It’s a disheartening situation when your car won’t start, and there’s no noise at all. When you’re in a rush on a busy morning, you might offer up a frustrated sigh and curse the universe.
Before resigning yourself to fate, though, think about what’s causing this problem. Cars are complicated machines, true, but their working principles are pretty simple. It’s nothing you can’t handle.
You might still need breakdown recovery services, unfortunately. That being said, there’s a good chance the only issue is a flat battery. That’s something you can fix yourself.
Here’s how to work out what’s wrong if your car won’t start and there’s no noise at all.
Let’s get started!
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How Does The Starting Ignition System Work?
Before delving into why there’s no noise when trying to start your car, let’s examine how your engine turns on.
An electrical circuit connects the car battery to the starter motor. This circuit is completed when you turn the key in the ignition to its START position.
At this point, you usually hear the rrruhruhruh of the engine turning over. You let go of the key as it gets going under its own momentum. It returns to its resting ON position.
Two things happen at the starter motor when you turn the key to activate this process. A small pinion juts outward and meshes with the teeth on the much larger flywheel. This flywheel connects to the crankshaft. As it turns, it makes the pistons travel up and down within the cylinders.
The starter solenoid then drives the pinion, spinning with high torque to force the engine to turn over. The car uses this kick-starter to get moving by injecting a fuel/air mixture into the combustion chamber and burning it.
When you release the key, the starter’s pinion gear pulls back, away from the flywheel, and stops spinning. Its job is now complete. If you’ve ever tried to turn a key to START while the engine’s on, you’ll know it makes a terrible, wince-worthy grating noise.
That’s the pinion hitting the flywheel as it’s already spinning. Try not to do this since it’ll damage both the flywheel and the starter motor’s pinion gear.
Why Won’t My Car Start Or Make Any Noise?
If your car won’t start with no noise and nothing working, the fault must lie within the abovementioned system. It’s how every modern internal combustion engine works, whether it’s diesel or gasoline (see below for a quick note on diesel starting).
Note: certain hybrids and all electric cars, of course, don’t make any noise when they start. Is your vehicle one of these? Does it move away when you put it in gear? We won’t tell anyone. Also, many new cars with manual transmissions force you to depress the clutch before starting the engine. Similarly, many automatics need you to be pushing the brake.
If the starter solenoid is working and receiving sufficient current, the pinion will stick out and spin.
If it’s receiving insufficient charge, you might just hear a click. This is the pinion jutting out, but there isn’t enough electrical power to spin it or the flywheel.
When you hear nothing whatsoever – not even a clicking noise – the starter motor’s pinion isn’t doing anything at all.
This could be a symptom of one of a few deeper issues. This article will focus on these specific problems.
Starting A Diesel Engine
Diesel engines work differently from gasoline. The essential principle is the same, though. Fuel and air are ignited to drive pistons downwards. This movement is converted into a rotational force at the crankshaft.
However, diesel ignites through high compression rather than a spark plug. As such, you won’t find these anywhere in a diesel engine.
They need components that gasoline models don’t: glow plugs. Glow plugs heat up the combustion chambers to begin the starting process.
It’d be tough to get the engine running without them, especially on cold mornings.
When you turn the key in a diesel engine, there’s always a pause for a few moments. During this time, the glow plugs are heating up, allowing the engine to start. It’s perfectly normal.
If your diesel car makes no noise when trying to start, try holding it in START for a couple of seconds longer.
Provided no noises are coming from the engine bay, you shouldn’t be doing any damage. That said, don’t hold the key in START for more than four or five seconds to be safe.
This might fix your problem. If your car starts, it’s worth getting the battery and glow plugs checked and changed.
How To Figure Out And Fix The Problem
The problem must lie somewhere within the ignition or electrical system:
- Car battery (plus alternator while the engine’s running)
- Starter solenoid
- Ignition switch and key
- Wiring, fuses, connectors, terminals, and switches
- ECU and software
The root cause is almost certain to lie with one of these. If you’d like to do some diagnosis work yourself, get a multimeter and a multi-purpose car battery tester. These are invaluable for finding electrical issues (which, if your car won’t start at all with no noise, this probably is).
You may also need help from an expert for most jobs. However, a simple battery replacement is easy enough – provided you do it safely!
Remember, electrical systems can be dangerous, especially those found on hybrids and EVs. If you’re in any doubt, it’s best to err on the side of caution and take your car to a trained and trusted mechanic.
If a car battery has completely discharged, it won’t be able to send any electrical power to the starter motor. As such, the pinion can’t jut out or spin.
When you twist the key in the ignition one click to the ACCESSORY position, do you see any dashboard lights?
And if so, are they dimmer than usual? What about headlights – do they switch on?
No lights indicate a completely dead battery. Dim lights could mean it’s putting out a little power but insufficient to operate the starter motor. Note that it takes minimal current to switch on lights.
You can confirm the battery’s condition by putting a multimeter across the terminals.
Check the voltage running between them. It should read 12.6 Volts (plus or minus a couple of tenths). If you see 12.0 V or below, the battery should be considered fully discharged – or “completely dead”.
In this situation, you should still be able to jump-start it. Run your car for some time to charge the system. It’s probably time for a new battery, likely to cost up to $100.
