One of the downsides of driving is that cars can fail unexpectedly at any time—even if you’re good with routine maintenance and upkeep. If your engine won’t fire up for some reason, try the simple fixes in this car breakdown guide before calling roadside assistance.
And remember: while these tricks might get your car to start, none of them are a permanent solution. Even if your car comes back to life, have it checked out at a repair shop as soon as possible.
Your car won't start and there's no audible click
If you don’t hear a clicking noise (or any sound) when you turn the key, you’re likely dealing with a dead battery.
Colder temperatures are detrimental to battery health, which is bad news for Canadian drivers during winter. Fun fact: dead batteries are amongst the most common car failure reasons in Canada. The Canadian Automobile Association South Central Ontario (CAA SCO) got 354,480 car breakdown calls related to batteries in 2019 alone.
See if any of these tricks will help:
- Get a jump start. Provided your battery isn’t completely finished, jump starting your battery might get you back on the road.
- Try the “shift” trick. Step on the brake pedal and put the car into neutral. Try starting your car. If there’s no response, put the car in park, apply the parking brake, and try starting your car again. If you’re lucky, this might get the engine started by restoring the electrical contact in your car’s transmission.
You hear nothing but a click
Hearing a “click” when you turn the key isn’t great, but it’s less concerning than a dead battery. A clicking sound usually indicates that the battery is weak but not completely finished.
In this scenario, you could be dealing with dirty battery terminals or a worn starter motor.
See if the following fixes will get your car going again:
- Try ‘cycling’ the key to heat up the battery and terminals. Turn the key repeatedly (about ten times), wait a few minutes, then try to start the engine again.
- Tap on the battery terminals. Pop the hood and give each of your battery terminals a few taps. The idea is that if your terminals are corroded, moving them around a bit could give them better contact with the battery.
- Smack the starter motor. Try smacking the starter motor several times (you can find it by listening to where the ‘clicks’ are coming from). This can help free up any stuck electrical contacts. Doing this may require going under the car, so please take proper safety precautions, including, ensuring your car is in park with the parking brake applied. We also recommend having a “spotter” with you to make sure it is safe to get under the car.
You can hear the engine cranking but it won’t start
If you hear a cranking sound when you turn the key, it’s unlikely that there are any electrical faults in the vehicle. In this scenario, the issue may have something to do with your car’s fuel pump relays, gas tank, or engine flooding.
See if these fixes will remedy the situation:
- Change the fuel filter. Running your car at dangerously low gas levels is bad for your fuel filter. Check the manual for how frequently your car’s fuel filter needs replacing. If it’s overdue, you may need to have it replaced.
- Tap the fuel tank. As a temporary fix, try tapping the bottom of your gas tank a couple of times with something sturdy and then crank the engine. If your fuel pump is stuck, whacking the gas tank may nudge it loose long enough to get your car to the garage. Again, this may require that you get under the vehicle, so make sure you are taking proper safety precautions, including, putting the car in park with the parking brake applied, and having a “spotter” with you.
Save yourself from the hassle of unexpected breakdowns
There’s never a convenient time to deal with a car that won’t start. Avoid the hassle of unexpected breakdowns with GuardTree—Canada’s first subscription-based extended car warranty.
As Canada’s only used car warranty subscription, GuardTree provides protection from most major electrical and mechanical repairs. And our subscriptions also include additional benefits like roadside assistance, car rental, and trip interruption costs to keep you on the road.
Disclaimer: this post is to be used for informational purposes only and does not constitute mechanical or other professional advice as it relates to your vehicle. Each person must consult a qualified professional with respect to matters referenced in this post. GuardTree Inc. assumes no liability whatsoever for actions taken (or not taken) in reliance upon the information contained herein.