You put the key in your ignition and nothing happens. Your car won’t start. You need to get back on the road and to your destination. Do you know how to diagnose the problem and start a stalled car? Here are four techniques to help you get a stalled car started again.
Determine why the car won’t start
The first step in getting a stalled car to start is determining where the problem lies. There are two main reasons why a car won’t start: either the battery has died or the starter has gone bad. There are several reasons why your battery may have died, from leaving lights or your radio on too long, to a bad or damaged alternator that isn’t recharging it properly.
Turn on the car and listen. To determine if it’s your battery or your starter, turn your key to the start position or push start the button on your car, if equipped, and listen.
If the engine “cranks” and makes a “rr-rr-rr” sound, the problem is not your battery or starter. If the engine is silent, you most likely have a bad starter. If you hear clicks, but the car won’t start, the battery has probably died.
Check the headlights. Another way to diagnose whether the problem is with your battery or starter is to check your headlights.
If you try and start your car, hear no sound and your headlights will not illuminate, you probably have a battery problem. If cranking your car over makes the headlights go out, the battery may not be fully charged or there may be a short in the starter. If the headlights don’t flicker, turn off, or have any visible reaction to starting the car, it’s likely a problem with the circuitry.
If, after diagnosing your car, your car will crank but not start, you may have a ignition or fuel system problem.
Jumpstart the battery
To jumpstart a battery you need jumper cables and a “booster” car that currently starts and runs to help. There are several different jumper cables you can purchase, all with different lengths and amperage levels. Ensure the jumper cables you purchase are intended for your vehicle make and model.
To use jumper cables:
Step 1: Arrange the cars. Park the “boosting car,” or one that will start, near the the car with the dead battery. Make sure the cars are not touching.
Step 2: Switch off the cars. Turn off both cars and place them both in Park.
Step 3: Red on dead positive. Start with the dead car, and clamp the red jumper cable to the positive battery terminal, or the one marked with a + symbol.
Step 4: Red on donor positive. Clamp the other end of the red cable to the “booster” car’s positive battery terminal.
Step 5: Black on donor negative. Stay at the booster car and clamp the black cable to the “booster” car’s negative battery terminal, or the one with a - symbol.
Step 6: Black on dead metal. Finally, attach the other end of the black cable to a metal surface of the dead car. Make sure this surface is bare, and it can be a bolt or a screw.
Step 7: Check the clamps. Make sure all clamps are firmly attached to the booster car and dead car’s batteries and that no cables are touching engine parts on either vehicle.
Step 8: Start the donor car. Start the booster car and let it idle for about three to five minutes.
Step 9: Start the dead car. After three to five minutes, leave the booster car ON and start the dead car’s engine. The vehicle should start if the battery was indeed the problem.
Step 10: Run both cars. Let both cars idle for another three to five minutes while the jumper cables are connected.
Step 11: Remove the black cable from the dead car. After both cars have idled for a few minutes, begin to remove the jumper cables, starting with the black cable from the previously stalled, or dead car.
Step 12: Remove the black cable from the booster car.
Step 13: Remove the red cable from the booster car.
Step 14: Remove the red cable from the dead car. Finally, remove the red cable from the previously stalled car.
Step 15: Buy a new battery. At this point, you can drive to a local auto parts store or service center and purchase and install new battery.
Jumpstarting a manual transmission
If you have a manual transmission, you don’t always need to use jumper cables to get your car going again. While it works best when facing downhill, a little help from friends can work on level ground. This will not work if facing uphill.
To jumpstart a manual transmission:
Step 1: Turn the car on. Make sure the car is in the on position.
Step 2: Release the parking brake.
Step 3: Put the car into 2nd gear. Push down the clutch pedal and put the car into 2nd gear. You can start a car with it in 1st gear, but it may be more difficult as the engine has to work harder.
Step 4: Get ready to go. Keep the clutch pedal depressed and release your foot off the brake.
Step 5: Let the car roll downhill or be pushed by friends. Once your car is moving, slowly release the clutch and press down in the gas/accelerator pedal.
Your car should start! Take it directly to a service center or repair shop for full diagnosis and repair.
Replace your starter
If a jumpstart doesn’t do the trick, you may need to have your starter replaced. This problem is best left to the professionals. Calling roadside assistance to have your car towed to your local mechanic or service center to have them fully diagnose the problem and repair the necessary parts.
Keeping your car running smoothly and safely is the main goal of every driver. No one wants to pay for insurance on a car that can’t be driven. Knowing the causes of a stalled car and how to start it can keep you on the road.