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No Crank No Start: How To Diagnose An Engine That Won't Crank?
No Crank No Start

No Crank No Start – How To Get Your Car Going Again?

For some, the feeling of your car not turning on is frustrating. For others, it’s nerve-racking (especially for an automotive enthusiast). This problem is faced by almost every car owner out there. The “no crank, no start” phenomenon in layman’s terms means that the engine doesn’t respond to the key turning or pressing the start button.

There may be several reasons for your car to behave in such a manner. Maybe the battery is dead, or there may be a bigger fault in your engine, but there is no need to worry. Every problem has a list of solutions and so does the “no crank, no start” issue.

The word crank is derived from a part of the automobile engine called the crankshaft. The crankshaft is one of the most important parts of an automobile. Its main aim is to translate the rotation of the pistons in the engine into an actual movement of the wheels. Engine cranking is the term used when your car engine is not able to turn on.

The process of putting your keys in the ignition to the part where the car engine is working is not as complicated as it seems, but it does involve a few steps. These steps and the parts involved need to be checked if your car has some problems turning on. Once you know what’s wrong, then you will have a better idea of why it won’t crank.

Here are some things you need to know if you are or have been experiencing this problem.

Ignition System

No Crank No Start

As the name suggests, the ignition system is responsible for firing up a car. There are a few steps that are involved in this process. Most vehicles today use an electrical starting motor. This consists of 4 main parts.

1. Battery

The battery is the most basic but important part of the ignition system. It is the vehicle’s battery that provides the electrical current to power up an automobile. The battery also supplies additional electricity when a vehicle is kept on ignition. The battery is also responsible for the working of all the electronics in a vehicle. Hence, any issue with the battery can cause the whole car to have multiple problems.

2. Ignition Switch

The ignition switch is the component responsible for the flow of electricity during the time of ignition. The standard ignition switch has 4 positions.

  • Off position/lock – This is the position when no part of the vehicle is receiving any electrical supply. You can take the key out and lock the steering with a little movement. At this position, no electrical part of your car will be working.
  • Accessory – This position allows the car stereo along with some other basic electronics to be switched on. You cannot take out the key when in this position.
  • Ignition/on – The ignition position allows all the electronics in the car to work properly. The key cannot be removed at this point and this position is the default position that the key returns to after you crank the engine.
  • Start The key needs to be turned to this position to crank the engine. You need to let go of the key after the cranking of the engine key as it returns to the ignition position. Holding the key in the start position can damage a vehicle’s spark plug.

3. Starter Relay

The starter relay is responsible for converting the small electrical current sent by the ignition switch to a larger current which is needed for the cranking of the engine. The starter relay is an important part of the ignition system, as the vehicles without this part would need switches and wires double their size to hold a current that large.

4. Battery Cables

Battery cables are multistranded wires which are rather large in size. They are responsible for carrying such a large electric current into the starter motor.

5. Starter Motor

The starter motor is the final part of the ignition system. It is responsible for the cranking of the engine during ignition and allowing the whole process to take place. When the ignition switch is turned on, the starter motor is engaged. It allows the crankshaft to turn. Then, it’s followed by air being sucked into the cylinders.

The starter motor has two gears on it. When the electrical current reaches these gears, they mesh together while the motor spins the engine. While all of this takes place, fuel and spark are introduced to the cylinders, igniting them, which in turn starts the engine.

As the vehicle starts working and the engine begins to spin faster than the starter, a gadget called the Bendix Drive separates the starter and the engine. This is when the starter disengages, and the vehicle’s ignition system’s work is done.

What To Do When Your Car Won’t Start

Every problem has a list of solutions that helps rectify and get rid of that problem. The first part of tackling the “no crank, no start” problem is to diagnose and make sure which part of the ignition system is causing the problem.

Once the problem has been diagnosed, you can take your vehicle to a mechanic near you or try solving the problem on your own. Here is a list of problems and troubleshoots that can help you get over this problem.

No Crank No Start, Possible Causes #1: Dead Battery

No Crank No Start

One of the most basic causes for the “no crank, no start” problem is simply a battery. The battery is one of the most important components of a car. It is responsible for turning on all the electronic components of a car. Alongside that, the battery is also responsible for providing the spark to ignite the engine into starting.

A battery being low on charge or if it’s completely dead is a big reason why your vehicle won’t turn on. There are several reasons why your car battery is dead or low. It can simply be dead because an electrical part is left turned on for a long period of time.

