What should I do if my car won’t start?

.Now that we’re finally nearing the end of the shelter-in-place, and more people are starting to go back to work, many are finding their car won’t start. We’re getting a lot of calls every morning with this complaint, so I’m going to offer a little guidance in this short post.

What kind of no-start?

First, what kind of “no-start” is it? When a car won’t start it typically falls into one of two categories: “crank no-start” or “no-crank no-start”. Here’s where I normally make the “cranking but not starting noise” when I’m talking to a customer. I’ll pantomime turning a key to the start position and go “juh-juh-juh-juh-juh”. Or is it cha-cha-cha-cha-cha? I’m not sure, but a crank no-start is when the starter spins the engine but the engine doesn’t start (go “vroom”).

Crank No-start

If the engine is cranking, chances are you’re not going to be able to fix it yourself unless you know quite a bit about car repair, but there are a few things to check. Check the gas gauge. Did it run out of gas while sitting during the lock down? Probably not, unless you have a teenager. The other thing is to check to see if the immobilizer light is flashing when the key is in the ON position. A lot of folks did a lot of deep cleaning during the shelter in place and found all that stuff they’ve been missing, including car keys. The scenario is usually something like this:

  • you lose a car key
  • you have a new key made (erasing the old key)
  • the old key is found, but it won’t start the car

Anyway, if the immobilizer light is blinking, try a different key and see if the car starts. If so, we can make your old key work again. If not, we will still be able to figure out why the immobilizer system is preventing starting. A lot of Nissan products will actually erase all keys if the battery voltage gets low, which can be pretty annoying for the car’s owner.

No-crank, No-start

A no-crank, no-start is when you turn the key to the start position and there’s no noise, or maybe a series of clicks, or some slow grunting noise, but there no “juh-juh-juh-juh-juh” noise the engine makes when it’s cranking.

This is the more popular kind of no-start in this almost-post-COVID world. Cars don’t like to sit, and the battery is usually the first component to start complaining. When the car is sitting, it draws a small amount of current from the battery. It uses the current computer memory and to keep the body control module awake so the doors will unlock with the remote or the smart key. If the car sits, the battery will eventually discharge and the car won’t start. If this is the issue try the following:

How to jump start a car
  1. Don’t connect the cables backwards! Make sure that positive is connected to positive and negative is connected to negative. Reversing the polarity can to major damage. (over $1000 in some cases)
  2. Connect the jumper cables to the donor car, red to the positive terminal, black to the negative terminal.
  3. Connect the red jumper cable to the positive terminal of the car that won’t start.
  4. Connect the black jumper cable to a metal part on the engine block, which can be hard to do these days since plastic is used for so many engine part these days. If you can’t find anything on the engine block, just connect is to the negative battery terminal. Scroll all the way to the bottom if you want to know why you’re not supposed to do this.
  5. Start the donor car.
  6. Let the donor car run for 15 minutes or more. Why? Most of the jumper cables sold these days are absolute junk. Jumper cables should be at least 2 gauge, but almost all of them are 12 gauge, which isn’t big enough to carry the current necessary to start a car. If you let the donor car run for 15 minutes or longer, you’ll charge the dead car’s battery a bit so it can assist with the starting.
  7. Drive for a minimum of 30 minutes or take the car to the shop for battery charging and testing. It’s a good idea to charge and test the battery even if the car continues to start because: 1) batteries can be damaged by sitting in a discharged state, and 2) your daily commute may not be enough to fully recharge the battery.
Be careful out there!

Anyway, congratulations on needing a car again. Drive safe! East Bay drivers who’ve never driven outside of a traffic jam are driving like maniacs on the open freeway. Unfortunately many don’t have the skills necessary to drive at speed. Watch out!

We’re here if you need us

Click here if you’d like to make an appointment or give us a call at 510-540-7093 if you’d like to talk


 

The reason people advise against connecting the final clamp directly to the battery terminal is that it will likely spark. Batteries create hydrogen gas (same stuff as the Hindenburg) when they charge or discharge, so that spark might set off an explosion. That said, it’s pretty rare and typically only happens after the battery has been charging a long while. I was a mechanic for nearly 25 years before I ever saw it happen.