Like the TV character who ignored the ‘check engine’ light on her car’s dashboard display, many drivers tend to ignore these warnings signs, wishing they will go away, more in hope than expectation. Yet these warning lights are there for a reason and it pays to remember the golden rule that, the longer it is ignored, the more expensive it will ultimately be.
The Illuminated Dashboard
The modern car has many little illuminated dashboard warning symbols. The more complex vehicles have become so the greater the number of warning lights there are. That’s progress for you. They light up upon ignition and then go out; at least until one day one doesn’t. Although in some peoples’ eyes they might just as well be Egyptian hieroglyphs, in fact the car’s handbook identifies each one. The sensible driver takes a moment to check and takes immediate action to resolve the problem.
When Cars Go Wrong
That’s all fine, advance warning is a good thing; but what if there is no warning? What if the owner turns the key or pushes the button and nothing happens? Well, don’t panic. For every problem there is a solution and, although there are potentially many reasons why a car won’t start, here are three of the most likely culprits:
This is something that most motorists should know but, over time, tend to forget. That ageing batteries run out of steam should be obvious but even newer batteries can lose charge because of a malfunction elsewhere under the bonnet. The heart sinks when the key is turned or the button is pressed and nothing happens, except perhaps just an ominous click.
A good test of the battery is to turn the headlights on; if they light up as they should then the problem probably lies elsewhere. If they are dim or not showing at all then the battery is flat. This is the most common issue. After the long winter we have recently endured, the battery has taken a lot of punishment and a worn out battery will give up by season end.
As a stop-gap measure, a friend or neighbour might have some old-school jump leads to get the motor going, but even then the first port of call is your local garage for a thorough check-up. A recently new battery that goes flat may indicate that it is not receiving charge from the engine because of a fault elsewhere; an old battery might have died. A good tip to keep a battery in fine fettle is to try and give the car a decent long run at speed (legal speed, that is) in good conditions; that way it gets a chance to fully charge.
We will overlook that time you forgot to put fuel in and the car wouldn’t start through starvation, and acknowledge that sometimes there could be a fault in the fuel delivery system. Every internal combustion engine car has a fuel filter somewhere in the fuel feed. It helps keep lines clear, blocking dirt and other debris that can accumulate in a tank, especially if the car is often run on empty. If this filter becomes clogged, it can cause a variety of problems, including starting issues as fuel can’t get through. Check the handbook to locate the filter or better still, make sure the vehicle is regularly serviced in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure the filter is checked and changed before the problems really start.
The Engine Oil
It’s a fact that some car engine oils are different to others and some are better than others. This isn’t the one-size-fits-all that it might appear to be. For example, in extreme conditions, more specialist oils might be needed to keep an engine sweet. Here in the UK the weather is not so much of an issue but the right oil remains an essential item.
In winter, oil becomes less free-flowing. That, in turn, puts additional strain on a vehicle’s battery because it is harder for the engine to turn over and start in cold conditions. It is entirely possible to use the wrong oil. There is no ‘that’ll do’ default.
If oil has too much cold viscosity (a resistance to flow), there’s a good chance the motor won’t start. Conversely, excessively hot viscosity means the oil will run thin and internal engine components will not be adequately lubricated. Ask you car servicing garage to ensure that right oil is used at service and always change the inexpensive oil filter at the same time to help keep the car running on song. A well maintained car is a car that starts on demand.