Car Won't Start: Here's What to Do

There may be a simple solution

The click, click sound of a dead battery doesn't always mean the situation is hopeless. Try a few simple tests first—you may be able to make that dead battery come to life again.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Diagnosing the problem

You turn the key and hear the dreaded “click.” Sure, you may need a new battery, starter or alternator. But before you condemn either the battery or the charging system, follow these steps.

Turn on your dome light and turn the key again. If the dome light dims, focus your attention on the battery and its connections. If the dome light doesn't dim, the starter motor isn't drawing power. Have the starter checked by a professional.

Check the battery voltage. Scratch clean contact areas on the battery posts and test the battery voltage with a test meter. A fully charged battery should read 12.7 volts. At 50 percent charge, the voltage drops to 12.1 volts. A low reading can be the result of poor electrical connections, a problem with the charging system, or a battery that is at the end of its life.

You can't always see corroded battery and ground connections, so clean all of them (Photos 1 - 3). Start with the battery terminals. Note: Disconnect the negative cable first and reconnect it last. Then clean the connection between the battery negative cable and the engine.

Finally, clean the connection between the battery negative cable and the body. If the car starts, the problem is solved. If it doesn't, take the car to the shop and explain what tests you've done. Then have the battery and the starting and charging systems checked out.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Rags

You'll also need a battery terminal cleaner tool.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • Battery terminal protective spray