We have all dealt with the dreaded issue of our vehicles struggling to start. This can be a scary and frustrating issue to deal with that leaves us wondering if the issue is serious or not. Luckily, I have researched all of the major causes of this problem to help you identify and resolve them.
The most common cause of a car struggling to start is a bad battery or alternator. If the battery or alternator is working fine, then the next most likely issue is a bad starter motor, faulty engine components, or electrical issues somewhere inside of your vehicle. The wiring, weather, and security measures of your vehicle can also cause these problems.
This guide will help you pinpoint the cause of your issue and give you some advice on how you can resolve them yourself or with the help of a mechanic.
Reasons Your Car Is Struggling To Start
The sections below will detail some of the most common reasons for a vehicle struggling to start. This list is a great place for you to begin troubleshooting your issue. I know it can be frustrating dealing with vehicle issues but being knowledgeable about common issues can make resolving them easier.
Engine Component Problems
The engine houses several components that when facing a malfunction, will cause your vehicle to struggle to start. These components include spark plugs, fuel injectors, and fuel pumps. These components will be discussed in the sections below.
Spark plug malfunctions can be a common cause of cars struggling to start. I like to begin with the spark plugs because it is easy to identify issues they may be having. There is a possibility that the gap between the spark plugs will widen over time. As a result, they require more electrical power to be able to bridge the gap between the spark and the metal.
You might notice this when the engine is starting because the motor might have to turn for a longer time than usual before it becomes active. In the event, however, that the alternator works as it should with the engine running at a higher rev range, then the spark plug gap might not pose as much of a concern.
To correct this problem, the spark plugs will have to be re-gapped. This is a relatively straightforward process, and though you’ll need some depth gauges, it should be pretty easy for you to do if you have some experience. If you prefer, you can replace all the spark plugs with new ones, which is something you should be doing fairly often anyway (as they need to be changed annually).
There is also a possibility of carbon buildup on old spark plugs, which could lead to the same issue. It is likely that you will notice a black soot-like grit covering most of the parts. You will have to replace them as soon as possible.
Once you have inspected your spark plugs, it is time to move on to the next major engine component, your fuel injectors, for inspection.
Your vehicle’s fuel injectors are another common cause of a car struggling to start. No one likes messing around in their engine block but inspecting this component could help you determine the cause of your issue.
Broken Fuel Pump
Basically, the fuel injectors’ job is to inject fuel into the engine in order to make it work properly. Electronics are used in these combustion chambers to regulate how much gas or diesel is allowed to go into them. They are specifically designed to put a specific amount of fuel into them.
There is a possibility that if the fuel injector does not inject enough fuel (or inserts too much fuel), the mixture of air and fuel will not burn properly as a result. If this happens, the engine will have difficulty starting as a result.
As long as the car is running, the problem is likely to persist. As a result, if it is just a minor issue, you may not notice it until you have to start the engine.
If the injectors are faulty, they will have to be replaced. In order to test whether each part is working properly, you can use a multimeter. If you have an OBD II code reader, you may also be able to find your answer. There will only be one or two failures at any given time, so you should never expect more than that.
It would be very unusual for all of them to stop working at the same time, and I think that would be an indication of something deeper going on. This would call for a mechanic to inspect your vehicle to determine the issue.
Once your fuel injectors have been inspected, you should move on to the last engine component that could be causing your problem, the oil inside of the engine.
Oil Is Too Thick Or Dirty
The oil inside of your engine being too thick or dirty will definitely cause your car to struggle when starting up. I’m sure you are aware of how oil changes affect the health of your vehicle. As a result of neglecting this piece of maintenance for an extended period of time, the oil will become thick and dirty.
Essentially, this sludges up the fluid and slows down the entire process a result. In order for the oil to work properly, it needs to have a certain viscosity. If the oil gets too dirty, then the car won’t be able to start, as the oil won’t allow it to move forward.
In order to resolve this issue, you need to get your oil changed and replace your filter. Changing it yourself can be done for a very low cost. Now that we have covered problems inside of the engine block, we will need to move on to electrical components if you have not yet determined the cause of your issue.
There’s a good chance that if you have trouble starting your car, but the car runs fine, the problem is probably caused by a minor electrical fault in the engine.
Obviously, there are a lot of other possibilities that you should also take into consideration. In spite of this, most drivers will probably be able to resolve this problem after undergoing an electrical inspection.
It is important to remember that it isn’t just about the battery. As well as the starter motor, the key, the alternator, and miles of wiring, there are a few other prominent players involved in the electrical system.
Bad wiring is a major cause of vehicles struggling to start. I know many people are not super knowledgeable when it comes to vehicle wiring, so knowing what to look for can help identify issues easier and avoid them in the future.
A modern car has a lot of wiring looms and connections, so the first thing to do would be to start with the ignition wiring and the connections that go with the starter motor.
In order to start the vehicle, you must turn the key to START to activate the starter motor circuit. In this case, there could be an issue with it sending less current than it should be sending if there is a problem.
