How to troubleshoot car ignition problems

Written by darla ferrara
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Nothing is more frustrating then preparing to go somewhere, and the car does not start. The ignition of a car is a complex system. There are many components at work when the engine turns over, and the car begins to run. The key system must engage. The battery must have enough power in order for the starter motor to push the engine to perform. If you have a problem, you need to do some troubleshooting, and determine which module is at fault.

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  1. 1

    Put your key in the ignition and try to turn it. If it does not turn at all, turn the steering wheel left and right while jiggling the key. If the key now turns, the problem was with your steering lock. The steering lock will engage if the front wheels are turned or pushing against something like a curb.

  2. 2

    Look at the dashboard. If you see a key shaped light or security light, the ignition does not recognise the key. Try a spare key if you have one, otherwise contact your dealer.

  3. 3

    Turn the key to the start position and look for the check engine light. If it is not on, the problem may be with the engine computer.

  4. 4

    Turn on the accessories one by one. Check the wipers, defrost, radio and power windows and locks. If all accessories work, the problem is a run circuit component. These components include coil, distributor, or electronic spark control computer. Check fuses on any accessories that do not work. Refer to your car manual for fuse locations.

  5. 5

    Turn the wipers on with the key turned to the start position. If they are moving but slowly, your battery is probably out of juice. You have a bad battery or alternator.

  6. 6

    Push the key all the way forward and try to start the car. If nothing happens or you here a clicking noise, the problem is probably the starter or battery. Check the starter motor wire. It may have a bad connection.

  7. 7

    Move your shift from “Park” to “Neutral” and try to start the car again. If this works, the switch of your shift is not working properly or the shift was not fully engaged in the “Park” position. This only applies to cars with automatic transmissions.

  8. 8

    Release the clutch, if you have a manual transmission, and depress it again. Try to start the car while the clutch is fully pressed to the floor. If this does not work, your clutch pedal switch may not be functioning.

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