There are scores of reasons why a car might not start from minor issues that won’t cost a cent to solve to major problems that could send your car to the scrapyard. While your first reaction to nothing happening when you turn the key may be panic, getting agitated does not change the cause of the issue or back on the road. Start with the simplest fixes first, and then seek help from a mechanic for more complicated issues.
Troubleshooting running out of gas
If your car won’t start and the gas gauge sits at empty, you’re likely out of fuel. Follow these steps to get your car started and on the road.
Step 1: Get gas. You only need enough gas to get to the next station, and a gallon or two usually does the trick. Most gas stations require you use a proper gas can and offer these for sale if you do not already have one.
Step 2: Put the gas in your gas tank. Use the same place where you usually fill at a pump, saving about a cup of fuel in case you must prime the carburetor.
Step 3: Press and release the accelerator pedal. Do this a few times, and start your car. If it attempts to start but does not, proceed to the next step.
Step 4: Prime the carburetor. This applies if your car is not fuel injected, which are mainly vintage vehicles. Remove the carburetor’s (a large circle with a filter inside on top of the engine) top.
Pour a few drops of fuel into the very center, and then try to start your car. You may have to repeat this several times.
Jumping your car with jumper cables
Jumpstarting a car is a skill everyone should learn because there is a high likelihood you will need to do this more than once in your lifetime. It requires a set of jumper cables and another vehicle that runs.
Step 1: Park a running vehicle beside your car. Get close enough that the cables will reach between the two batteries. Leave the engine on.
Step 2: Open the hoods of both vehicles. Make sure they are propped in place where they will not fall.
Step 3: Attach the cables to the running vehicle. Clip the positive then negative terminals on one end of the jumper cables to the running vehicle’s battery posts (red is positive, and black is negative; this may also be indicated by plus and minus signs).
Step 4: Attach the cable’s to your car. Clip the positive then negative terminals on the other end of the cables to your car’s battery posts, and wait one to two minutes.
Step 5: Start your car. You can then remove the cables in the order they were attached, and allow your car to run ten or more minutes before turning the engine off.
Push starting a car with a manual, or standard, transmission
Another method to bypass a dead battery or alternator in a car with a standard transmission is to push-start it. This just requires the help of others to push your vehicle.
Step 1: Get help. Recruit one or two strong people to push your car from the back end.
Step 2: Build up speed. Place your car in neutral gear with the key turned into the on position, and tell the people to push. This works best if you are positioned on a downhill slope.
Step 3: Force start it. Swiftly put the car into 2nd gear once it is moving and press the gas pedal to start it.
These are just a few common fixes for how to react when your car does not start. If one of these does not work in your situation, you may need to have your car towed to a qualified service technician to diagnose and repair the issue.