Causes of Engine Failure and How To Fix It

Engine Related Issues

By Rodney (Mechanics)

Have you ever felt the anger of putting the key in the ignition and everything remains dead? Your car does not start and you do not know why. You might feel the need to call a tow truck or a mechanic, but before you do that, you need to know that there are many causes and solutions for this common problem. In this article we will show you how to diagnose and remedy a car that won’t start step by step. We will also provide some tips to prevent this from happening again in the future.

There are two main reasons why a car won’t start: either the battery is dead or the fuel is not getting to the engine or no spark is being created. Let’s examine these scenarios in more depth.

Dead Battery

Dead Battery-Causes of Engine Failure

The most common reason why a car does not start is a dead battery. The battery supplies the electric power to start the engine and operate the accessories e.g. the lights, radio and air conditioning. If the battery is drained or faulty, it will lack the power to start the engine.

How do you know if the problem is with the battery?Here are some signs:

  • The dashboard lights are dull or flashing, or they don’t work at all.
  • The engine makes a clicking sound when you turn the key, but it does not turn over.
  • The headlights are dim or they don’t work at all.
  • You recently left the lights on, kept the door open, or used the car accessories without the car engine running.
  • The battery is old, corroded, or leaking.

No Fuel or Spark

No Spark-Causes of Engine Failure

The other reason is that the engine has no fuel or spark. The gasoline fuel system provides the fuel from the tank to the engine where it is mixed with air and burns to create the power. The spark system is responsible for the delivery of the electric current for the ignition of the fuel-air mixture in the cylinders. If either of these systems is malfunctioning, the engine won’t start up.

How do you determine whether the fuel or spark system is the cause of the problem?Here are some signs:

  • The engine cranks but does not start or starts and then stalls.
  • The engine coughs, splutters, or hesitates when you accelerate or drive.
  • The engine backfires or makes a popping noise or loud sound when you try to start it.
  • You smell gas or see smoke coming out of the tailpipe.
  • You might find it hard to start your car during cold weather or after it has been sitting for long.
  • You have run out of gas, used poor gas, or had a failure of the fuel pump, filter, or injectors.
  • You have defective spark plug, wire, coil, distributor, or ignition switch.

How to Fix a Car That Won’t Start

Now you have an idea of what is probably behind your car not starting, you can perform some simple tricks to get it up and running again.

If the Battery is Dead

If you suspect that the battery is the culprit, you have two options: jump start the car or change the battery.

Jump-Start the Car

Jump Start-Causes of Engine Failure

Although jump-starting the car is a temporary solution that will allow you to start the engine and drive to the nearby mechanic’s or auto parts store, it is not a long-term solution. You will have to use another working car and a pair of jumper cables as well. And here how to jump-start your car:

  • Park the cars next to each other, but with a short distance between them, and shut off both engines and accessories.
  • Find the hoods and identify the batteries. They should have two terminals: with a positive (+) and a negative (-).
  • Hook the other end of the red wire onto the positive terminal of the dead battery and the other end to the positive terminal of the good battery.
  • Connect the negative terminal of a good battery to one end of the black wire, and the other end of the wire to a non-painted part of the car such as a bolt or bracket. This will conduct a connection and prevent spark.
  • As for the engine of the car with good battery, start it up and let it run for some minutes.
  • Please, turn the ignition of the car with a dead battery. If it starts, let it run for some time to charge the battery (at least 30 minutes).
  • Disconnect the cables in the reverse order: black from the ground, black from the negative, red from the positive, red from the positive.
  • Closing the hood and driving the car with the dead battery to a mechanic or an auto parts store is what you need to do if the battery needs to be tested and replaced if necessary.

Replace the Battery

Good Battery-Causes of Engine Failure

If jump-starting the car doesn’t work, or if the battery is old, corroded, or leaking, you may need to replace it. You need to buy a new battery, and install it yourself or have a professional do it. Here is how to do it:

  • Turn off the engine and accessories, and open the hood.
  • Disconnect the negative cable from the battery terminal. Do not touch the metal parts of the cable or the terminal with your skin or tools, as this can cause a shock or a short circuit.
  • Using the same method above, disconnect the positive cable from the battery terminal.
  • Remove the battery hold-down clamp or strap, and lift the battery out of the tray. Do NOT spill any acid from the battery, as this can damage your skin, clothes, or car parts.
  • Remove any corrosion or dirt and clean the battery tray and the cable terminals with a wire brush or a baking soda.
  • Place the new battery in the tray, and secure it with the hold-down clamp or strap.
  • Connect the positive cable to the positive terminal and the negative cable to the negative terminal of the new battery, and tighten it with a wrench or pliers.
  • Close the hood and start the engine to check if the new battery works.

If the Fuel or Spark System is Malfunctioning

If fuel or spark system is supposed to be a suspect, there is a good chance that some components need to be tested or replaced such as fuel pump, filter, injectors, spark plugs, wires, coils, distributor or ignition switch. Nevertheless, these are more complicated tasks that are solely suitable for those having special tools and skills. In the absence of sufficient DIY mechanical knowledge, we suggest that you take your car to a specialist for diagnoses and repairs.

How to Prevent a Car From Not Starting

Instead of spending a dime on fixing a car that won’t start, you can undertake preventive measures to keep your battery, fuel and spark systems in good condition.Here are some tips:

  • Check the battery once in a while and replace it every 3-5 years. Or sooner, if you notice any sign of wear and tear or damage.
  • Check that your battery terminals are clean and tight and do not turn on the lights, radio, or other accessories on when the engine is off.
  • Use a charger or maintainer if you don’t drive your car on a regular basis or for long distances in order that your battery stays charged.
  • Use good quality fuel and avoid running on empty, since this is the leading cause of pump and injector damage.
  • Refuel every 15000-30000 miles and check the owner’s manual for details to prevent clogging and contamination.
  • Change the spark plugs once every 30,000-100,000 miles (or according to your owner’s manual) to maintain good performance and driving efficiency.
  • Check the spark plug wires, coils, distributor, and ignition switch frequently and replace them if they are worn, broken, or corroded.
  • Ensure the oil and coolant levels are optimum, change them frequently, as low or dirty fluids can lead to overheating of the engine which in turn results in damage.

A car that won’t start can be a frustrating and costly problem. By following the steps and tips we outlined in this article, you can diagnose and fix a car that won’t start, or prevent it from happening in the first place. We hope this guide was helpful and informative for you.