Another common problem with certain cars is rusty or loose terminals. Remove the battery to clean the terminals and connectors, removing rust, dirt, and debris as much as possible. Sometimes, after reconnecting everything, you might find it now works.
If there’s a problem where your car doesn’t make any noise at all when starting, the starter solenoid is one of the more likely culprits.
The starter solenoid is the cylindrical object on top of the motor. It simultaneously pushes out the pinion and completes the circuit, so the starter motor turns.
When you turn the key to START, an electromagnetic coil moves a metal plunger into the core. Here, it connects across two terminals, completing the circuit. The pinion drive gear, attached to the plunger, pushes out at the same time. This motion is the click.
If you do not hear that click, the plunger in the solenoid isn’t moving. The most likely cause of this is the pull-in coil in which it sits, not creating a strong enough magnetic field.
If the battery’s working fine, there may be an issue with the coil itself (damage caused by wear and tear, overheating, or physical impact) or the connectors attaching the wiring to the solenoid.
A gentle tap with a rubber mallet can sometimes get a starter solenoid working. Even if this works, you should get a new starter as soon as possible since it’s very likely to occur again and again.
Ignition Switch And Key
If both the battery and starter solenoid appear to be working fine, the next component to check is the ignition switch. This switch completes the circuit to send power to the starter solenoid.
When the switch stops working, there’s no way for the current to reach the solenoid. As a result, the pinion doesn’t jut out, and you don’t hear any clicking sounds.
The only accurate way to test an ignition switch is to place a multimeter across after you’ve turned the key. Working with a live circuit carries a significant risk of electric shocks.
This job is best left to the professionals due to the potential harm associated with airbags and electrical systems.
Wiring, Fuses, Connectors, Terminals, And Switches
When you find all three components in your car’s starting system work well, you’ll know that the real problem lies somewhere in the circuitry.
Start by checking the fuses. Cars use standardized translucent plastic fuses so you can see if they’ve blown. Alternatively, use a multimeter to check them all.
Any blown fuses can be replaced. However, something underlying caused that fuse to blow to protect the circuit. The problem is likely still there.
Connectors and terminals can get dirty or shift with time and impact. Check and clean everything you can find on the battery, starter, and ignition switch. Make sure to disconnect the battery first.
The final possibility is the wiring. This can overheat, fray, or rust. Rodents are also attracted to the more environmentally-friendly soy insulation used in modern cars.
Finding the exact wire with a problem will likely take a professional diagnosis. An electrical engineer will check every connection between the relevant components, narrowing it down until they find the cause.
It’s also worth telling you about faulty switches. These don’t often get mentioned in articles like this one, but they’re a common problem.
Sometimes, cars develop faulty switches, such as those on a glove box or trunk lid. These can draw power consistently. If you leave your car for some time, it could completely deplete the battery.
Although this would severely drain the battery – never a good thing! – it should work well again after recharging.
You’ll need an auto electrician to find and replace the faulty switch.
Software and ECU
Modern vehicles come with an awful lot of electronics. Aside from the usual headlights and radios, infotainment systems are now commonplace.
Software glitches can cause affected components not to shut down. As they stay on while your engine’s off, they drain the battery.
Manufacturers install patches into the ECU software to stop these from happening. A dealership mechanic or auto electrician will be able to tell you if this is the root issue and if your model is subject to a recall.
What’s The Fix If Car Doesn’t Start, No Clicking Noise?
Well, the fix depends on the problem.
First, check it’s not something trivial:
- Electric and some hybrids make little to no noise when starting.
- Glow plugs can take a few seconds to warm up in diesel engines (especially during cold starts).
- Newer cars with manual transmission often require you to push the clutch down to start it. Putting it in neutral isn’t enough.
- You’ll need your foot on the brake before the engine starts in most automatics.
Next, work on the battery. Is it holding a charge? If not, a new battery is in order. While you’re here, clean and replace the terminals.
If the battery works just fine, move to the starter solenoid. At this point, most car owners should tow their car to a mechanic or call one out to your location. The starter can be removed from the vehicle and tested to check if the pinion and plunger are working. If not, you’ll need to either repair or replace it.
Let’s assume that both the battery and the starter are working well. You should then move on to having the ignition switch tested.
Now, it’s time to look at the fuses, wiring, connections, switches, and terminals. Technicians will pore over your car with a multimeter at the ready until they find the fault.
Finally, a detailed ECU investigation might be needed.
How Much Do Repairs Cost?
Fortunately, if your car’s not starting and making no noise at all, it isn’t likely to be excessively expensive.
New batteries come to around $100, while replacement starter motors (including labor) will be a few hundred dollars. An ignition switch is likely to be around the same as a starter motor (possibly slightly less).
When it comes to wiring, the cost is entirely dependent on how deep-rooted the problem is. Expect to pay up to a few hundred dollars, but it should be less if you’re fortunate.
Saving the bad news for last, an ECU inspection and repair could reach into the thousands.
When your car doesn’t turn on, and you hear nothing at all, your heart is likely to sink. Don’t panic too much, though, since diagnosis and repair are usually straightforward. This means it doesn’t cost too much either.
Use a breakdown cover to take your car to a local shop. You could engage a callout mechanic to come straight to you if you prefer. Most skilled technicians should be able to find the problem in no time.