Have you ever been in this situation where your car won’t start, but lights come on? Well, you are not alone.
Your vehicle might not start due to the problem with the battery, the battery cables, the ignition switch, the starter relay, the starter motor, and the fuel filter. Surprisingly, many people complain their vehicle won’t start without paying attention to the empty fuel tank! Silly?? It happens!
Before explaining this issue's main reason, it is important to understand your vehicle’s starting process and which components work together to get your vehicle started.
In this article, we will provide you with a quick explanation of your car’s starting system. Then, we list the different potential causes for cars that won’t start, but lights come on. Finally, we help you decide whether it's worth repairing your vehicle, not starting an issue or not.
How does the car start?
In most vehicles, there are specific components responsible for getting your vehicle started. If there is any issue with one of these components, the vehicle will not get going. Interestingly, by understanding each component's role and comparing its role to your existing problem, you can pinpoint the culprit.
The primary system responsible for starting your car is called the starting motor. This motor has specific components, including:
- The Battery
- The ignition switch
- The battery cables
- The starter relay
- The starter motor
Each one of these components has its role and work in a specific order.
There is a very common misconception that the battery is responsible for maintaining the electrical current for all the electrical systems; however, the battery is designed to provide the initial electrical current to get the vehicle started. The car starting process begins with the battery sending the electrical current through the battery cables to the entire electrical system.
Before the electrical current gets to the electrical components, the ignition switch blocks it till you insert and turn the key in it. By inserting the key in the ignition switch, you tell the car’s computer that you are ready to get your vehicle running. Once the car’s computer receives this, it sends a quick signal to the ignition switch to allow the electrical current to flow and make its way to the different components.
Once the flow is allowed to pass through, the starter relay converts the current into a stronger wave that is strong enough to start the motor. Without the starter relay, the battery must send a much stronger signal to start the motor, requiring larger wires to transport this large signal.
The large electrical signal then makes its way to the starter motor, which triggers the motor and gets the car going.
By understanding how the car starts, you can analyze the problem and identify the culprit. For example, if your car doesn’t start at all, it could be an issue with any of the mentioned components in the starting motor.
The car won’t start, but lights come on
In this section, we provide you details on what could be the problem.
Problems with the car’s battery
The first and very common cause for a car not starting is a dead battery. While some people might argue that if the car doesn’t start and the lights come on, the battery might not be the problem, which is not always the case. This is because the battery might have a little charge that is small enough to start the lights but not the car.
Therefore, you can not eliminate a faulty battery from your list of potential causes. Your vehicle’s battery might die due to many reasons:
- Headlights were left on overnight
- The battery passed its lifespan
- The battery’s connection is corroded or loose
- The battery was exposed to extreme temperatures
Interestingly, there are specific symptoms you can always look for to confirm it's your dead battery like:
- Your car’s engine doesn’t crank fast
- You might hear clicking sounds
- Your car’s headlights are dim
- The car’s check engine light illuminates
- And others
To confirm that your vehicle’s battery is causing the issue, you can always jump start the car. If your car started with a car jump, then the car’s battery needs replacement.
While the cost of replacing your car’s battery varies by car’s make, model, and year, the average car battery replacement cost ranges between $50 and $120.
Problems with the car’s ignition switch
The car's most common cause won’t start, but the lights come on with the ignition switch. Like any other component of your vehicle, the ignition switch might fail at some point around 100,000 miles. Thus, it's not surprising to have issues starting your car after 100,000 miles.
If you suspect it’s the ignition system causing the trouble, look for any of the following symptoms:
- The car will not start while other electrical components might work
- You will not be able to turn the key
- Your vehicle might stall
- You will not hear any noise coming from the starter motor
- All dashboard like might flicker
To replace the ignition switch, it might cost you between $125 and $275 on parts only. While the parts price might not be very high, expect to pay much more when accounting for labor costs, especially if you get the job done at a dealership.
Problems with the car’s starter
If the battery and the ignition switch do not have any clear issue, you can move on and check the starter. As we mentioned before, the starter takes the signal from the battery and triggers the engine to get your vehicle going.