For example, the headlight, parking light, or an electrical outlet plugged into your vehicle. Your battery can also drain if your car is parked for a long period of time or simply because you have an old battery. The old battery usually tends to drain out within a day of no usage.

If this is the case of why your car is having this issue, the car won’t have enough power to turn the engine. This can be easily diagnosed, as your car would make a clicking noise when you try to turn it on, or the starter may turn very slow when you attempt to turn your engine on.

How To Check Your Battery

To check if your battery is working or not, you can follow some simple methods

  1. You can keep your ignition switch on the accessory or ignition stage and see whether your vehicle electronics are not functioning properly, or if the light present on the dashboard is dimmer than usual.
  2. The second method by which you can check your battery is by checking the voltage through a multimeter tester. The multimeter tester indicates and shows the voltage the battery is emitting. The voltage of a normally functioning battery should be around 12.6 volts. If your car battery shows less than 12 volts it means that the battery is discharged.
  3. The third way you can check your battery is with a carbon pile or an inductance tester. A carbon pile is a device that hooks onto the battery of a vehicle and is used to determine the voltage a battery is emitting. This gives the most accurate voltage reading emitted by the battery. If the voltage shown on the scale is less than 9 volts, it is an indication of a bad battery that needs replacing. On the other hand, when talking about the inductance tester method, is considered to be easier than the carbon pile testing method. This device needs to be hooked onto the battery and displays information that is on the battery label. This device lets you know whether the “no crank, no start” condition was caused due to the battery.


There are several solutions to this battery problem-

  1. Jumpstart – Jump starting a car is the process where you connect your car battery to another car’s battery through a set of jumper cables (once you’ve figured out how to put on jumper cables). This allows the battery from your car to supply enough current to turn the vehicle’s engine. After jump-starting your vehicle, you need to leave it on for a while as it will help the battery to recharge (only if your battery is in a good condition). If your battery is old, this process might not help you a lot.
  2. Recharging – Several workshops have battery recharge stations. Simply unhook your battery brace and disconnect the wires. This requires that you take the battery out. You can then give it to the workshop for recharging, and hook it back up once it’s fully recharged.
  3. Replacing – If your battery is not in the best condition, and is more than 5 years old, your car needs a new battery. The battery may not seem like a very important part of your car, but it’s responsible for making the whole car run. Also, a faulty battery can cause some problems down the road.

No Crank No Start, Possible Causes #2: Security Or Key-Shaped Light Flashing

The technology used in vehicles these days is very advanced. Some of these modern cars come with something called an immobilizer or a security system that only allows the car to run with the correct key.

The ignition key has a chip inside with a security code. When the key is inserted, the security system does a quick scan of the chip and only allows the car to start once the code has been scanned and verified. Usually, the “security” light comes on for a couple of seconds, checks the security code, and then turns the car on.


If the vehicle’s security light remains on or starts blinking, it means that there is an issue with the security system of your vehicle. It means that the security system did not recognize the key which was inserted and it won’t allow the car to turn on. You can find more information about this in the owner’s manual.

This issue can also be tracked by reprogramming the vehicle security code, which can easily be done at any service center or automobile workshop.

No Crank No Start, Possible Causes #3: Battery Wiring

The wiring of the battery may also be at fault causing your car not to turn on. If the wiring is loose or broken, it may disrupt the flow of electricity to the ignition system. Due to this, there may be a loss in electrical load causing the vehicle to behave as if the battery is discharged or not connected.

No Crank No Start, Possible Causes #4: Crankshaft Positioning Sensor

A broken or faulty crankshaft positioning sensor is one of the most common causes of the, “no crank, no start” problem. If this sensor is not working properly, it may cause the vehicle’s inner computer, the ECU, to not function properly.

Signs of a damaged crankshaft positioning sensor are:

1. The Tachometer On Your Car Won’t Function Properly

A sign of a damaged crankshaft positioning sensor is a faulty tachometer. The car’s ECU needs to relay the engine speed back to the tachometer. If the tachometer fails to do that or shows a fault, that means your car has a damaged sensor.

2. Decrease In Fuel Efficiency

Another sign of a fault in the crankshaft positioning sensor is the depreciation of your vehicle’s fuel economy. Your gas mileage will be lower than usual and if left unchecked, can cause the “no crank, no start” problem.

