My Engine Won't Turn Over

Updated on January 23, 2019
Dan Ferrell profile image

Dan Ferrell writes about do-it-yourself car maintenance and repair. He has certifications in automation and control technology.

An engine no-crank condition can by hard to diagnose sometimes.
An engine no-crank condition can by hard to diagnose sometimes. | Source

A Common Engine Performance Problem

The engine not turning over is a common engine performance problem. The root cause may range from a loose wire to a more serious mechanical issue. Fortunately, most of the problems that may prevent your engine from turning are possible to diagnose at home. Others are more difficult; for example, when dealing with an electrical short or a component you wouldn't think could affect the starting system.

Thus, you can soon hit a roadblock trying to repair the starting system without knowing what to do next, while missing important clues. The purpose of this guide is to help you find those clues so you can follow the path that most likely will lead you to the source of the problem.

Let's see how you can speed up your diagnostic process.

Index
WARNING: Your Oil Pressure May Be Low
How to Use This Guide
I. I Hear the Starter Motor Rotating
II. My Starter Makes a Noise
A) I Hear a Click Sound
B) I Hear a Chattering Sound
C) I Hear a Grinding Noise
III. I Don't Hear Any Noises
Using Your Headlights as a Diagnostic Tool
Starting System Current Draw Test
Voltage Drop Test
Engine Seize Test

WARNING: Your Oil Pressure May Be Low

As a safety measure, some vehicle models won't allow the engine to start if the oil pressure has dropped. If your vehicle has this feature, make sure you have enough oil and check the interlock switch, if necessary. Consult your car owner's manual and the repair manual for your vehicle model to make these checks.

A starter motor will fail after miles of service.
A starter motor will fail after miles of service. | Source

How to Use This Guide

Although the engine not turning over is obvious—since the crankshaft is not rotating—the symptoms may manifest in different ways, depending on the source of the problem. For example, an undercharged battery will probably will produce just a click or no click at all when you try to start the engine; on the other hand, a loose starter or problems with the flywheel will probably produce a screeching sound every time you try to start the engine.

So one of the first things to do to speed up the diagnostic process, and the fixing of the problem, is to gather as much information surrounding the issue so that you can narrow down the potential sources to the minimum.

This guide is divided into three main sections, plus three main tests referred to by one or more sections. The section headings describe general potential symptoms your starter may be producing. Some sections are further divided into more specific symptoms.

Identify the section heading that closer describes the symptoms your engine is showing and go over the steps under that section to help you troubleshoot your engine no-crank condition.

I. I Hear the Starter Motor Rotating

Often, when the starter motor seems to work fine but the engine doesn't turn over, the starter motor is at fault.

  • Failed starter overrunning clutch
  • Starter mechanism fails to engage pinion gear
  • Pinion gear teeth worn out or broken
  • Flywheel teeth worn out or broken

The overrunning clutch allows the pinion gear to only rotate in one direction to turn the flywheel; than, it lets the gear spin freely when the engine has reached running speed.

Remove the starter motor, use a standard screwdriver to turn the pinion gear. It should turn in one direction only; check the gear teeth for wear and damage. Or take the starter motor to your local auto parts store. They can bench test the starter for you without charge.

If the starter motor turns out fine, check the flywheel for missing teeth or damage to the ring gear or similar problems. The Engine Seize Test section below describes a couple of methods you can use to turn the engine so you can check the flywheel ring gear, if necessary.

Make sure the battery terminals are clean and tight.
Make sure the battery terminals are clean and tight. | Source

II. My Starter Makes a Noise

Clicking, chattering, and loud grinding noises, other than a regular starter motor operating, usually mean trouble in the starting system. The problem could lie with the starter motor itself, a component in the starter system, the connecting wires or the battery.

I Hear a Click Sound

A single, solid click sound usually means a problem with the starter motor, the starter solenoid, or a seized engine. You can remove the starter motor and take it to an auto parts store and have them test it. If the starter motor works fine, try turning the engine manually. Refer to the section below Engine Seize Test, which describes how you can turn the engine manually.

