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Engine Cranks But Car Won’t Start – Everything You Need To Know!

Engine Cranks But Car Won’t Start

Engine cranking refers to your engine turning over and over without being able to power the car. The “crank” terminology comes from the “crankshaft”, which is the component of the vehicle that moves the pistons in your car. The crankshaft works together with the piston to power the vehicle, turning the engine through its cycle and sending the necessary spark to the cylinder to start the internal combustion and power the engine. 

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When your car first has issues with the “engine cranks but the car won’t start” situation, you need to determine what part, or parts, are at fault for this detrimental problem. If the starter won't crank the engine, then the problem most likely lies within the electrical system. A jumpstart would solve this problem of a bad battery, but there are also reasons as to why your “engine cranks but car won’t start” situation. 

Reasons Why Engine Cranks But Car Won’t Start


There are many reasons why your engine cranks, but car won’t start. There are various functions, mechanisms, and sensors in newer cars that have to work together for your vehicle to run smoothly. Some parts are more susceptible to damage and wear and tear than others and can be part of the reason your car engine cranks, but the car won’t start. 


If you have a modern car, the check engine light might also come on. This can help you troubleshoot the reason why your engine cranks, but car won’t start. In older cars, you need to figure it out on your own, since there is no way to read your vehicle’s memory.


  • Faulty Crankshaft Position Sensor


This is possibly the most common cause when it comes to your engine cranking, but your car won’t start. If the crankshaft position sensor isn’t working properly, it can cause the car’s internal computer – the engine control unit – to not function correctly. The engine’s computer is in charge of the crankshaft position sensor, so if it detects a problem, the check engine light will come on.

Signs of Damaged Crankshaft Position Sensor

A sign that the crankshaft position sensor is faulty is a damaged tachometer. The computer needs information about the engine speed from the sensor to relay information to the tachometer then. If the sensor isn’t working, the tachometer might signal that you have a faulty crankshaft position sensor. 


Third, your fuel economy will not be as good as it normally is, and your fuel efficiency will plummet. Your gas mileage will be much lower than normal, signaling that you have a faulty crankshaft position sensor, which can cause your engine cranks’ scenario, but car won’t start. 


Fourth, if you notice your engine cranks, but your car won’t start, this can be due to an issue with the ignition sparks. The computer won’t be able to give the engine any spark, making the engine crank, but not start. 


Lastly, the engine could run very rough or stall during driving. A faulty sensor can cause an engine misfire, the engine to stall completely, or the engine to crank, but the car cannot turn on.


  • Damaged Fuel System


The fuel pump supplies the engine with the correct amount of fuel for it to run properly. If the fuel pump is not working correctly, the engine won’t be able to run, and it will shut off. If the fuel pump, fuel injector, or fuel filter are damaged, this can cause the “engine cranks, but the car won’t start” issue. 


Unfortunately for this fuel issue, there is no way around a broken or faulty fuel pump – you need to repair or replace the fuel pump. You also should check the fuel filter, as that could be the main problem. The fuel filter’s job is to clean the fuel going into the engine. If the filter is clogged, the fuel going into the engine will be impeded. 


The last thing that could be faulty with the fuel system is the fuel supply line. This is how gas gets to the engine from the fuel tank supply. If the supply lines are broken or clogged, then there is no way for the gas to get to the engine. If the gas cannot get to the engine, the “engine cranks but car won’t start” problem will occur.


  • Empty Fuel Tank


This is a common occurrence that most people have experienced – you get distracted and forget to keep an eye on your fuel gauge. If you run out of fuel while driving, your engine can crank but your car will not start.


However, it might not be completely your fault. Another reason your car could run out of gas is if your fuel gauge isn’t working properly. Regardless of why you ran out of gas, you should still get your car checked by a mechanic to diagnose the correct problem and figure out why you are experiencing “engine cranks, but car won’t start” in your vehicle. 


  • Damaged Alternator


The alternator supplies your vehicle with a constant stream of electricity. If your car shuts off while driving, it is likely that your alternator has gone bad. A broken alternator will cut the power to your car, signaling this information to you by a flashing dashboard light or the engine suddenly shutting off. 


If you pay attention to your car, you can notice an alternator going bad over time. Your car will begin receiving an intermittent amount of power, leading to the “engine cranks, but the car won’t start” issue frequently happening in your vehicle. 


  • Broken Engine Control Unit


The ECU is your car’s computer in charge of the various systems and functions, ensuring your vehicle runs smoothly. This engine control module controls actuators on the internal combustion engine to ensure the engine is running at an optimal level.


If there is an issue with your car’s ECU, you can lose power in your car. Typically, you will notice the check engine light on your dash. After this light goes on, you should go to a mechanic immediately. 


If you decide not to take your car to a mechanic once the light goes on, your car can accumulate more problems that only worsen over time, like your “engine cranks but car won’t start” problem. Plus, you can’t fix an ECU yourself to save some money. Your only option is to take it to a professional mechanic to avoid your car shutting off while driving. 


  • Ignition Timing Is Off


The car’s ignition system supplies power to the engine for it to run efficiently. If your ignition system is faulty, your engine will abruptly shut off. The first thing you should do to remedy the problem is to put your car keys in the ignition again and try turning them – if this doesn’t start the engine, then you have ignition failure. If you experience ignition failure, you will also experience the “engine cranks, but car won’t start” issue that has plagued so many drivers.


There is a possible reason that does not involve an entire ignition system repair. The ignition relay could be bad, meaning the mechanism that controls the amount of electricity has stopped working. If this isn't the problem, you need to take it to a mechanic to fix the ignition system, so you don't shut off while driving. 

How to Prevent Engine Cranks But Car Won’t Start


In order to decrease the possibility of the “engine cranks but car won’t start” situation in your vehicle, you need to provide regular maintenance to your car. Be sure to check essential components like the engine consistently, ensuring you obey any warning symbols on your dashboard. 


Have a conversation with your technician about steps that need to be taken, the parts which need regular maintenance, and a schedule for you to adhere to. By keeping with regular maintenance, you reduce the risk of your car shutting off while driving, creating other expensive repairs and replacements for you and your vehicle.



As you can see, the instance of your “engine cranks but car won’t start” is detrimental to the engine’s performance, longevity, and overall functioning. If you let this problem go on for too long without any diagnosis and fix the problem, the engine cranking can harm other components in your car and lead to higher replacement and repair costs.


It is imperative that you know the reasons behind why your engine cranks but your car won’t start, like the faulty crankshaft position sensor, damaged ignition timing, empty fuel tank, broken alternator, or malfunctioning fuel system. Knowing these key symptoms of a damaged engine can help you prevent the engine cranking and your car not turning on from causing irreparable damage to your vehicle. 


Pinpointing and diagnosing the exact part which is causing the engine cranking issues can help you prevent this issue from worsening and causing extensie engine damage. Although you might think that it is an electrical problem due to a starter failure, the “engine cranks but car won’t start” situation can be due to other internal parts, which you need to find and fix before it is too late. 


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