3. Ignition Sparks

Due to the faulty sensor, the ECU will not be able to turn the car on in an optimum way. The computer won’t be able to give the engine any spark, causing the engine to crank but not start.

No Crank No Start

4. Rough Driving

Because the computer will be receiving wrong information from the sensor, it will cause a very uncomfortable and rough driving experience. It can cause the car to misfire, or even stall completely. Engine stalling is a very unsafe driving situation for you and the people around you.

No Crank No Start, Possible Causes #5: Starter Won’t Crank

This is a very common issue in older cars with many miles on them. This issue can be caused due to several reasons-

These are just some of the technical problems your vehicle might be facing. If you think your vehicle is facing any of these problems, you should show it to a mechanic or a technician as soon as possible, before there is any further damage to your car.

No Crank No Start, Possible Causes #6: Problem With The Ignition Lock

There were some instances reported, especially in the Ford Escape, about a faulty ignition lock. This problem would cause the ignition lock or the ignition key to not work at all. Jiggling the key might be a solution to some of the cars out there, but if that doesn’t work, the vehicle needs to be shown to a mechanic or an expert as soon as possible.

Car Cranks But Won’t Start

If your vehicle’s engine is cranking, that means that electrically everything is all right with your car. But if your car still won’t start, here is a list of things you need to check to get rid of the problem you are facing.

1. Damaged Fuel Systems

The fuel pump is responsible for supplying the right amount of fuel to the engine at all given times. The “no start” issue may be caused by a fault in the fuel pump, fuel injector, or fuel line. Unfortunately, there is no way around a broken fuel pump and you will have to get a new one installed or find a replacement for the broken one.

Along with this, you should also get the fuel filter and the fuel line checked as they may be the reason for some clogging in the fuel line and which would cause the car to not function properly.

2. Fault In The Fuel Gauge

It is also possible that a faulty or broken fuel gauge might be giving the wrong reading to your vehicle. Your vehicle may be simply out of gas, which is causing the vehicle engine not to turn on.

3. Damaged Alternator

The alternator is responsible for supplying a constant stream of electricity. When a vehicle has a damaged alternator, it usually cuts the power from the engine and shows a fault on the dashboard.

The alternator goes bad over time. A damaged alternator may be the case if your car starts losing power, which would lead to “no crank, no start” and a huge bill.

4. Broken Engine Control Unit

The ECU or an engine control unit is the computer of the car, which is responsible for the smooth and comfortable running of your vehicle. The engine control module helps the combustion engine to work at an optimum level.

A faulty ECU can result in loss of power and it also causes the check engine light to go on. The ECU is an integral part of the vehicle, and if not fixed fast can cause the car to break down. If there is an ECU fault, it needs to be shown to a mechanic immediately.

5. No Spark

If the engine of your vehicle is cranking but not at all starting, it may be because of a fault in the spark plug. A spark plug is used to ignite the air/fuel mixture in the cylinders, which allows the car to turn on. A spark plug is not a very complicated part to fix and can be easily done by any mechanic. Sometimes, cleaning the spark plugs might also help your car work as well as new ones.

Preventing The No Crank No Start Problem

An engine is a highly complex piece of engineering, that works without a problem if all its parts function together in unison. Even the slightest problem or the smallest of parts can disrupt the optimum working of this machine.

Hence, to decrease the possibility of facing the “no crank, no start” problem, the car needs to go through regular maintenance. Essential parts should be checked regularly as it would decrease the chance of your car facing a similar problem. Along with that, any dashboard warning needs to be taken care of and solved as soon as possible, so that the vehicle can keep performing at the optimum condition.

Tell your technician a look at all of the parts of your vehicle, and be aware of the parts that need continuous service. This will not only increase your vehicle’s life but also ensure that the car can work in the best manner.

