Everybody seems to have, at some point, gone to start the ignition, only to find that it just won’t turn. You might hear it crank, but it won’t start. Now what?

The good news is that when your car cranks but won’t start, it doesn’t mean you’re facing an expensive solution. In fact, it can be an easy fix, so there are a few things you should check on first.

Why the Car Cranks but Won’t Start

Assuming the battery isn’t the problem, your vehicle’s engine requires three different things to run – specifically, fuel, spark, and compression. You may be thinking, “I know what fuel is, but what about the others?”

The simple explanation is that your engine depends on different systems to get your car to start and then go, so when the car doesn’t start, it could be a few different things.

The fuel pump may be out of whack, which means that it may need to be replaced. If fuel isn’t getting to your engine, then you’re not going anywhere.

Spark is going to come from your spark plugs, but if they’re bad, then there’s no spark. If there’s no spark, there’s no igniting the fuel that your car needs to run.

Compression is a little more complicated to explain. The compression refers to how the internal or external combustion engine is working and whether or not there may be issues with valves and pistons. There are tests that can be done to determine if any of these are the problem.

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The Difference Between Not Running and Just Cranking

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of what the difference in problems can be, first, you need to understand the variance between not running and just cranking.

If you go to start your ignition and you get absolutely zero response, then your engine isn’t running. That means there is no sound, no response, just silence. A non-running engine typically requires a longer amount of time to figure out what’s going on with it, so you may be out a vehicle for longer than you anticipated. This can also be more costly.

On the other hand, if you go to your car, start the ignition, and hear a clicking sound, that’s cranking. Believe it or not, you want to hear your car crank over not hearing any response. Depending on the problem, the fix could be relatively inexpensive if this is what happens.

The Engine is Cranking, Now What?

There are a few key things to check before you go forth and seek out a professional. Here are a few tips to get you started.

1. Blown Fuses

The quickest and easiest thing to do is going to be to use your owner’s manual and locate your fuses. Remember, fuses are used to protect electric circuits, so if there is a short circuit, a blown fuse is probably the source.

Fuses blow when a potential short circuit is detected, causing a break in the support that would be given to things like your fuel injection or fuel pump. No fuel means your car won’t start.

Once they blow, your engine stops working. Thankfully, there are simple ways to detect a possible blown fuse. You can pull them out and inspect each one individually. Alternatively, you can use what is called a test light to see if a current is traveling through the fuse.

If fuses are the cause, it may be a simple replacement you can do at home, or you may have to take your vehicle in to get it checked. If you replace a part and it still doesn’t work, call a pro to look at internal wiring.

2. No Spark

Spark plugs ignite the fuel and air mixture to make your ignition system work. The system may stop working because of a few possibilities – a bad ignition module, bad spark plugs, or a failed crankshaft angle sensor.

The most common is the spark plugs, so test the ignition using a test light. You connect it to ground with one of the wires disconnected. Once you crank the engine as you hold the light, it will help you determine if one of the plugs is the problem.

If you see a blue spark, the system is in proper working order. Without a spark, it may mean more is needed like testing the crankshaft sensor by a professional.

3. Lack of Fuel

A lack of fuel does not necessarily mean you forgot to fill up your gas tank. It is more likely that the fuel injection system is having issues either with the fuel lines or the fuel pump.

If your fuel pump isn’t giving you enough pressure, you’ll be stuck when your car cranks but won’t start. If the injectors aren’t doing their job to give you the right amount of fuel mixture, you have the same outcome.

You should hear your pump working if your ignition is on without being cranked. If you don’t hear it, then you may consider taking it to a professional to make sure the wiring is working properly.

When Your Car Cranks but Won’t Start

Always remember, when in doubt, take your vehicle to a professional if you’re worried about causing any additional problems.

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