I Hear a Chattering Sound

  1. First, make sure that you have a charged, healthy battery. Even if you're reading above 12 DC volts from your battery with your multimeter, it doesn't mean it can deliver the required amps for the starting system to work. Take your battery to an auto parts store to have it checked, or check the battery yourself with a hydrometer.
  2. After checking the battery, visually inspect the starting system connections, at the battery terminals, at the starter solenoid or starter remote relay. Loose, corroded (white, greenish or blueish crud) or damaged connections will resist electrical flow and prevent the starter motor to function properly.
  3. If everything looks fine, do a Voltage Drop Test on the starting system connections as described in that section below. You may have a corroded or broken cable or wire. Follow that test with the Starting System Current Draw Test.

I Hear a Grinding Noise

A loud, chattering metallic noise, usually means one of three things:

  • The starter motor mounting bolts are loose
  • The pinion gear is damaged
  • The ring gear around the flywheel is damaged.

Follow these diagnostic steps:

  1. Check and tighten the starter mounting bolts to the torque listed in your vehicle repair manual.
  2. If the starter motor bolts check OK, remove the starter and check the pinion gear.
  3. If the pinion gear seems in good shape, check the teeth at the flywheel ring gear for damage. You may need to use a flywheel turner or turn the crankshaft using a breaker bar to inspect the whole ring gear. Refer to the section Engine Seize Test below.

Use your headlights as a diagnostic tool.
Use your headlights as a diagnostic tool. | Source

III. I Don't Hear Any Noises

Sometimes, the starter motor won't produce any sounds, not even a click, when you try to start the engine.

  • This could mean the pinion gear got stuck at the flywheel ring gear. With a manual transmission, it's easier to verify this. Set the transmission to gear and rock the vehicle a few times. Then try to start the engine. On an automatic transmission, hit (but don't damage or dent) the starter with a hammer or rubber mallet to rattle and unstuck the inside mechanism. Then try to start the engine.
  • It's possible you may have an electrical short or bad connection somewhere in the starting circuit. To start checking the circuit, if you turn the ignition key to the On position and you don't see the dashboard warning lights come on, but your headlights, radio, and other accessories work fine, look for a possible blown ignition circuit fuse. To find the fuse, look for a 'power' box under the hood, or behind a fuse panel cover under your dashboard (driver's side or passenger side). Also, check the ignition relay (check your repair manual for the location, then test the relay.

High resistance poses another problem for the starting system circuit. But this calls for some specific tests:

Using Your Headlights as a Troubleshooting Tool

  1. Turn on the headlights, windshield wipers and radio. If they fail to work, you may have a discharged or failed battery, or corroded battery terminals (white crud stuff around them), one or both battery terminals are loose, or the ground connection (the thin wire that runs from the black battery cable to the car body) is corroded or loose. Turn off the ignition, headlights, windshield wipers and radio. Once you've checked your battery and the connections, proceed to the next steps.
  2. Stand in front and to one side of your vehicle so that you can see the headlights clearly.
  3. Ask an assistant to turn on the headlights and try to start the engine while you observe the headlights.

If the headlights remain bright when your assistant tried to start the engine, check for a possible short in the starting circuit.

  • First, check the starter solenoid. If the starter solenoid on your starter seats on top of the motor, you can take the starter motor to your local auto parts store for a quick check.

Note: When testing the starter solenoid, if you don't detect voltage at the control circuit wire, probably your neutral safety switch (automatic transmission) needs an adjustment or has failed (newer vehicles now use a Transmission Range [TR] sensor instead and may set a trouble code in the computer memory when it fails); also, there could be a problem with the clutch interlock switch (manual transmission). Another possibility is an open at the wire connecting the fuse panel to the control circuit terminal at the solenoid, or an open or failed ignition switch.

  • Then, using a multimeter, check for battery voltage along the positive (red) battery cable. For this test, your battery has to be fully charged. If you don't own a digital multimeter, you can get an inexpensive one from your local auto parts store or online. It's an indispensable tool for automotive troubleshooting.
  1. Set your voltmeter to 15 or 20 DC volts. Then connect the black meter probe to the negative (-) battery post, and the red meter probe to the positive (+) battery post. You should read above 12 volts, otherwise, charge and have the battery checked at your local auto parts store.
  2. Leave the black meter probe connected to the negative side of the battery, and connect the red meter probe to the terminal connected to the positive side of the battery.
  3. Then, move the red probe to the next connecting point along the red battery cable, until you reach the terminal and connection at the starter motor.
  4. At every point along the battery cable, you should read battery voltage. Otherwise, check for an open or damaged cable or connection between the point where you found no battery voltage and your previous checkpoint.

