5 Reasons a Car Engine Cranks But Won’t Start

(Updated on January 22, 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. But if you let it go for too long, it could create a more serious problem 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

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.

If the problem is related to a blown fuse which is not letting the fuel injector put the proper amount of fuel into the internal combustion chamber, then change the fuse immediately.

Another issue related to the fuel is a fuel pump. 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

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.

3) Computer Sensor Malfunction

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.

If either one of these 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.

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 will 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

In vehicles that have a sophisticated aftermarket security system, 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.

16 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.

    • 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.

  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?

    • 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.

  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?

  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


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