5 Reasons a Car Engine Cranks But Won’t Start

(Updated on July 12, 2021)

There is nothing more frustrating than a car that will not start. You will probably keep trying to turn the key as it is in the ignition system, but nothing will turn on. The engine will crank, but it simply will not start.

There could be many reasons as to why this is happening. It doesn’t always mean that something is wrong with your engine, though. There could be another component connected to the engine which is causing it to crank but not start.

A mechanic could always figure out what it is, but you could also figure it out yourself by understanding the various causes to look out for.

Top 5 Causes of an Engine That Cranks But Car Won’t Start

Most of the time, the cause of a cranking car that won’t start is very simple and affordable to fix. Depending on what the root cause is, if you let the problem go for too long, it could create a more serious issue with your engine that will cost you thousands of dollars to fix. Don’t let it get to this point.

Read also: Top 5 Causes of Car Overheating

Here are five of the most common causes of a car that cranks yet won’t start.

1) Fuel Issues

fuel injectors

Believe it or not, there are a lot of people who have this problem because they don’t have enough fuel in their gas tank. This could be attributed to simply not refilling the gas tank or using the wrong fuel type.

If the fuel is contaminated and not filtered properly, you can experience a cranking engine that won’t start as well. So, always remember to use the right fuel type and to not let your fuel tank get under one quarter.

The problem may be related to a blown fuse or relay. For instance, without a working fuel pump relay, you’ll be able to crank the engine all day but you won’t get any fuel to the engine.

If the problem is related to a blown fuse or relay which is not letting the fuel injector put the proper amount of fuel into the internal combustion chamber, then a simple change of that fuse or relay should fix the problem. If the fuse blows a second time, you may have an electrical issue to track down.

Another issue related to the fuel is a fuel pump itself. If the fuel pump malfunctions or is going bad, it can cause the engine not to start even with the starter can cranking properly.

2) Battery Issues

dead car battery

If the engine cranks too slow, there might be a battery issue that is causing it. Perhaps your battery is low on power or there is corrosion on the terminals of your battery. Sometimes the terminals can be too loose as well.

Whenever these issues come up, you will have a cranking engine that does not start. Fortunately, it is inexpensive to fix these kinds of problems. Worst case, you buy a new battery which will cost about $150. 

3) Computer Sensor Malfunction

bad crankshaft position sensor

The majority of modern vehicles have sensors in them which transmit information to the engine. Two of the main sensors for the engine are the camshaft position sensor and the crankshaft position sensor. These sensors tell the ECU where the main rotating components of the engine are, so the ECU knows when to open the fuel injectors and ignite the fuel mixture with the spark plugs. 

If either one of these sensors were to malfunction, then the engine would not be able to start. You could also have a faulty throttle position sensor which would prevent the spark from being generated in the internal combustion cylinder.

If one or more sensors are bad, you will likely have a check engine light with a helpful code that will give you an idea of which sensor caused the problem. Check the code using a code scanner to help narrow down the scope of the problem.

4) Starter Motor

If you have a bad or failing starter motor, it will be unable to generate the number of amps necessary to turn on the ignition system and the fuel injectors. In the beginning, the engine will still crank but there may be a lot of strange noises being made while this happens.

If this problem continues to be left untreated, the engine will eventually stop cranking altogether. So, replace the starter motor right away when you realize this is the cause.

Starter motors will run you about $500 on most cars, which is much cheaper than having to replace your engine.

5) Security System

anti theft immobilizer warning light

In vehicles that have a sophisticated aftermarket security system or an immobilizer, an error in this system can actually prevent the ignition system from working properly.

If you have looked into all the other possible causes and found that they weren’t present, then check with the company that installed your car alarm to see if it is working properly.

23 thoughts on “5 Reasons a Car Engine Cranks But Won’t Start”

  1. Could this be why sometimes I turn the key and the truck doesn’t turn over then I turn the key off then back on and it will start? It normally doesn’t happen in the morning.

    Reply
    • Hi David, an easy test is to take your vehicle to a local parts store to have the battery tested. Many places do this for free. If that checks out, I suggest you take your Durango to a mechanic you trust for a diagnosis of the issue.

      Reply
  2. I have a 2008 Pt cruiser and it will crank but won’t start. My friend looked at it and tested the fuel and spark. Someone said it doesn’t sound like it’s getting compression! I have no idea. Bought a crankshaft position sensor and a camshaft sensor but any other suggestions?

    Reply
    • When was the last time the timing belt was changed? If the timing belt snapped, you likely wouldn’t have compression because some of the valves would be open. I’d do a compression test to be sure before throwing a bunch of parts at it.

      Reply
      • Hey bro I have the same issue and I changed my timing belt due to it snapping but now I get a crank but no start issue what can I do next

  3. I have a 98 Honda accord ,that I’ve had less than 30 days, I noticed that I smell gas alot but haven’t seen anything leaking underneath, I also noticed that now its not starting right away, it turns over but doesn’t start immediately like it was and the check engine light now came on too. I know it’s not the battery because I just put a brand new one it and cleaned all the terminals off. Any suggestions on what I could be dealing with or what direction to start looking in?

    Reply
  4. Hi I have a 2004 jeep grand cherokee laredo it has a p1389 code I replaced the asd relay and the number 26 fuse which is a 30 amp pcm is new just bout in Aug the car will crank but will not start its not getting any spark any help will be appreciated thanks

    Reply
  5. I have a 2008 saturn outlook that sat on a Copart storage lot for 3 years. Got it as a “Normal Wear” car with no accidents. Replaced the fuel pump, spark plugs, and coil packs.. It cranks but will not start without the Starter spray. I have to hold the spray down constantly for the car to stay on. If I stop spraying, the car instantly dies. I checked the fuel pressure also and it is spraying correctly. It has No check engine codes when I plug in my OBD2 reader. Only thing I have not tried yet is draining the Gas tank and replacing with new Gasoline. Can 3 year old Gasoline in a car stop it from starting? Should I drain it? It is 3/4th of the way full of old gasoline and I do not know how to dispose of it properly.

    Thank You

    Reply
    • Yes, that’s pretty old. Even if it sat on the Copart lot for 3 years, who knows how long the gas was in that tank before it went to Copart. I would drain the tank, especially if it smells bad. Varnished gasoline has a very distinct (and disgusting) smell.

      I would ask around in your local area for proper disposal methods. A nearby mechanic should know and have a simple means to do this.

      Reply
  6. hi i have a ford figo duratec engine 2010 module. it recently started to give me a fan problem when connected it doesn’t kick automatically had to run it from ignition. i have changed all switches put new ones but still the problem persist even worse now it just drink up all my fuel. what could be the problem and how can i get it fixed?

    Reply

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