If the headlight brightness dimmed when your assistant tried to start the engine:

  1. Check the battery cables at the battery terminals, solenoid or relay, and ground connections for corrosion, loose or broken wires.
  2. Make sure the starter is properly mounted, otherwise it won't be properly grounded and electric current won't reach the starter.
  3. Check voltage drop on the battery cable that connects to the starter motor as described in the section Voltage Drop Test below.
  4. If voltage drop is OK, go over the section Starting System Current Draw Test below.
  5. If your starter draws too much current but voltage drop is fine, either your starter has failed or your engine has a mechanical problem (you can take the starter motor first to your local auto parts store for a quick check if you prefer). Check to see if you can turn the engine manually. Refer to the section Engine Seize Test below.
  6. If the engine rotates smoothly without difficulty, replace the starter.

Some vehicle models, like the Chevy Silverado shown in the video below, have some common issues with the starting system.

Starting System Current Draw Test

You can perform a starter system battery current draw test yourself using an inductive pick-up meter. Consult the repair manual for your particular vehicle make and model, if necessary.

  1. For this test, disable the ignition system (unplug the ignition coil cable that connects to the distributor and connect it to ground using a jumper cable) or disable the fuel system (remove the fuel pump fuse).
  2. Connect the ammeter to the positive or negative battery cable (read the ammeter manufacturer instructions).
  3. Ask an assistant to try to start the engine for about ten seconds.
  4. On a 4 cylinder engine, a healthy starter motor will draw about 110 amps; a 6 cylinder or small V8 engine you'll see the motor pulling about 200 amps; a large V8 engine will probably draw close to 250 amps. When amps differ much from what the manufacturer specifies check for problems with the starter motor, solenoid, connecting wires or cables.

A multimeter is an indispensable tool to diagnose starting system problems.
A multimeter is an indispensable tool to diagnose starting system problems. | Source

Voltage Drop Test

  1. Set your multimeter to 15 or 20 Volts DC.
  2. Disable the ignition system (unplug and ground the ignition coil) or disable the fuel system (remove the fuel pump fuse) to prevent the engine from starting.
  3. Connect one-meter probe to the connection you want to test (for example, a battery post), and connect the other voltmeter probe to the terminal that connects to that connection.
  4. Have an assistant try to start the engine for about 10 seconds or less.
  5. You should get no more than 0.1 to 0.3 volts at any connection along, for example, the battery path to the starter motor, if those are the connections you're testing.
  6. A voltage drop test between the battery positive terminal and the connection at the starter solenoid where the battery cable connects to, should not go over 0.5 volts.
  7. Any reading above those indicated above means a problem with that connection. Make sure the connection is clean and tight, and that the wire or cable is not broken or filled with corrosion at the terminals.

Engine Seize Test

Although not as common, mechanical problems can also prevent your engine from turning over. The easiest way to check whether your engine has seized is to manually turn the engine. To turn the engine, you have two alternative methods: You can use either a flywheel turner or a breaker bar. Let's check the former method first.

Using a Flywheel Turner

  1. Remove the bell housing cover to gain access to the flywheel. On some models, you can access this cover from above the engine compartment. On other models, you'll need to raise your car on jack stands to reach the cover from underneath.
  2. Block the rear wheels to prevent the car from rolling.
  3. Set the transmission to Neutral and engage the parking brake.
  4. After removing the access cover, turn the flywheel with the tool.

Using a Breaker Bar

Another option is to use a breaker bar and the appropriate socket size to turn the crankshaft. You do this by turning the large, center bolt that holds the crankshaft pulley at the front, lower side of the engine.