Car Battery and Starting Issues: Need-to-Know Facts

  1. Low battery water levels can cause internal shorts that may ignite the gases inside the battery and cause it to explode.
  2. Always check the battery water before doing any work on the battery.
  3. If in doubt, cover the battery with a heavy blanket when trying to jump-start a dead car.
  4. A spark under water cannot ignite anything. If the battery fluid level is above the internal battery plates, the spark will not cause an explosion.
  5. When a car won’t crank over and start, turn on the headlights and see what color they are.
  6. White and bright headlights indicate that the battery has 12 volts, but it does not tell if the battery can provide the amps necessary to turn the starter over.
  7. Headlights dimming or going out can indicate a bad connection, and wiggling, pushing, and pulling the battery cables can help restore brightness.
  8. If the starter is bad, hitting it with a hammer a few times can make it work, and the engine will start.
  9. The correct jump start procedure is to hook up both positive cables first, then the dead car’s negative cable, and the good car’s ground cable to a good ground.
  10. Watching the headlights while trying to start the car can provide clues about what is wrong, such as whether power is getting to the starter solenoid or if the battery is incapable of handling a huge request for power.

No Crank No Start: In Conclusion…

Automobiles are a huge part of any person’s life. So their efficient working is very important for an individual and the people around them. Not only proper precautions but timely checks and regular trips to the mechanic helps increase the life expectancy of your car. This starts attuning you to your vehicle. Plus, you become aware of the basic terminologies of car issues that can go wrong.

There are many reasons why your vehicle would experience the “no crank, no start” problem. But by learning about how to diagnose the problem your car is facing, you can quickly determine the source that is causing your vehicle to act this way.

There is no “perfect moment” for your car to fail. With the right knowledge and solutions, you can overcome these problems. Proper precautions and regular maintenance allow your vehicle to work at its best. And, run at a high-performance level for a longer period of time.

FAQs On No Crank No Start

If you’re still curious to learn more about the ‘no crank no start’ issue, our FAQs here might help…

Why Won’t My Car Start

There are countless reasons to explain why your car isn’t starting. The most common cause is electrical-related. For example, you might be dealing with a weak or dead battery. Or, there’s an issue with the electrical supply and charging as a whole, such as a faulty alternator, damaged cables, blown fuses, malfunctioning starter, or a bad ground wire. Beyond electrical concerns, there may be mechanical issues that are preventing your car from starting. For instance, you may be dealing with a bad fuel pump, a clogged fuel filter, or a leaking fuel line. Otherwise, there could be faults within the ignition system or even problems with your car keys and the anti-theft system.

How To Start A Car With A Bad Starter

Oftentimes, your car’s failure to start isn’t because of a bad starter, but due to a weak charge from the battery. In this instance, you might try giving your car a jump-start and letting the battery charge. Once it has a sufficient charge (usually by boosting it via a jump-start and letting the engine run for 5 to 20 minutes), you can try starting up the car. If it’s still not starting, you can then consider bypassing the starter relay altogether. You can do this by placing the shaft of the screwdriver on the starter solenoid’s S terminal and letting the tip touch the solenoid’s battery terminal. Then, turn on the ignition, and remove the screwdriver.

Where To Hit Starter With Hammer

If you’re still unable to get your car to start, it’s quite likely that you’re dealing with a bad starter motor. Although you can permanently fix this issue by replacing or repairing the starter motor, you could use a hammer as a possible quick fix to at least get your car going. This is because the starter motor, over time, can develop certain dead spots between its armature and field coils. To close that gap and remove the dead spots, you can gently tap on the back of the starter motor with a hammer. Do so gently, and keep tapping 4 to 5 times (in quick succession, but lightly), usually by the rear, side, or top of the starter motor.

What Sensors Can Cause A Car Not To Start

Given how intelligent cars have become these days, electronic faults such as bad sensors can quite easily cause your car to not start. Some of those sensors include a camshaft and crankshaft position sensor, respectively. Without knowing the state or positioning of either the camshaft or crankshaft, your ECU may prevent the engine from starting. On top of that, there’s the fuel pressure sensor. Without it, the fuel system might not be able to activate and send fuel to the engine. Moreover, a faulty MAP (manifold absolute pressure) sensor, MAF (mass airflow) sensor, oil pressure sensor, or throttle position sensor, among others, would likewise prevent your car from starting.

How To Start A Car With A Bad Fuel Pump

Without a properly working fuel pump, your engine won’t be able to receive a sufficient (if any) amount of fuel to ignite it. Thus, causing it to not start. However, there are ways to start a car without a functioning onboard fuel pump. For example, you can try attaching a fuel pressure gauge, or a manual pump. This way, you can try to apply manual pressure to get some fuel flowing into the engine to at least get it started. You could do this using something like a mattress pump. Other than that, it’s also a good idea to keep your engine warm and heated, as once the car becomes cool again, the fuel pump would reset itself once more.

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