What To Do When Your Car Cranks But Won’t Start

An average car dies many deaths, but with the right owner, it can always live to drive another day. When something fails, a DIY diagnosis and fix can save money and eliminate the inconveniences of dropping the vehicle off at the shop. One of the most common encounters involves a car that cranks but won’t start. Don’t worry, you’ve got this.

With a broad no-start issue, the possible causes are plenty, so it’s important to understand what it takes to make a car start and run. A normal gas engine needs power, fuel, air, compression, and spark. As indicated by the car cranking, power is not an issue, so it’s likely an issue with spark, fuel, or compression. See, you’re already making progress!

Through the process of elimination, we can determine what system and what part is causing a blockage in the path to combustion. The Drive’s die-hard informational team is here to guide your voyage and help along the way.

Potential Sources of the Problem

Somewhere on this car, there’s a failure within the fuses, relays, ignition system, fuel supply, or compression. A quick and dirty method of finding issues is using an OBD2 scanner to check the vehicle for codes, but if it’s clear, there’s some work ahead. Let’s figure this out.

Fuses and Relays

A car’s fuse box.

Ignition System and Spark Plugs

The ignition system consists of spark plugs, spark plug wires, a distributor (when present), an ignition coil or coil pack, and the ignition control module. Here’s how to narrow it down:

Spark Plugs and Wires

Visit The Drive’s reviews of the best spark plugs and the best spark plug wires.

  • If yes, it is doubtful the ignition system is the issue. Move on to fuel and compression.
  • If no, the problem could lie in the spark plug cables, the distributor (if you have one), or the ignition coil.

Distributor and Ignition Coil

Most modern cars do not have distributors. Instead, each plug wire has its own coil. Sometimes the coil is attached to the plug wire, other times, they are located in a block called a coil pack. Use these steps to inspect the distributor, ignition coil, and/or coil pack.

Changing used spark plugs.

Fuel Supply

A quick method to check if there’s an issue with the fuel supply is to spray starter fluid into the air intake hose. If the car then starts, runs for a few seconds, then dies, the system is not getting a proper amount of fuel. This means there could be a problem with the fuel pump, fuel filter, or fuel injectors.

First, check the oil pressure. Read The Drive’s guide to testing oil pressure for more information. If there is no pressure, you likely have an issue involving the fuel pump. If the system shows low pressure, it might be the fuel pump or a clogged fuel filter.

Fuel Pump

Follow The Drive’s guide to diagnosing a bad fuel pump.

Fuel Filter

Follow The Drive’s guide to diagnosing and replacing a clogged fuel filter.

Fuel Injectors


If everything above has failed to diagnose the issue, use a compression tester to test the compression of your engine. Low or no compression could prevent the car from starting. If you find you have low or no compression, you might have a major mechanical issue with the engine and should consult a professional.

Testing engine compression.

Get Help With Car Cranks From Mechanic On JustAnswer 

The Drive recognizes that while our How-To guides are detailed and easily followed, a rusty bolt, an engine component not in the correct position, or oil leaking everywhere can derail a project. That’s why we’ve partnered with JustAnswer, which connects you to certified mechanics around the globe, to get you through even the toughest jobs. 

So if you have a question or are stuck, click here and talk to a mechanic near you. 

FAQs About a Car Cranking But Won’t Start

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!

Can Bad Spark Plugs Cause a Car To Crank But Not Start?

If the spark plugs are old, worn, fouled, or damaged, they might not spark. When there’s no spark, there’s no starting.

What Can Cause a No-Crank, No-Start Situation?

If your car does not start and does not crank, there’s likely an issue with the starter or the charging system, which includes the battery, the battery terminals, the alternator, and any wire connections.

Will a Camshaft Sensor Cause a No-Start Issue?

It is rare for a camshaft sensor to be the root cause of a no-start situation, but it’s possible.

Featured Diagnostic Products

Ancel Classic Enhanced Universal OBD II Scanner

Equus Auto-Ranging Digital Multimeter

Fastronix Military Spec Battery Terminal Top Post Kit

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