  1. Raise and safely secure the car on jack stands.
  2. Remove the passenger side front wheel.
  3. Block the rear wheels to prevent the car from rolling.
  4. Place the transmission in Neutral and engage the parking brake.
  5. Now try turning the crankshaft using the breaker bar, extension, and socket.
  6. If you can't turn the engine, or it's difficult to turn, you may have a mechanical problem.
  7. If you can turn the engine, but nothing turned wrong in your previous diagnostics, check the flywheel teeth for damage by removing the flywheel cover at the back of the engine and examine the ring gear as you turn the crankshaft.

Note: If you have difficulty turning the engine, remove the spark plugs (number the plugs and wires first so you can replace them in their correct place), then try turning the engine again. If you still can't turn the engine, or it's difficult to turn, you definitely have mechanical problems.

Starter system problems are common and that includes no-crank issues. However, trying to find the culprit behind the fault can be tricky at times. This guide helps you get to the root of the problem by following a systematic approach. This will help you stand a better chance to repair your car and get back on the road faster.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

  • If the engine turns but only 3/4 of the way, what could that be?

    It depends. If the car has been sitting there for some time, rust may prevent one or more cylinders from going all the way up. A slipped timing belt can cause a piston to hit a valve; A stuck valve (valve train damage) can have the same result; a bad piston rod and other similar mechanical problems can also prevent a crankshaft from turning.

  • What kind of tool do you use to turn the flywheel?

    You can do it by turning the bolt on the harmonic balancer in front of the engine using a breaker bar, or you can use a flywheel turning tool

  • If you don't have a breaker bar, what else could you use to turn over the engine?

    You may use a long tube instead, and a strong ratchet. But remove the spark plugs to make the engine easier to rotate.

  • I rebuilt my engine because I spun a bearing. So after I reassembled the engine I put the key in the ignition, turned it and the starter was cranking but I accidentally backed off the key. So I tried to start the car again nothing happens. I hear the relay, but I hear nothing coming from the starter. What could be the problem?

    Make sure the battery is fully charged and voltage is getting to the starter. The problem could be with the starter solenoid, or the starter itself too. If the starter is worn, it might be too weak to crank a rebuilt engine.

  • My engine has a new battery, new starter but won't crank nor turn over. What could it be?

    Check the connections from the battery to the starter, specially ground. This other post will help you check the voltage drop in this circuit.

    https://axleaddict.com/auto-repair/How-to-Use-Volt...

Comments

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    • Dan Ferrell profile imageAUTHOR

      Dan Ferrell 

      3 months ago

      Make sure there's not a coolant leak in the system. Download trouble codes form the computer and see if there are any, even if the check engine light is not on. Other possible problem is a stuck thermostat. If the overheating caused some damage, probably the head gasket is ruined.

    • profile image

      Cristina Alvarez 

      3 months ago

      After driving my 2007 honda crv, I noticed that the temperature gauge rised from cool to hot. I immediately moved to the emergency lane. As soon as I did that, the car turned off. I let it cool, added water and when I tried to turn it on, it sounds like it wants to turn on but dies in the process? Im not sure what the problem is, any ideas on what the problem might be.

    • Dan Ferrell profile imageAUTHOR

      Dan Ferrell 

      4 months ago

      If the starter motor is not meshing up properly with the flywheel, it may lock up. Crank the engine and then check the starter motor. You may need to raise the car to inspect the motor. Also, you can use a length of hose to try to locate the source of the grinding noise. Just be careful when cranking the engine and using the hose at the same time. Hope this helps.

    • profile image

      Robert 

      4 months ago

      350z motor will crank shut off and I’ll have to break it free with a breaker bar for the starter to turn again and crank

      Up doesn’t run long water pump is on timing chain and when cranking it sounds like a whining grinding noise almost. Would the starter or water pump make the motor lock up and vapor or hydro lock do the same over and over?

    • Dan Ferrell profile imageAUTHOR

      Dan Ferrell 

      8 months ago

      One possibility is that the starter is worn. Even though it tests Okay, it might not have the strength it once had. You may want to try with a new one. Similarly what happens when you repair an engine and try to start it with an old stater motor. The engine might not turn over.

      Also, try cranking the engine without the transmission load. Put the transmission in Neutral, if you haven’t tried it yet.

      Make sure your grounds are good, clean and tight. Even a little resistance here can the starter from the amperage needed to overcome engine compression. For the same purpose, check the starter circuit (power and ground).

