Last Updated: 26.11.2021

There are some sounds that you don’t want to hear from your car. One that will probably worry you big time is when you turn on the car and you hear a cranking noise, but that’s it… the car won’t start at all. This definitely means that there is an internal problem somewhere that is preventing the car to fire up. 

So, what could be causing this? 

There are several issues that can cause your car not to start. Keep reading as we explain the possible issues why your car is cranking but not starting. 

My Car Is Cranking But Won’t Start: What Does It Mean?

This situation could be puzzling you. So, let’s get into the important details. 

First, we need to establish what is happening inside the hood, look for the possible problems, and try to get the odd ones out. 

When you turn the ignition and hear the cranking sound, there are three possible sources: 

  • The engine is not producing the spark needed to ignite the fuel-air mixture. 
  • The engine is not getting fuel. 
  • The engine is developing compression-related issues.

car engine room image

For a car to run effectively, it requires fuel, compression, and spark to work simultaneously. When any of these three things happen, you will run into trouble trying to get the vehicle to start. In general, these are the reasons for the cranking sound. 

But let’s take a look at the problem in more detail and highlight specific issues preventing the car to start. 

Top 6 Reasons Why Your Car Is Cranking But Not Starting

Below are the top explanations why your car is cranking but it won’t start. Remember that one or several reasons might cause the problem, and it is important to have it checked and fixed by a mechanic if needed. 

Your Car is Out of Gas

When you turn on the ignition switch, the engine needs to have gas to compress and burn to provide the car with energy. Without fuel in the gas tank, the car will crank and sputter but will not start.

empty petrol light indicator on dashboard

The problem is simple, but you should also note that this sort of problem should be avoided. Running on or leaving your car with an empty fuel tank can cause damage to the fuel pump. Therefore, make it a point to load up before you run out of gas, especially when you’re going on a long drive. 

Dead Ignition Switch

This is another common problem that you need to think about if you turn the ignition key, but the engine is not firing up. The sound could be telling you that the ignition may be old or it’s dead. 

If you do a quick look at the ignition switch, you’ll see that it is fitted in a control system that helps turn on the car’s electrical system. If the ignition is damaged and stops working properly, it will affect all other parts of your car control system. 

It will be good to start the diagnosis by testing the ignition switch. If you establish it is okay and the car has enough gas, move on to the next. 

Corroded or Weak Fuel Pump

When you start your car or when it is running on the road, the fuel pump pushes the fuel from the gas tank to the fuel injector. So, if the fuel pump is faulty, the fuel may not reach the engine, thus, the car won’t start.

fuel pump of a car

Here is a simple way to test if the fuel injector is the problem:

When you turn on the ignition, you should hear a small buzzing sound as the fuel pump activates. If you do not hear this sound, check the pump closely. Remember that some cars activate the fuel pump at the same time as the engine. In such a case, you need to make sure that the fuel pump is working. 

If the pump is okay, but still the car won’t start, there are two more issues that to consider: a clogged fuel filter or blocked fuel injectors. Dirt causes these two problems. If any of these is the problem, immediately clean or replace the faulty component. 

Faulty or Frozen Fuel Line

A frozen fuel line is yet another reason that your engine won’t fire up. However, this problem is likely to happen if you stay in freezing areas and during winter. Once the fuel line gets frozen, it will be impossible for the fuel pump to push the gas through the engine. 

One solution to avoid this problem in the future is to not leave the car idle for a long period, especially in winter. At home, keep the car in a warm garage and don’t leave it out in the frozen street. This can help keep the fuel line agile and reduce the risk of freezing. 

Old or Dead Spark Plugs

The spark plugs can also be the source of trouble. In most cases, spark plugs only need to be replaced after doing about 100,000 miles. But if they are worn out or faulty, it can lead to ignition trouble.

spark plugs and a multi meter

Once fuel is pumped into the engine and compressed by the piston to the right level, the only remaining thing is for the spark plug to release the definitive spark to get the car started. 

When the fuel/air mixture is ignited, it explodes and releases the power that your car needs to move. Apart from the spark plugs getting old (surpassing 100,000 miles), here are other reasons they might get faulty: 

  • The engine is experiencing too much carbon buildup
  • Oil leaks into the engine and coating the plug
  • Issues with the ignition coils that supply the plugs with the power
  • Your car battery is low and does not send enough charge for the plug to generate a spark

Failing Vehicle Technology

If you are like us, the chances are that you fancy the convenience and connectedness that technology brings. However, we must say that it can also result in serious car complications. One such instance is when the car cannot start, and it can be inconvenient. 

In your car, there is a computer that generates and sends alerts showing when something might not be working. Each car model generates varying signals, depending on the problem at hand, but the computer system only works when the engine is running. 

When the temperature sensor of your car is faulty, the vehicle might send out cold air to the engine as opposed to hot air, making the car not start. In such a case, hot air jump starting the car engine could work.

One More Thing… 

Besides the above issues, insufficient compression might also prevent the car from starting. If your car engine is generating low compression, damaged gasket and seals that result in leakages might cause a problem. Aside from installing new gaskets, make sure to also have the valve seals and piston rings checked. 

The secret is to ensure that every engine part that makes it challenging for the car to hit maximum pressure is replaced. 

Related: Why Is My Chevy Truck Losing Power When Accelerating?

Final Thoughts

Why is my car cranking but not starting? This could be a minor issue, such as fuel freezing in the fuel line or a complex problem caused by an array of issues, from incomplete compression to faulty fuel pump. 

Chances are that one of the six issues we have looked at is causing the issue. The lovely thing is that all the issues, no matter how complex, can be tested and identified with precision. If there are damaged parts, have them repaired or replaced by a professional mechanic. One of the best practices is to monitor the different replacement parts to note when they are nearing the end of life.