Ever had a time that your car wouldn’t start? Yup, it’s not much fun – especially if its dark and/or raining outside. The maddening part is that you just want to know: is it time to call AAA or simply get a jump start? There’s a big difference between those two options, especially if it’s late and you are in an area that you don’t feel safe.
In this guide, we will do something different. Rather than explain how the starting system works in a car and all the techno-babble stuff, we will look at the immediate symptoms you are experiencing and give some quick guidance as to what to do. (OK, we might give you a little techno-babble because we really can’t help ourselves. Sorry.)
Headlights do not turn on. Turn the key, no noise and nothing happens
This is usually the symptom of a dead battery. If the car was running recently (like a few hours ago) but just not now, your battery is probably just dead and needs a jump start. This can come from someone who will help you out or by calling AAA. (Note: this is a good time to mention that it’s always a good idea to carry jumper cables in your car. You can get them in handy storage cases or pouches that can be stashed under the seats or in the trunk.)
Headlights turn on. Turn the key, you only hear a loud “whirring” sound
Probably a bad starter. Here’s what we learned from Efird of Florence, a local Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram dealer in Florence, SC. Car starters are standard DC motors but use a device called an overrunning clutch. When you turn the ignition key on, the starter solenoid interlocks the starter’s pinion gear with the flywheel. Once the engine starts, the overrunning clutch releases the pinion gear. However, if the solenoid mechanism is too worn to engage the flywheel in the first place, then all you’ll hear is a whirring sound as it spins away. This is call AAA time.
Headlights turn on. Turn the key, you hear a loud click sound
Two parts to this diagnosis. The first one is that your battery is charged up but you just have a bad connection to it. If you feel comfortable with it, open the hood and check the connections to the battery. Make sure they aren’t loose. The second diagnosis is that you have just enough charge to cause the solenoid to click, but your battery is almost dead. If this is the case, you just need a jump start. If jumping the battery doesn’t work, its AAA time.
Headlights are turn on. Turn the key, the engine cranks and cranks but does not start
This symptom means that your starter system (battery, starter and wiring) is just fine, something else is not working. The most obvious thing is you are out of gas but that rarely happens when a car has just been sitting. It’s more likely that you have a failure with your ignition or fuel system. This, of course, is a situation where the best option is to call AAA because your car needs to be seen by a mechanic.
By the way, if you are having car trouble and you do not feel safe, it is entirely acceptable to call the local police. They won’t usually help you out with AAA or help jump your car,but they can provide safety while you attend to your vehicle.