the pump. However, you’ll need to replace it immediately if it malfunctions before this. A bad fuel pump will cause your car to turn over but won’t start.

Not enough gas?

What if everything is fine, and it all just comes down to your forgetting to fill up the gas tank? It is a common event that happens to the best of us. And it could be why you’re turning the key but not moving the truck. Even if your fuel gauge shows plenty of gas, the tank could still be empty. It is because sometimes the fuel gauge meter breaks down and misleads us.

Grounds strap

It is a big black cable with almost all the car’s electrical devices running through it. It’s also called the ground wire or negative battery cable. If this has a malfunction, you’re looking at a breakdown of the entire car. Some signs that tell you the ground strap is malfunctioning are hard starts and electrical devices continuously fluctuating between on and off. The throttle has damaged cables, and a flickering dome light can also be seen if something is off with the ground strap.

Timing belt

It is a crucial but lesser-known element of the car. When this breaks, the cam and crankshaft cannot rotate and thus fail to turn on your engine. It’s usually a rubber strip but also sometimes comes as a timing chain. The job is to rotate at the right time when the engine demands it.

Key fob

In a push-start car, the issue can simply be the button. When the key fob battery is dead or has any other malfunction, it won’t signal the engine or spark plug to start up. A repair or replacement is needed since these cars cannot be started with a replacement key.

The best diagnostics tool

Modern problems have modern solutions. The good thing about lavish and innovative cars is that their breakdown solutions won’t be deadlocked. Rather you can buy some simple and cheap tools to diagnose the problem immediately. Keep these handy, and you’re always good to go.

Here’s the best scanner that we came across in our search.

Ancel AD310 Classic Enhanced Scanner

With more than 35000 purchases on Amazon alone, this is hard to beat diagnostic tool. As recommended by Scotty Kilmer, it deserves a space in your car boot due to its sheer ease of use and value for money. It needs no external battery or power. Just connect to your car via a Data link connector. The fault reader is fast and accurate, reading diagnostic trouble codes and other check engine light problems.

The make is sturdy with insulated cables to protect from wear and tear. Since it only weighs 12 ounces, you can easily carry it anywhere without a fuss.

NameAD310 Classic Enhanced Universal OBD II Scanner
BrandANCEL
FeaturesSturdy & compact
Power SourceBattery Powered
Screen Size1.4 Inches

Pros

  • The price is really good.
  • ANCEL’s a trusted brand.
  • It’s good for the price.

Cons

  • We had some issues with the live data graphs menu.
ANCEL AD310
It's a great device.

Motopower MP69033 Car OBD2 scanner

The next best scanner on the market and Amazon. An innovative scanner with a DTC lookup library. It’s got 9 protocols that are all compatible with most US, Europe, and Asian cars. The portable design makes it super easy to carry. At the same time, the thick insulated cable will ensure no wear and tear. The LED display is praiseworthy, and customer reviews have applauded it.

NameCar OBD2 Scanner Code Reader
BrandMOTOPOWER
Display resolution128 x 64
FaultsABS / Airbag codes NOT Supported
Item Dimensions LxWxH6.02 x 2.75 x 0.91 inches
Power SourceBattery Powered
Screen Size2.7 Inches

Pros

  • Portability
  • Real-time data
  • Ease to use apps
  • Sensors for multiple parameters

Cons

  • Only reproducible errors are transferred to memory. If it doesn’t recur, the first error is deleted from memory,
  • Standalone handheld OBD-II scanners can be quite bulky to carry.
  • Scanners with mobile apps will require WiFi all the time.
Sale
MOTOPOWER MP69033
You'll love this tool.

It overheated & won’t turn over – what do I do?

There are some solutions to prevent this from happening. You need something to keep your car cool even in frigid conditions. Friction is kept at a minimum when the moving parts of an engine don’t touch as much. Thus, energy is preserved, and the car doesn’t overheat. A lubricant can help with this.

Valvoline Extended Protection Motor Oil

This super tough Motor oil was designed considering the harsh conditions a car must withstand in all types of temperatures and terrains. That is why it is now 10 times stronger against oil breakdown and 50% more effective than its competitors. The dual defense additive technology is what gives it its edge.

Wear, friction, heat, and deposits are kept at bay. You’ll certainly thank us for reincarnating your engine.