I would suggest that you seek professional help with this unless you are an electrical expert yourself and have access to your own equipment (multimeters, etc.). It would be best if you took your vehicle to an automotive electrician who would be able to help you out. There is unfortunately no way around the fact that this can be quite an expensive procedure, but it is often unavoidable.
There are many possible causes of electrical problems, and it’s best to rule them out before you invest in an electrical diagnosis. An easy electrical component that you can rule out is the battery or alternator, which will be covered in the next section.
Battery Or Alternator Has Gone Bad
A bad battery or alternator will definitely cause your vehicle to struggle when starting. We have all been there, dealing with a dead or dying battery when we have somewhere to be. This is a frustrating issue but one that is easily resolved.
During the production and storage of electrical power, the battery and alternator work together to provide power.
A serpentine belt is attached to the crankshaft of the engine to drive the alternator, which has the sole purpose of charging the battery as the engine runs. As a result, the battery provides power to the car’s engine as well as to many electrical components within it.
A battery is the source of all the power that is used when you turn the key on the ignition. Obviously, the alternator won’t be doing anything because the engine isn’t yet running. A battery that struggles to maintain a charge won’t be able to send as much power to the starter motor as it should.
There are a few things that could be causing this to happen. The battery will not hold a charge if it has cracks, leaks, or other damage that makes it unable to hold a charge. Also, if the alternator is not running at its usual rate because it is damaged internally, has a loose pulley, or has a loose belt, it will not be able to recharge the battery at a rapid rate.
Last but not least, the length of your journey is an important factor to consider. Typically, a battery takes about half an hour for it to recharge from 0 to 100% after a 30-minute drive on a highway.
In the city, if you take a lot of short trips that are stop-and-start, you will wear out your battery much faster than if you take longer trips. To see if the problem persists, drive your car up and down the freeway for one hour at a fast speed and see if the problem occurs again.
Once again, the best solution here is to use a battery tester. It will be able to tell if there is a problem with the battery or the alternator. It is then possible to replace these if they are needed in the future. Now that you have inspected your battery, the next thing to do is investigate your starter motor.
Starter Motor Issue
A bad starter motor will definitely cause your car to struggle when starting. This is a common issue to have, as this component is one that fails more than others in a vehicle due to frequent use. A lot of times, the cause of the issue is a problem with the starter motor (or another related component).
If you discover that your car is having difficulty starting, but that your battery seems to be fine, then your issue is likely being caused by the starter motor.
It is important to remember that the starter motor is connected to a circuit in which the ignition key and battery are also connected. As soon as the key is turned on, an electrical current is sent to the motor.
Afterward, it pushes its pinion in order to mesh with the flywheel of the engine. The motor is powered by electricity, which gives high torque to this small pinion so that it can crank the engine and give it the boost it needs to start. As a result, it will run under its own momentum under its own power.
When there is a wear-related problem with the starter motor and it is not working well, it will be difficult to crank the engine if it is affected by a wear-related fault. This causes the car to have a hard time starting as a result.
Using a specialist battery tester, it will be possible to determine the condition of the starter motor without the need to remove it from the car. As soon as you find out that it’s in poor condition, it will need to be rebuilt or, more likely, replaced if it’s in poor condition.
Now that we have covered the electrical issues that may be causing your vehicle to struggle while starting, we can move on to outside elements that could be causing the problem. These include weather, key fob issues, and built-in security measures unique to your vehicle.
Weather Could Be Affecting Your Car
The weather has a significant impact on your vehicle, especially when starting, especially in cold weather. Negative temperatures, chilly winds, snow, ice, and freezing fog/rain are not good for cars.
The liquids in a car are either thicker or freeze completely when it’s winter. Until they warm up, fuel and motor oil struggle to flow. It is possible for water in batteries to freeze, which results in low power. Within ten or fifteen minutes, the car should warm up, and everything should run normally after that.
Parking your car in a garage or makeshift tent is the best option. Despite its limitations, it could be a useful solution. If the weather in your area is not extreme, it could be a key fob-related issue causing your problem.
Key Fob Issues
The possibility exists that you may have forgotten to bring your key fob with you. The number of times that my keys had found their way into my jacket, which was in the living room, as we desperately tried to start the car, I can’t even count.
If the car is unable to detect the presence of the key fob, it will not be able to start. The only way you will know for sure whether or not this is the case is if you look at the dash and you see a message that suggests something like a key is not close enough. There is also the option of patting your pockets and seeing whether you can feel your key there.
Finally, you will need to consider the built-in security measures of your vehicle if you have yet to identify the cause of your issue.
Built-In Security Measures
The truth is that not many people know this, but there are actually some built-in security measures in many newer models of cars.
It is possible, for instance, to shut down the ignition switch of a car for up to 20 minutes if you try to put the wrong key in a car and start it by turning it on. It is very likely that this could happen in the future, although the degree to which this may occur varies a great deal from car to car.
It is essential that if an engine has trouble starting, but seems to work fine once it is on, then it should be diagnosed as soon as possible. Even though it might seem like an inconvenience, driving to work and then being unable to start the car will be a hassle.
A variety of potential causes can be checked, eliminated, or confirmed using DIY tools. Take into account the weather’s influence first, then inspect engine components, electrical systems, and ignition systems.