Common Causes Your Car Struggles to Start

If your car struggles to start but runs fine, look first to the battery and alternator for the problem before assessing other parts of the engine.
Written by Kathryn Mae Kurlychek
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
background
If your car is struggling to start but running fine, it’s most likely a problem with your car’s battery or alternator—so it’s important to identify the exact problem quickly. If you’re sure the battery and alternator are fine, this could indicate other engine troubles. 
We’ve all been there: you’re getting in your car, you turn the key… and nothing. Maybe you try again, and it sputters to life. Or maybe it takes a few frantic switches back and forth before your car decides to start. But then it’s running fine, so you drive off and forget about it—until next time.
If your car is struggling to start but running fine, this most commonly indicates an issue with your car’s battery or alternator. But how do you identify what’s wrong in the first place?
Jerry
, the
trustworthy super app
, can help you do just that. In this
car repair
article, we’ll cover the typical problems you’ll encounter with your car’s battery and alternator, some solutions for addressing each one, and what you can do to keep your car starting and running like new. 
While we're at it, we'll show you how to save on
car insurance
costs.
Don't get ripped off!
Estimate repairs near you with GarageGuard™ for free so you KNOW the fair price.
No spam or unwanted phone calls · No long forms
No spam or unwanted phone calls · No long forms · No fees
icon4.717k Ratings
5M+Drivers Joined
7M+Cars Garaged

Car battery

Your
car battery
lives under your vehicle’s hood and is the primary source of power for your car’s electrical components. The battery helps power your vehicle’s lights, including the lights on your dashboard, as well as your radio, power windows, and other essential functions. 
It also sends voltage to your
car’s starter
—which is why if your car is struggling to start, you’ll want to attend to the battery first. 
If you think a faulty battery is to blame for your car troubles, you’ll want to look out for the following:

Rapid clicking 

If you’re turning your key and getting a rapid clicking noise in response, it could mean your car battery lacks the power to turn over the engine. You’ll want to check the output voltage levels (which can easily be done with a voltmeter). 
If the output reading is under 12, you’ll need a mechanic to take a second look. 

Battery power drain

Clicking could also indicate your battery is experiencing a power drain. Battery drains occur when excessive amounts of power are discharged after shutting off your car’s engine (such as vehicle lights not shutting off properly). 
Fixing a parasitic power drain involves replacing your
battery’s cables
, which requires at least a little prior experience with DIY car fixes. 

Battery corrosion

The clicking sound may also be a sign of a corroded battery terminal. To check for corrosion, you’ll want to inspect your battery for green or blue-deposit buildups (it’ll probably look grimy) that could be interfering with the transfer of power from your battery to other components of your engine.

Loose battery cables

Loose battery cables or frayed wires can also prevent or interfere with your car starting, and may be accompanied by a clicking noise. If this is the problem, you’ll want to replace the battery cables. 

Low electrolyte levels

Battery electrolyte is the liquid substance used to power your battery—it’s like car battery acid. If electrolyte levels are low, the battery won’t function well and will need to be recharged. 
In some cases, you may have to
replace the battery
—a quick fix at most garages. 

Swollen battery case

Fluctuating weather conditions can cause your battery case to swell and warp, reducing your battery’s output voltage. Once your battery is swollen, it won’t work properly—you’ll have to replace it. 

Sulfuric smell

If you’re getting whiffs of sulfur in your car, it could be an indication that your battery is leaking fluid. Fluid leaks can damage other components in your car’s engine, impacting your car’s ability to start, so it’s necessary to replace the battery promptly to correct the problem. 

Dead or dying battery

Sometimes, car batteries just run out of juice. An easy way to tell if your battery’s time is up is if your key fob stops working. Jump-starting your vehicle is an easy (albeit temporary) solution to a dying car battery. Eventually, you’ll want to get it replaced. 

Car alternator 

Your car’s alternator is connected to the engine and helps maintain your battery’s charge. A damaged alternator can run bills upward of $1,000 or more if not addressed, and can also harm your car’s battery, too. 
Common symptoms of a faulty car alternator include:

Loud noises

Loud rumbling or grinding noises are an indicator of a faulty alternator. Specifically, your alternator’s belt or pulley system may be on the fritz. You’ll have to replace these components to fix the problem, but if noises persist, it means you’ll need a new alternator entirely to get your car back to running smoothly.

Engine cranking

If it sounds like your engine is cranking too slowly, it could be the fault of your alternator. 

