Why Won’t my Car Start?

Dear Friend

I’ve been having vexing electrical problems to do with starting my car. 9 times out of 10 it starts up fine. But that one time out of 10, you turn the key and nothing happens, no click, no starter turning, nothing. For a while I thought it was the starter and I used to hit the starter with a hammer but finally I replaced the starter and the problem keeps recurring. The alternator is new, as is the distributor, not just the cap, but the whole shebang, coil, rotor, etc. .

Battery is new. Timing belt recently replaced. One point hat could be related is that not long ago I went to jet wash the engine to degrease it, and didn’t cover the alternator and that precipitated blowing the alternator and needing to replace that. Perhaps something else got wet? It’s as if sounds like something is sticking, maybe a relay, or something in the ignition switch? I’d be grateful for any ideas.


Hey there John

I would triple check the battery connections and make darn sure there is no corrosion build up on the cables and connections and that they are good and tight. These vehicles have a problem with loose battery connections and corrosion build up around them.

Next time this no start issue happens. Turn on the headlights then try and start the engine. If the headlights go OUT, you have a connection problem at the battery or a bad cell inside the battery and it should be replaced.

If the headlights DIM but do not go out, you most likely have a starter problem or a loose connection at the starter, or a loose ground strap at the starter or chassis ground. You should have a starter relay on this model if I remember correctly, but rarely do they fail, but might be worth a replacement just to rule it out.

If the headlights stay good and bright then you probably have a neutral safety switch problem at the transmission, a security or alarm problem if you have one, or an ignition switch or some sort of power source problem or ground problem like an engine to chassis ground.

This is NOT , an alternator, timing belt, spark plug etc. etc. type of problem. This is either a battery with a bad cell, a loose connection or a main power supply to the starter like an ignition switch or a safety switch like the transmission neutral safety switch. You might also try starting in neutral instead of park when this happens, that might help rule out a neutral safety issue. Moving the gear shift through all positions while holding the key in the start position might also determine a neutral safety switch problem.

Austin Davis, The Honest Mechanic

Austin Davis,
The honest Mechanic

About the Author:

Austin Davis, consumer car repair advocate. "Hi there! I love to help people solve their car repair problems and I hope my site was helpful to you today. Thank you for stopping by."
  • Hiburu Ethics

    My camry a csi 2004 sedan 6 cyl auto at times is cheeky she wont start… battery is new and voltage when car is not running is about12.7v auto electrical diagnostics have been done no faults found….in such times the dashboard is always blank sometimes you here a click and on it comes and you can start and run the car smoothly…on one occasion i heard a whining noise from the eng compartment relay boxes, one fan trying to turn. i ran my finger on top of the relays and fount fan3 relay vibrating. i rushed to a dealer and replaced it .. it ran good for a few days and the problem is back…. .,,,,,

  • Austin Davis

    Awesome, thanks for your comment

  • Car: 1993 Camry 2.2 Automatic
    Problem: Intermittent start dilemma.
    Status: Solved

    Austin said, “Moving the gear shift through all positions while holding the key in the start position might also determine a neutral safety switch problem.”

    This course of action to reliably start the car when sometimes starts in neutral and others in park was finally realized after lots of “following the flowchart style diagnosis.”
    My routine to start this 93 Camry was: apply the brake by pressing on the foot pedal, insert the key and turn it fully to START and while holding it in the Start position to slowly move the gear selector from park ever so slightly to move the switch out of that “dead spot” in the switch contacts. The neutral safety switch in my Camry was caked with grime and though there was a air dam/splash cover it still took a working and probably a lot of abuse, hence the problemos.

    the flowchart for me went with what i knew previously from other imports: check 12 volts at battery, check 12 volts at ignition switch, (this is where the neutral safety switch check would had been if i’d known about it”, check 12 volts at relay, test the relay out of car with 12 volts across the two side pins/contacts (the two that are in the middle are the 12v supplied to the starter solenoid, but then i couldn’t go any further but i rest assured that the starter was good since it was replaced a week prior. Read about the neutral safety switch and then was able to read the Haynes manual to confirm the switch being the only untested variable to the mystery. I’m done.. I hope someone reads this and finds a solution to their problem that Austin mentioned,and I realized through research and simple logic. Thanks

  • Austin Davis

    Hi there, well this COULD be a bad intermittent starter motor…these intermittent things are hard to track down and repair sometimes. I would first rule out the battery, install a new one or use a known good one first. You can have a bad cell inside the battery that is causing this.

    Also, rule out a loose or dirty battery cable connection. I see TONS of vehicles towed into my shop and a loose battery connection is the culprit.

    This does kinda sound like a bad starter motor, and it is easy to get to and is fairly inexpensive, so if you can not find anything else wrong I would go ahead and replace it as a “guess” if it was my vehicle. Have replaced many starters on these vehicles.

  • john

    I have a 1995 Toyota Camry 6 cylinder. Sometimes I had to turn the key 20 times to get it started. The repair shop said I needed a new starter but before I took it in to get a new starter it started starting right up. I know the battery is good. When it didn’t start right away there would be nothing then a short crank then a long crank and it would start, Any advice will be appreciated.
    Thank You

  • Rodrigo

    I have a 2003 Pontiac Aztec. The window would go down but would not go back up. If I seemed with the switch for awhile and held it down, it would go up after several minutes. I thought it was the switch (button) and I basically destroyed it in order to find out. I will eventually need a new drivers door window panel but for now (since it is winter), how can I just simply get the window up and have it stay up until I can get it properly fixed?

  • Austin Car Accident Lawyer

    i think the advice of Austin Davis will work out.. i tried it before.. :)