Pros

  • Value for money
  • Reliable as it is a 150-year-old brand
  • Good performance and protection

Cons

  • Oil for diesel engines lesser known
  • High-temperature performance seen better in other brands
  • Lasts shorter than its competitors

The starter works, but the engine won’t turn over

There could be several reasons for this. The most common reason is a dead battery. If you left the headlights on or an interior light on during the night, it could have drained the battery by the next morning. Therefore, you’re not able to start the car. Another reason could be a faulty spark plug that can’t turn the ignition on. A spark plug will need replacement.

However, this may be even trickier if the fuel pump or fuel injector is at fault. The fuel pump is responsible for supplying enough pressure to run the fuel through the system. In contrast, the fuel injector supplies the fuel to the ignition. During this delicate process, all components must be functioning properly. Suppose the fuel filter also involved in cleaning the fuel of impurities is compromised. In that case, you’re looking at some serious damage too.

But what if the engine is fine, and your fuel gauge meter tricked you into believing you’ve got enough gas? It could be the same, and all you needed was some extra gas while you fretted over calling mechanics. No matter the problem, good motor oil ensures that you don’t have to go through repairs repeatedly. On the other hand, a diagnostic tool like a scanner will read your fault codes when the check engine light is on. Be sure to keep both things handy in your garage.

It cranks but nothing happens with starting fluid.

An extremely cold temperature often calls for starting fluid. But sometimes, even this doesn’t help. If that is the case, take a look at the following possible reasons for your car’s condition:

  1. A dirty fuel injector
  2. A worn-out spark plug
  3. A timing belt went loose or worn out
  4. Bad fuel pump relay
  5. A dead car battery
  6. A dead key fob battery
  7. Not enough fuel
  8. Malfunction MAF sensor
MAF sensor

Issues after sitting overnight

There can only be a handful of issues with a car sitting overnight and not starting in the morning:

  1. A dead battery – If you had some headlights or other electrical devices left on in the car throughout the night, this could have drained the battery. The battery must be recharged or replaced to power up the engine.
  2. A bad fuel pump – Sitting overnight can drain the battery to the extent that the car starts but doesn’t provide the right voltage to supply enough pressure. The fuel pump will then be unable to supply the right amount of air to the ignition system.
  3. Unclean fuel filter – If you’ve got some junk in your fuel filter, you’re going to have a hard time getting your vehicle on the road. There might be no problem with your fuel injector or fuel quantity. Still, if the filter is contaminated or full of gunk that can prevent clean fuel from getting through, your car will overhear. If it does that, it’s likely to break down.

It won’t start, but the lights come on.

The lights coming on are a sign that the battery is functional. It’s not a dead or drained battery causing the immobile vehicle. Rather, the issue is either the starter or the ignition system. When this happens, the spark plug must first be checked. The starter might be the issue if you can’t hear the clicking sound. Open up the engine and look for the starter and any possible defects. The ignition coil is also an essential part of the ignition system, which could immobilize the car if it malfunctions.

You can use starter fluid if the issue is the cold weather which freezes up the engine. If that also doesn’t work, the solution is to call up a professional.

Why trust us and how we picked?

Every piece of information that has been provided here is a result of personal experience as well as case studies of cars with such faults. All the products listed were personally tested by us to ensure the complete solution to the problem. That being said, several experts, also considered confirming our findings.

Factors to consider

Time

How old is your vehicle? Is it time to get rid of it? You must analyze that before you go ahead with other solutions. Sometimes, the vehicle is so old that all it does is just suck out money from our pockets. So always know when it’s time to send it to a junkyard.

Warranty

Any product that you buy to fix a car engine that cranks but won’t start should have some warranty. Read the label carefully before purchasing it. The warranty gives you some time to check the product practically in real scenarios and in case any discrepancy is found, it can be easily replaced free of cost.

DIY

Sometimes, the problem is not as big as it looks. It can easily be fixed at home. All it takes is just a good read of an article like this one and Voila!, now you can just simply order the product you want to replace and fix it on your own.

Compatibility

A digital code reader is a very good option to diagnose the fault with your car engine. But it can be an expensive affair. Before you go ahead and buy it, make sure that it is compatible with the model of car that you have.

fuel injectors in a box

How much does it cost to fix?

The cost of fixing a car engine that cranks but the car won’t start, if the problem is with the starter, you might have to shed between $400-$600, including labor costs.

ford fuel filter

car engine in good condition

Here is the full list to assess when the car doesn’t start:

SensorsEngine components
Mass airflowSpark plug
Throttle positionIgnition coil
Crankshaft positionFuel pump
Fuel pressureFuel pump relay
Brake pedalFuel Injector

Fuel filter

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