Flickering lights

If it seems your headlights are flickering, or that they’re not as bright when you’re idling, your alternator is likely to blame. The lights on your dashboard may also dim at this time; to address the problem, you’ll want to check your alternator’s drive belt. It could also be an issue with a corroded battery terminal or loose battery cables. 

Voltage leaks

As with your battery, your alternator can also leak. Lower voltage levels make it harder for your car to start running. To check your alternator’s voltage levels, you can use a voltmeter. 

Battery light

If your car’s dashboard battery light comes on (and stays on) after starting your car, it means there’s trouble with the alternator. You’ll know it’s the battery light because it’s shaped just like a car battery!

Stuck or failed ignition switch

The ignition switch is the part of your electrical switch that turns the engine over. If it’s stuck, damaged, or failing, you’ll notice that any electrically-powered car accessories won’t turn on. If it’s the ignition switch at fault, you’ll need a mechanic’s help to resolve the issue. 
MORE: Car won’t start in cold weather? Here’s what to do

Other common problems

So you’ve inspected your battery and alternator, and everything checks out. But your car is still struggling to start. What else could be the problem?
  • Starter: Clicking noises can also indicate problems directly with your car’s starter. If the electrically-powered components of your car (like the power windows, radio, etc.) are still working fine, but the car isn’t starting or struggling to start, it’s your starter that’s the problem.
  • Clogged fuel filter: Your car’s fuel filter helps keep the gas you power your vehicle with clean and easily flowing. On occasion, the filter will get clogged with excess debris (dirt, particles, rust) from your fuel and will need replacing. 
  • Broken fuel pump/frozen fuel lines: A broken fuel pump or frozen lines can prevent fuel from circulating through your engine and starting your car. Luckily, replacing a fuel pump is cheap, and you can easily thaw fuel lines with a little bit of additive. 
  • Oil is too thick/dirty: If you’re way overdue on an oil change, thick or dirty oil could be the culprit! Try changing the oil and replacing the filter to correct the issue. 
  • Spark plugs need replacing: Spark plugs play an important role in sparking the fuel and getting your engine running. Every 100,000 or so, they’ll need replacing. 
MORE: Why isn’t my car starting? A quick troubleshooting guide

How to find affordable car insurance

Car maintenance can get expensive, especially where your battery and alternator are concerned! That’s why it’s crucial to save where you can—like on your car insurance. Luckily,
Jerry
can help you with that.
As a licensed
car insurance
broker, Jerry lets you easily shop dozens of affordable quotes in seconds, from top name-brand providers like Progressive, Geico, and Allstate. Compare coverage quotes side-by-side, and when you’re ready to make the switch, let Jerry take care of the rest. We’ll handle all the paperwork, forms, and phone calls, and can even help you cancel your old policy!
Best of all, the average Jerry user saves $887 a year in car insurance! So don’t lose coverage—find savings with Jerry. 
Jerry
helped me so much and all I did was press a few buttons. They helped me go from paying $395 with my old insurer to $231/month with Progressive!” —-Jada E., satisfied Jerry customer.
Compare quotes from 50+ insurers with Jerry in under 45 seconds?
icon4.7/5 rating on the App Store | Trusted by 5+ million customers and 7 million cars
icon4.7/5 app rating | Trusted by 5M+ drivers

FAQs

If you hear a rapid clicking or loud cranking sound when trying to start your car, it’s likely a problem with your car’s battery or alternator, but there could be another engine issue at work. A grinding noisecould also indicate problems with your car’s starter.
If your car is hard to start or you’re struggling to get it started, you’ll have to troubleshoot the issue to fix the problem. 
It could be a problem with the car’s alternator or battery, the starter, the fuel levels, or something else—it’s important to investigate the problem promptly to prevent hefty maintenance costs.

If you hear a rapid clicking or loud cranking sound when trying to start your car, it’s likely a problem with your car’s battery or alternator, but there could be another engine issue at work. A grinding noisecould also indicate problems with your car’s starter.
If your car is hard to start or you’re struggling to get it started, you’ll have to troubleshoot the issue to fix the problem. 
It could be a problem with the car’s alternator or battery, the starter, the fuel levels, or something else—it’s important to investigate the problem promptly to prevent hefty maintenance costs.
Estimate your repair costs for free with GarageGuard™
Simplify your car maintenance with Jerry.
Try GarageGuard™

Easiest way to compare and buy car insurance

√
No long forms
√
No spam or unwanted phone calls
√
Quotes from top insurance companies
Find insurance savings