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05 Nov 2020
Adam Bate

Common reasons why your car won’t start


Man sat by broken down car

You turn your key in your car's ignition - nothing. But don't panic, here are some reasons why it won't start.

We know how frustrating it can be when your car won’t start, and even the most reliable cars can play up. 

But don’t worry, we’ve listed the most common reasons why your car won’t start and tips on how you can check what’s wrong. 

In a hurry? Jump to:

1. Flat battery

2. Fuel

3. Starter motor

4. Blocked fuel filter

Call a breakdown service

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1. Flat battery

The most common reason why your car won’t start is because the battery’s dead. If your battery isn’t charged, the engine won’t turn on and none of the electricals will work.

Trevor Eastman of Haynes says, “Just starting up can take ten minutes off the life of your battery and most people don’t realise it can take around 30 minutes of driving to fully charge your battery."

So if your regular morning commute is just ten minutes to the station, you could be draining your battery over time.

If the car won’t start, "Check the battery leads are tight," says Eastman.

Make sure everything is switched off before you start the engine. If it starts, don’t instantly switch on your lights, heating, or radio as these put added pressure on the battery.

If you’re starting a cold car, another tip is to dip the clutch as you turn the ignition. This reduces the pressure on the battery.

If it still won’t start, you can also jump start the car. But unless you know how to do this properly, don’t attempt it. It's too easy to damage your car or hurt yourself if you get it wrong.

If you're prepared to risk it, read our guide to jump and bump-starting.


2. Fuel

This may sound obvious, but an empty petrol tank is a frequent cause of breakdown. And starting a cold car first thing in the morning can use more fuel than normal.

It can be too easy to forget to fill up so if you’re already running low, stick some petrol in on the way home.

READ MORE: How low can you let your fuel tank go?


3. Starter motor

A starter motor is an electrical motor that’s connected to your car’s battery and sets the engine in motion when you turn the ignition.

If you hear a loud click when you start the engine, this could be a problem with your starter motor.

"With older cars, putting the vehicle in gear – with the ignition off – and gently rocking the car could do the trick and dislodge it," says Eastman. But, if the problem persists, you’ll need to go to the garage.

READ MORE: Dashboard warning lights explained


4. Blocked fuel filter

A blocked fuel filter stops fuel reaching the engine so the car can’t burn the fuel it needs to start.

Change your filter every 15,000-20,000 miles. Look at changing yours when your car next has its next service.

READ MORE: Signs your car needs a service


Call a breakdown service

If you’re stuck at home, you’ll need the breakdown home start option.

It’s worth knowing that some services limit the number of callouts you can have before extra charges kick in.

READ MORE: Breakdown kit checklist


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