The starter can go bad, like any other component, over time of use. The car’s starter is expected to last up to 150,000 miles. Thus, having issues with the car not starting around this mileage is not surprising.
There are common symptoms to look for and confirm its the starter causing the issue like:
- The car won’t start, but lights come on
- You will hear a strange clicking noise
- The engine will not crank
- If you look at the starter, it might be filled with oil, soaking it.
- The vehicle might smoke
If you confirmed the starter causing the issue, you could get it replaced from $344 to $562 on parts only. Again, the labor cost can increase the price significantly.
Problems with the car’s battery cables
If the battery can not send the electrical current to the ignition switch and all other electrical components, your vehicle can not start.
If the battery’s cables are loose or corroded, the electrical current will not make its way anywhere, so the car will not start. The battery cables are also expected to get damaged and corrupted at some point.
You can visually inspect these battery cables and look for loose connections or signs of corrosion. If the problem is with loose connections, you can tighten them. However, you might change the battery cables if they are completely corrupted or broken.
To replace the battery cables, expect to pay between $260 and $296 on parts only with labor costs much higher.
Problems with the car’s fuel filter
Besides the direct starter motor components, the fuel filter might also cause the car not to start, but lights come on, especially if the fuel filter is completely clogged.
The fuel’s filter is responsible for keeping any specks of dirt or contamination from making its way to the combustion chamber. These filters can get clogged over time of use and depending on the type of fuel you use. As they get clogged, the engine might not receive the required amount of fuel needed to fire it and get the car going.
Even if there is fuel in the fuel tank, the fuel will not make its way to the engine with a completely clogged fuel filter. It is important to note that a partially clogged fuel filter does not cause our vehicle not to start.
There are several symptoms you can also look for to confirm it's your fuel filter causing the problem like:
- The car will not have constant power as you change the loads
- The check engine light might illuminate
- The engine might misfire
- The engine can stall
- You will not be able to start the car
- Your car will drop its fuel economy forcing frequent visits to the gas station
To replace the fuel filter, expect to pay between $14 and $60 on parts only.
The gas tank is empty
While it might sound silly, it is not very rare for people to forget about checking the fuel tank.
If the engine doesn’t receive any fuel, how will the vehicle start?
Why my car won’t start after installing a new battery?
Installing a new battery makes people very confident that the issue is not related to the battery. However, in some situations, this might not be the case.
If your car doesn’t have a good alternator, the alternator might consume all the battery’s charge, leaving you with a dead battery.
Besides checking the battery, you also need to confirm that the ignition switch works just fine, along with the battery cables and the starter.
If my car won’t start, but lights come on, is it worth repairing it?
As you noticed before, repairing issues with the car not starting are not very expensive all the time; however, to best answer your question, you need to think of other factors.
If your car is at high mileage and has other significant issues, the repair costs might be extremely high and getting close to your vehicle’s value. In this case, it might not be worth spending the money repairing a battery, starter, ignition switch, and others.
Luckily, you can always sell your car to Cash Cars Buyer and use the money to get a better vehicle.
Cash Car Buyers is one of the top-rated junk car removal companies in the nation. We pay the top-dollars for your vehicle despite its condition. Do not hesitate to call us, thinking that your vehicle is not worth anything.
As junk car buyers, we expect rusted, broken, and completely damaged vehicles. However, this doesn’t mean that we don’t know by good vehicles; we buy any unwanted car.
Besides paying the top-dollar, we provide free towing for all customers despite their living location.
All that you need to do is:
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Suppose you have a situation where you won’t start, but lights come on. Most problems are usually related to the starter motor system, including the battery, the ignition switch, the starter relay, and the starter motor.
Besides these components, your vehicle might not have sufficient fuel needed, or the fuel filter might be clogged completely.
Whatever the cause was, you must get the problem repaired as soon as possible. Depending on the source of the problem, the repair price and time varies but not significantly. In general, most issues related to cars not starting are not very pricy.