      If these fails, check engine compression. Make sure it is not too high.

      Hope this helps.

    • profile image

      HenryBenner 

      8 months ago

      I have a 1950 Chevy pick up with a 216 engine 6 volt system. It has been setting for about 10 years. It won’t crank over with a 12 volt jump. It always has in the past. Remove all 6 spark plugs an it turns over really good. Pulled valve cover and checked valves push rods rocker arms etc. everything looks like it is working like it is supposed to when cranking over. Put plugs back in and still won’t crank over with 12 volt battery cables attached to ground on starter and positive attached to starter switch. Had starter checked out at starter/alternator shop. He checked it over and said everything checked out good. Any suggestions?

    • Dan Ferrell profile imageAUTHOR

      Dan Ferrell 

      8 months ago

      Test the battery. Even if it shows good open circuit voltage, it doesn't mean all the cells are good. Then, check how much voltage the starter motor is getting. If you only hear a solid click, probably the starter motor isn’t getting the amp it needs; if you hear a series of clicks, either the battery or the connections/cables to the battery or the ground side or both are no good.

    • profile image

      Mikecirocco 

      8 months ago

      Ok i have a 1967 Chevy 3/4 ton camper special. I was driving the other day and some how my positive batt cable shifted and fell against the exhaust manifold and melt through the wire which ended up arching Wich heated up the neg batt cable that attached to the engine block. The truck died and he to coast it to the curb. I changed the battery cables. And checked the return of the existing wiring, didn't see any other wires bad. I checked my voltage regulator by volt meter and noticed I wasn't getting anything registering. So I had an old one in the garage that had, has to fix 1 wire on a coil. But when I tried to start it it gave 2 clicks and went silent. Won't turn over, no headlights, no radio and batt is showing fully chg. I am at a loss and not knowing where to start from here.

    • Dan Ferrell profile imageAUTHOR

      Dan Ferrell 

      8 months ago

      If the engine won't turn over and the starter is good, then there could be a mechanical issue. Try turning the engine manually, but remove all the spark plugs and see how this feels. If there resistance, probably there's a problem in the pistons or crankshaft.

    • profile image

      Daniel 

      8 months ago

      Ok, here I go again on this blog hoping to find and answer. I am about to block the wheels and try it in neutral, to hand turn the flywheel.. I'm in the same boat as turn key and one big 'CLUNK' and electric is f-i-n-e.. New plugs/wires/alternator/starter and battery tested: Good and is fully charged. Prior to literally throwing parts at it, I was getting a delayed, struggling start but would eventually tuen over. So naturally, I thought 'spark'. Now, systemic freeze. Total bummer! 2003 Chevy S10 (stepside, small bed) 2.2ltr L4 with 160,000+ miles. I always kept up with the oil changes and not much in the way of leaks, however, I have noticed a burnt metal smell and white smoke sometimes. I'm just hoping at this point its not rings/seals... Thank you for any and all your advice and no criticisms please.

    • Dan Ferrell profile imageAUTHOR

      Dan Ferrell 

      13 months ago

      It depends on what caused the engine to seized - try removing the spark plugs and pour some thin engine oil into the chambers and see if you can make it turn. Usually an engine seizes because someone let it overheat and the pistons expand.

      If the bearings are bad, you'll need to disassemble the engine.

    • profile image

      jake and the Fat Guy 

      13 months ago

      I have 2007 Chrysler Pacifica I put a used engine in it, I replace and am ready to start. I turn the key it turns over for 1 sec then Click. now just click. And you cant manually turn it over. YOU CAN BUT EXTREMLLY DIFFFICULT. Any suggestions

    • Dan Ferrell profile imageAUTHOR

      Dan Ferrell 

      18 months ago

      Hi Nicole

      * The starter solenoid or starter motor might be bad

      * Your battery may be discharged or bad.

      * Check that the connections at the battery and to the starter motor are clean and tight. Corrosion will prevent electrical flow

      Good luck

    • profile image

      Nicole 

      18 months ago

      I turn my key over and only my lights radio an stuff comes on but it won't crank at all but I'll hear a noise what could that be I have a 1993 crown Victoria 4.6l v8

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