If you experience engine cranks but won’t start, the problem is usually related to issues with the fuel system, ignition systems, or an issue with other mechanical components.
While many people might think when the engine cranks and does not start, the problem is with the starter; this is not the case.
When the engine cranks but does not start, the engine can either get the fuel, create the spark, or create the compression.
Unfortunately, when trying to crank the engine hoping for it to get the vehicle running, you might lead to other problems like draining your battery’s power. Thus, never overtry cranking the engine; instead, use the charge left in the battery smartly to pinpoint the real culprit.
This article provides you with a quick guide on what you can do to resolve the engine crank problem but won’t start.
What to check when the engine cranks but won’t start?
This section provides you with the first six things to check if your engine cranks but won’t start.
The vehicle’s fuel
It might be silly to some people but check the fuel tank first if your engine cranks but won’t start. It is not rare for people to skip this step and start looking at other complicated problems while their fuel tank is empty.
Review trouble codes
There is a way to review the computer’s error codes in modern vehicles even before the check engine light illuminates. These errors might be just pending and will eventually lead to a check engine light illumination soon.
Reviewing these errors allows you to identify issues with some of the internal sensors. For instance, if the crankshaft position sensor malfunction, the engine will not start. The same case is true for a bad camshaft position sensor and a throttle position sensor.
Problems with the battery
While a dead battery doesn’t allow the engine to crank, an old battery can sometimes prevent the vehicle from starting after the engine cranks.
Some older or faulty batteries can not hold the charge for a long time or have issues with rusted or loose connections.
Consequently, even after the engine cranks, the battery will not have enough electrical current supply to help the engine get the car going.
Issues with the starting system
If the battery doesn’t have any problem, you need to look at the starting system. Make sure that the circuit’s voltage is not dropping below the optimum value. Usually, starter problems are associated with additional ticking noise while the engine cranks.
Troubles with the security system
Modern cars come with extra anti-theft security systems that include engine immobilizer. If any error occurs with these systems, the engine might not start. Thus, you need to troubleshoot these security systems.
If you need guidance on troubleshooting these systems, check your vehicle’s owner’s manual and review the section covering the alarm system.
Once you checked the previous six important checks, there are other things you can do to resolve the engine cranking but not the starting issue.
Any combustion system requires a spark, fuel, and compression. Any issues with these items will prevent the engine from starting.
This section provides you with three important steps and components to troubleshoot and resolve the problem.
Check if the car has an appropriate spark
Your engine’s cylinder must receive a spark to create the explosion and get the engine running. If this spark is a week or no spark, the cylinder will not burn the fuel, so the engine will not start.
To troubleshoot the spark, you need to use a spark tester. There are certain adjustable spark testers to test for 10KV, 30KV, and 40KV. Once you have this tester, follow the following steps:
- Locate one of the engine’s sparks that you can easily reach and unplug it from the coil or the wire.
- Using your adjustable spark tester, select to test for 40KV then, connect the tester to the spark plug while hooking the tester to the engine ground.
- Have one of your friends assist you to crank the engine while you are testing the spark
- If the tester is in good condition, you will see a spark in the spark tester
- If the spark did not occur, try the test one more time using the 30KV and the 10KV. If you did not see a spark, then your ignition system has a problem.
The problem could be related to the igniter, the ignition module, the distributor, or the ignition coil. The best solution for you at this point is to contact a professional mechanic and get the culprit part repaired.
Check if the engine receives fuel
Assuming the cylinders receive the required spark, now you need to check if the engine receives the required amount of fuel. There are many obstacles the fuel might face before making its way to the cylinders, including problems with the carburetor, the throttle body, and the fuel injection system.
Follow the following steps to troubleshoot the throttle body injection system:
- Reach to the throttle body injection system by removing the lid of the airbox
- Have one of your friends crank the engine while you watch the fuel flow to the cylinders.
- The fuel is supposed to be fed to the cylinders as you crank the engine. If that is not the case, then you need to check for issues in your fuel system. Here are some of the things to look for:
- Check if the fuel tank has fuel at all
- Confirm no issues with the fuel pump
- Look at the fuel filter and ensure it's not clogged. You can always refer to the user’s owner’s manual for assistance.
