When faced with any vehicle mechanical problem, the first step is to try and diagnose the root cause of the problem yourself. It is amazing how diagnosing a car startup problem can be very simple. The problem can be simply loose wires that need tightening.
A car that is making clicking noises and won’t start is usually because the car starter motor is unable to provide adequate power to the starter to turn it on.
The major cause of this issue is usually either a dead battery, a worn out battery or the starter solenoid.
The issue is also sometimes due to a problematic starter motor which could be caused by corroded or worn out battery terminals or engine failure.
How to troubleshoot for issues in your battery
Here is how to troubleshoot for issues in your battery, solenoid, and connections to check their working status before engaging a professional car mechanic.
Car batteries fail to work because of many reasons. It could be due to headlights or interior lights having been left on while the car was parked. Batteries can also be affected by cold weather.
Also, the age of the batteries can be a factor. Old batteries are usually worn out and cannot hold a charge for long.
A typical battery lasts between 3 to 5 years. If your battery is between 3-5years, then it probably needs replacement. If your battery is too old, then it is better to replace it than risk having mechanical problems.
Batteries also die due to a radio or other electrical devices being left on or charging for long periods of time while the car was parked. Batteries can also fail because the alternator is not working properly.
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How to detect a dead battery
Start by checking the interior lights and headlights of your vehicle. If any lights were left on, then it means the battery is dead. Also if the weather is cold, it could be responsible for your dead battery.
It is important to know the charge of your car battery for a more accurate way of telling whether your battery is dead or not. A voltmeter or multimeter measures the volts of car batteries. You can get either of this devices from a hardware store.
Measuring the Volts of your battery
Start by turning off the car. Examine the battery by first removing the battery cover. Then connect the battery to the voltmeter/multimeter.
Connect the positive lead to the positive terminal of the battery and the negative lead to the negative terminal. Now check the readings.
If the readings are below 12.4 volts, then your battery is out of power.
Fix dead batteries by charging the car battery or boosting your car by having your car jump started by another vehicle. You can get help from other road users or you could opt to call a family member or family friend to help you out.
Please ensure that the vehicle jump starting your car has as much voltage as your car. You need jumper cables to be able to do this. It is important to invest in a set of jumper cables and always keep them in the trunk compartment.
If you don’t have jumper cables, then you need to buy them or borrow them from the road user helping you to boost your car or any other vehicle owner.
After successfully jumpstarting your vehicle, let it run for at least 15 minutes to ensure that the battery is full recharged.
Checking the battery charging system
This can only be done when the car is switched on. Pack your car in an open space, outdoors as a precaution.
Then connect your car to the voltmeter/multimeter by connecting the voltmeter lead to the positive terminal of the battery and likewise connecting the negative lead to the negative terminal of the battery. Then read the voltmeter.
If the reading is 13.5+ volts, then the battery charging system is in good condition. On the other hand, if the reading is less than 13.5 volts, then the alternator has a problem and therefore it is not charging the battery.
This will eventually result in a dead battery because the battery is not being charged well. The battery charging system needs to be fixed because your battery may never get full.
The starter solenoid is also referred to as a starter relay. The purpose of a starter solenoid in a vehicle is to send electric current to the starter motor. The starter motor, in turn, engages the engine.
When the solenoid has issues, it fails to set the engine in motion. A click is usually an indication that the starter solenoid is functioning, though it may not be functioning properly. In most cases, it is one loud click or hearing of noises when starting the car.
Use the vehicle service manual to locate the starter solenoid.
Test the starter solenoid to know if it is faulty
No click means either a dead battery or the solenoid is not working well. When the car clicks, it most probably means that the solenoid is not transferring enough power to the starter from the battery.
If the starter solenoid is faulty, then it needs to be replaced before the vehicle can move again.
Refer to the vehicle service manual for indications where the starter is. There are various reasons that can hinder the power supply to a car’s starter motor. It includes corroded battery terminals.
Corroded or worn out battery terminals can also stop your vehicle from starting. Start by first inspecting the battery cables and wires. Fix any loose battery cables and worn out or loose wires on your car battery.
It is important to service your car regularly to have all your car motor parts checked so that worn out parts are spotted and replaced before causing vehicle mechanical issues.
Never the less, even if your car is serviced regularly, troubleshoot the battery terminals by testing using an insulated or wooden handle screwdriver.
Place the screwdriver between the connector and terminal post. Twist the screwdriver to secure it in place. Then try and start your vehicle.
If you are successful in starting your car, then the problem could be loose wires to your starter or from the starter or both. Your focus should be on replacing faulty wiring or tightening the battery terminals.
If your vehicle solenoid, battery, and connections are in good working condition, yet your car won’t start, then it is time to have a professional mechanic inspect your car to check the status of the engine and starter.
If the car won’t start the next time after the battery was recharged or the car was jump started, then it means that the battery is unable to hold any charge. You need to replace the battery.
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Car mechanical problems can be very unpredictable. Ensure that when a professional mechanic is troubleshooting your car, you get to understand the cause of your car startup issues and the solutions.
So that you increase your troubleshooting knowledge for better management and maintenance of your vehicle.
I’m Anthony King, a systems integration, automobile technician & automotive expert who earned his bachelor’s and master’s in mechanical engineering and an MBA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. I worked on pioneering technologies from the beginning of his career.