We don’t really think about our cars very much … until, of course, they suddenly can’t get us to where we need to go. So it’s a stressful (and inconvenient) moment when our car won’t start. 

There are plenty of reasons why this might happen, most of which are fairly common issues that can be easily diagnosed and remedied. Let’s take a look at some of the most common car-won’t-start culprits.

1. Your battery died (or isn’t fully charged)

Maybe you left a door slightly ajar all night. Or neglected to turn off an interior light. Or your car battery simply reached the end of its life. A dead or drained battery is probably the most common reason a car won’t start. Many cars have a warning light that’ll alert you when the battery is low. But if none of the electrical components in your car are working (lights, stereo, etc.), then a battery issue is a very likely culprit.

Think you drained your battery by leaving a light on all night or another human-caused error? Then you’ll probably just need a jump start to get your engine revving again. If your battery’s at the end of its life, on the other hand, then you’ll need to have it replaced. And if your battery continually fails after repeated jump starts, you might have a problem with your alternator. And that’ll require a professional intervention ASAP.

2. Your ignition switch is worn out

If you determine your battery is, in fact, working properly, then you may be having an issue with your ignition switch. Some common ignition switch symptoms include: problems with turning or removing the key from the ignition, flickering dashboard lights and electronics, and/or a stalled engine. Have a expert evaluate your ignition assembly for a complete diagnosis.

3. Your starter’s broken

When your car won’t start after you’ve properly engaged the ignition (either by turning your key or pushing your car’s start button), or you hear a loud clicking sound/a lot of noise when you attempt to start the car, a faulty starter may be to blame.

The starter is actually an electrical motor that’s connected to your car’s battery. It works with your car’s ignition to turn the motor on. If you starter isn’t functioning properly, the engine won’t crank properly either. It can be hard to distinguish between a faulty starter and a bad ignition switch, so be sure to have a professional weigh in.

4. Your fuel pump failed

The fuel pump gets gas to your car’s engine. If the fuel lines are worn or clogged (that includes your fuel filter), then you may have an issue starting your car. Some symptoms to look for include: a jerky engine at high speeds, losing engine power without warning, and worsening fuel economy. Have your fuel pump, lines, and filter checked out by a pro if you’re worried they might be the cause of your woes.

5. You’re out of gas

Hey, it happens to the best of us. If it happens to you and you’re an Esurance policyholder with emergency roadside assistance, you can contact us to have gas delivered to you. And be warned: running your gas tank down to nothing with frequency can prematurely age your fuel pump. Check out reason #4 for more details on why that’s a particularly bad idea.

The best way to take care of your car

car driving

Taking good care of your car means regular maintenance, safe driving habits, and carrying auto insurance you can trust. Need a quote? Get a free one today.

Safe and smart | Car safety


about Rebecca

Rebecca is a freelance copywriter and editor living in the SF Bay Area with her husband and two kids. She enjoys productively channeling her anxiety into safety-minded articles for home and garden, running with her robot trainer, and advocating on behalf of the Oxford comma.