- Troubleshoot the pressure regulator and make sure it doesn’t have any problem
- Finally, make sure the fuel injector doesn’t have issues.
Finally, confirm that the engine has the right compression
For the cylinder to perform the proper combustion, there should be a specific air-fuel ratio, a spark to start the ignition, and specific pressure without any air leak. If there were an air leak inside the cylinder, the cylinder would have “poor combustion.”
There are different air leak sources to the engine cylinder, including a jumped timing belt, a burned valve, a blown head gasket, and a worn compression ring.
Is it worth repairing the engine crank but won’t start the issue?
Before performing any repairs or spending any money, you must sit back and evaluate the situation. Sometimes it might not be worth repairing the vehicle, especially if your answer to any of the following questions is a “yes:”
- Is your car at high mileage?
- Are there any other significant problems with your vehicle like the engine, transmission, etc. ?
- Are repair costs getting closer to the vehicle’s value or more?
If you decided it's not worth repairing your car’s problem, you could always sell it as junk to a Cash Cars Buyer.
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- The car does not have a title
- The car has significant issues with the transmission
- The vehicle can not start
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What else can cause my car not to start?
The biggest items to cause the engine not starting are the ones we mentioned earlier: the ignition, the fuel system, and the compression. If none of these items was the culprit, there are other things to also review, including:
The exhaust gas recirculation (EGR)
The exhaust gas recirculation allows some of the air-fuel mixture to recirculate and get back to the engine one more time. This way, your vehicle reduces the number of emissions and stay within the optimum temperature.
In some cases, this EGR gets stuck open, causing the engine not to start.
The cold injector
A cold injector is used in some vehicles to support the engine at cold temperatures. This cold injector is regulated by a thermal switch and a system control module. If any of these two items failed, the engine would not start.
The Manifold absolute pressure (MAP)
Some engines are equipped with a manifold absolute pressure sensor that compares the intake pressure with the barometric pressure. If this sensor fails, the engine can not start.
Your vehicle might not have a MAP, and the best way to confirm is by reviewing your vehicle’s owner’s manual.
The Mass Air Flow (MAF)
The mass airflow sensor is responsible for monitoring the amount of air getting to the engine. This sensor might fail for a variety of reasons causing the engine not to start.
The Engine Coolant Temperature
The engine coolant temperature sensor is responsible for monitoring the engine’s temperature and telling the internal computer how much fuel is getting to the engine. A faulty ECT sensor can result in the engine not to start.
The canister vent valve
The canister vent value is responsible for allowing the harmful fuel emissions to re-enter the intake manifold and used again by the engine. This way, the car doesn’t emit a lot of harmful gasses into the atmosphere.
A faulty canister vent valve can also prevent your engine from starting.
The throttle position sensor (TPS)
The throttle position sensor is responsible for keeping the throttle valve in the right position as needed by the engine. A worn-out throttle position sensor can also affect the engine starting process.
It is very common for vacuum leaks to cause significant engine issues. Unfortunately, in most cases, it's hard to locate where the vacuum leak is happening.
Luckily, if the vacuum leak is causing the engine not to start, the leak is usually located either in the power booster vacuum hose or the EGR valve.
The last thing you can also troubleshoot is the carburetor, especially if your vehicle is not modern.
The carburetor must have a certain fuel; however, sometimes the carburetor can be flooded with fuel causing strong fuel odor inside your vehicle. To resolve the problem, try to press the accelerator all the way and start the engine. Sometimes you need to repeat this trick a couple of times before successfully starting your engine.
Many people complain about issues with engine cranking but not starting. The problem is usually related to either the fuel system, the ignition system, or some mechanical components.
Certain things to look for to resolve this problem include troubleshooting the ignition spark, the battery, the starter, the fuel tank, the fuel filter, and ensuring enough compression in the cylinders.
Following the steps we mentioned earlier, you will pinpoint the right culprit and repair it if it's easy. Otherwise, it would help if you got your vehicle inspected and repaired by a professional mechanic.