Inside Your Car 26 July 2022

Car not starting? It could be your ignition switch

You’re in a hurry, but your engine refuses to turn over! There’s nothing more frustrating than your car not starting, especially when you’ve got places to be. If turning the key is emitting pained noises from the engine, it could be your ignition switch. Find out common car ignition problems and what you can do about a faulty ignition switch.

What is the ignition switch in a car?

The ignition switch in a car is part of a larger engine starter system responsible for switching on the engine. As part of the engine’s starter system, the ignition switch also powers electrical accessories. In newer vehicles with smart keys, ignition switches only start the car after identifying coding in your key or a signal from your fob, which helps prevent theft—pretty nifty!

Where is the ignition switch located?

You’ll find the ignition switch at the end of the ignition barrel (the cylinder you put your key into). If you’re poking around wondering where the ignition switch is, you’ll usually find it near yellow airbag wires—make sure you don’t touch these! Unless you know your way around your car, it’s best to leave this investigation to your local mechanic.

Why won’t my car start?

Your car suddenly dying can be a frustrating and stressful experience. There are several reasons this can happen:

  • Dead car battery: Often a car won’t start because the battery needs to be replaced, or has run out of juice and needs a jumpstart. Before you jumpstart your battery, make sure its posts are clean and corrosion-free.
  • Broken timing belt: These large rubbery straps need to be replaced every 100-150,000km, and can cause catastrophic damage to your engine if broken. Ticking sounds and a lit check-engine light both indicate a bad timing belt.
  • Faulty ignition switch: If you’ve tried to jumpstart your battery, and you’re making sure your car is routinely maintained and serviced, then a faulty ignition switch may be behind your car not starting. When an ignition switch can’t read the coding on your key or get the signal from your fob, it won’t let you use your car’s electrical systems or take your automatic car out of park. Ignition switches can play up because they’ve worn out, overheated, or they have broken springs.

Scenario: Your car’s not starting but battery is good

You know your battery should be working—you just had it replaced a week ago when you got your car serviced! So if your car’s not starting but your battery is good, what’s going on?

One explanation is there’s an electrical component drawing on your battery while your car is off. Everyone knows leaving lights on can cause a dead car battery, but there are other electrical components that do it, too. Simply leaving your key fob too close to your car can leave your battery flat after a night of constant communication!

Common car ignition problems

Having a faulty ignition switch is just one of many car ignition problems that could turn your car into an oversized driveway ornament. We’ve listed a few common issues below, ordered from the least to most complex to fix.

  • Car ignition not turning: If you put in the key and it’s a struggle to turn, it’s probably because your wheel is locked. Wheel locking is a security feature that’s activated when you move the wheel after removing the key. To unlock the wheel, pull it gently in the direction that has give, then try turning your key. Don’t worry, with a little patience, it will move.
  • Clogged fuel filter: As its name implies, your car’s fuel filter sifts out fuel impurities before they get inside the engine. Sometimes that filter clogs up. If you notice your car hesitating or losing power while driving (before it stopped altogether), ask your mechanic if you have a clogged fuel filter.
  • Faulty starter motor: The starter motor is what helps your engine turn over and fire. Sometimes a misfiring electrical connection or switch causes a faulty starter motor. Or, there could be a physical problem with its freewheel, pinions, or gears. If you hear a loud click, whirring, or buzzing when you turn the key, it might be time to replace your starter motor.

How alternator problems could impact your car ignition system

While your car is running, the alternator charges its battery. A bad alternator leads to a dead car battery, and with no energy from the battery, your car won’t start. Early signs of alternator problems include dim headlights, electric components not working, frequent stalling, and of course, trouble starting your car. When you see these symptoms, it’s time to take your car to a mechanic.

If you’ve tried every trick in the book and your car still won’t start, don’t panic! The team at mycar have mechanics across Australia ready to fix your ignition. All you need to do is call 13 13 28 or use our store finder and we’ll match you with a store that will look after you.

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