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My Car Will Not Start! Is it the Battery, Alternator or Starter?

car will not start
It’s never good when your car will not start. Here are some tips to help you figure out the problem.

It’s very easy to panic and assume the worst when your car will not start. But, before you panic, try to see if a faulty battery, alternator or starter is the problem. These three parts of a car closely work together, so it can be hard to tell which one has failed. Below, we’ll describe how to diagnose which of the three is faulty.

Finding Out Why Your Car Will Not Start

When you check these three, always start with the battery. It’s most often the part that failed, and it’s also the cheapest part to replace.

The Car Battery

A car battery should last about four to five years. It is not made to hold a charge for that long, so it gets recharged by the car’s alternator while you drive. Over time, the internal metal parts of a battery corrode, reducing its ability to hold a charge. A battery is vital to your car or truck, as it provides power to the starter and electrical system when the car is not running.

Signs the Battery is Dead:

  • When you attempt to start the car, there is a low whining sound.
  • If jump starting gets your engine started and running, but the car will not start again once you turn it off, the battery is probably the problem. In this case, the alternator is doing its job of keeping the battery going once it has been jumped, but the battery can’t hold a charge when the alternator is shuts off.

The Alternator

A dead car battery is the first sign that something might be wrong with the alternator. If your battery is good, and your alternator isn’t working, the battery will still lose its charge because the alternator isn’t keeping it charged. So, you’ll want to check for the below signs to determine if it’s just the battery or if it’s the alternator.

Signs the Alternator has Failed:

  • You can often hear a growling sound right before your alternator goes out.
  • The smell of burning rubber or hot wires can come from your alternator overheating.
  • You notice that your headlights or your dash lights flicker or get extra dim or bright. Or that your gauges are behaving strangely.
  • If you jump start your car and it will start, but the engine dies right after the jump then it is most likely the alternator. (Note: Do not try to test the alternator by removing the negative battery cable with the engine running. This could damage your car or truck’s electrical systems).

The Car Starter

Your starter is vital to your car because it is responsible for starting the engine. The battery sends it a jolt of electricity, which the starter uses to turn the engine over and get it to start.

Signs the Starter has Failed:

  • A broken starter will make a clicking sound when you turn the key.
  • The car won’t start, but the dash lights are on.
  • Jump starting your car or truck does not turn over the engine at all.

If your car will not start and you think you have a bad battery, alternator or starter, have your car inspected by a professional mechanic. If you live near one of our stores our automotive service staff will be happy to help you diagnose and fix such issues so you can get back on the road again!


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