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CAR MAINTENANCE TIPS: MY CAR WON'T START

This checklist will help pinpoint the problem—so you can get back on the road that much faster.

By Kathy Sena

You hop in your car, ready to go to work in the morning, but when you turn the key a horrible feeling suddenly envelopes you: “Oh no, my car won’t start!” It’s best not to tinker with your vehicle too much without knowing what the problem is, because you could complicate the situation and have to pay more in the long run. But it does help to be a bit of a detective, to assist your service technician in diagnosing the issue. Pay particular attention to your vehicle—do any of the below statements apply?

  • I left my headlamps on. Battery issues are the most common reason a car won’t start, according to Ford senior master technician Jim Twitchell. “The battery is the heart of the starting system.” So if you left your lights on, and your vehicle doesn’t automatically switch them off when it’s not running, then the battery is likely drained. In this case, you’ll need to jump-start your car or have it towed.
  • My car has failed to start before. If this is a first-time occurrence, it’s even more critical that you note any unusual sounds or distinguishing details—such as the ones mentioned below—because your service technician may try to recreate the scenario.
  • My car cranks and starts after a while. “If it cranks and eventually starts, you may be looking at a fuel-pressure or throttle problem,” says Twitchell.
  • I hear a clicking sound when I turn the key. “One click? That’s probably normal,” says Twitchell. “But fast, repeated clicking can indicate a battery problem or a poor connection at the battery post.”
  • It’s really hot or cold outside. “Some things may only happen when the car is hot or cold,” says Twitchell. Extreme temperatures can cause automotive parts to expand or contract, and this can lead to a bad connection.
  • A dashboard warning light is on. There are a number of different issues that can be indicated by these lights, Twitchell says. For instance, a flashing anti-theft light can indicate a problem with the anti-theft system, perhaps because the key ID is not being recognized by the engine’s computer for some reason. This causes the car to not start, as a protective measure.

Once you’ve taken notes, you’ll probably need to have the car towed to your local Ford Dealer Service Center. If your car is still under warranty, you may be eligible for free 24/7 Roadside Assistance, which includes towing. (If not, Ford owners can pay a fee for this service.) A trained Ford service technician will listen to your observations, examine your car and quickly get you back in action.