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What to do if your car won't start

The problems that may be causing your car to not start and how you can fix them.

Whether you're in a rush or just generally going about your day-to-day, finding out that your car won't start is one of the most inconvenient things that can happen to anyone.

Not only is this frustrating, but it could lead to you having to fork out for repair work to be done, which may be an unexpected hit to your monthly budget. This will be even more of a concern if you don't have the correct car insurance to cover the costs.

Your car may not work for a number of different reasons, but at this time of the year especially, it has a lot greater chance of failing due to the bitter cold, icy nights.

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Aside from the cold weather, you could be experiencing a flat battery, be too low on fuel, have a starter motor issue, have a blocked fuel filter, a faulty immobiliser, or have steering lock.

In this article, we will go through the various types of reasons and what you can do to identify them, plus how to get them rectified by a mechanic or breakdown service.

What to do if your car doesn't start

There's a chance you will immediately recognise what the problem is and be able to attend to it yourself without the need to contact somebody.

If that's not the case, however, then it's worth contacting someone that you know with a good knowledge of cars first, and if that fails, then you could turn to the breakdown service.

Is it a flat battery?

This is the most common reason why your car won't start, as without a charged battery, the engine won't turn on and the electrics will fail. You will know if the battery is dead as when you turn the key, you may hear a clicking noise.

In the future, it's worth taking your car out for regular 'longer' drives as this gives the battery more time to charge than if you just use it for 15 minutes per day, for example.

It can take up to 30 minutes to make a battery fully charged and therefore there's a chance you may just not have been giving it enough juice when driving about.

Before switching the engine on, ensure everything else is switched off including your lights, radio, air con, etc, as this can put further unnecessary pressure on the battery.

You can also put your foot down on the clutch, especially when starting the car in colder weather, as this can reduce the pressure on the battery.

If after you've given it a bit of time to restart and it still doesn't, you can jump-start the car, either yourself or with the assistance of a family or friend's car.

If that's not a viable option, then you may need to call a breakdown service to come and assist you.

Once your engine is back up and running, you should go for a long drive to fully recharge the battery so you don't face the same issue again any time soon.

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Is it a lack of fuel?

You should immediately be able to tell if your car is low on fuel by looking at the dashboard. If you have warning lights on and the dial is hitting the fuel can, you'll know you may have run out.

If you think you should have enough but it's still not starting, cold cars need a little bit more fuel to get started so this may be what is causing the problem.

Don't risk running on low, try and get yourself filled up as soon as it dips close to the lowest mark. This is particularly important when going on longer journeys or driving at night.

If you do run out, you can call someone you know to bring you some fuel in a jerry can - or even walk to the nearest station - so you can fill up a little bit yourself before driving your car to the nearest petrol station.

Is it a starter motor issue?

If you hear a loud click when you start the engine, there's a chance it could be the starter motor causing the problems. This is what helps set the engine in motion after turning the ignition and is connected to your battery.

You may be able to fix the problem yourself by turning the car on while in gear but the likelihood is you'll have to go to a garage and get a mechanic to take a look for you.

Is it a blocked fuel filter?

If the fuel filter is blocked, it means the fuel can't get to the engine and subsequently be burned to get the car moving. You may be able to clean this yourself, but you would be required to disconnect the battery first.

An annual car service should help eradicate this problem anyway as the filter will be checked and cleaned to ensure any buildup doesn't occur.

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Is it a faulty immobiliser?

You may have an issue with the actual key you use to start the ignition which would result in the car not turning on. This could potentially be as a result of a dead battery in your fob - if your car is push to start - and you should consider getting it changed.

If you have a spare key, that should fix the problem, otherwise, you could try holding the fob as close to the start button as possible to trigger the ignition.

Is the steering locked?

If you are unable to turn the key when you put it in the ignition, it could mean you have parked too close to the kerb and your wheels won't budge, or you've parked with the steering in a full lock and it won't turn back the other way.

This isn't a major issue as you should still be able to turn the wheel slightly. It may just take a bit of time to wiggle yourself out of the space you're in.

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Calling for breakdown help

If you think you know what the problem is and are comfortable resolving it yourself, then give it a try to avoid having to wait for someone to come and help you or risk incurring insurance costs.

If not, ask a friend or family member for help and they may be able to assist you. Failing that get on to the breakdown service you're a member of and see if they'll come out.

It's worth double-checking the fine print to see if they do home callouts though. These are very common, especially in the winter, so some providers require you to pay extra if you want that included in your cover.

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