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Why Won’t My Car Start?

Bad Alternator, Battery or Something Else?

Woman Having Car Trouble


Most New Braunfels drivers have experienced this at some point – you go to start your vehicle and the car won’t start. Yep, you’ve definitely got a problem, but is it a dead car battery, bad alternator, or something else entirely? You may be asking, “What are the reasons why my car won’t start?” There are a few possible culprits, so the team at Northside Ford is here to help you diagnose the issue. Listed below are just a few reasons a car won’t start.

Signs of a Bad Car Alternator

My car won’t start! What could be the cause? A broken alternator is all too common in the world of non-starting cars, but if your alternator is bad or failing, you’ll often see the following signs far in advance of your nightmarish morning.

  • You must jump start your vehicle regularly – An alternator’s job is to keep the battery charged. If you’re constantly having to ask for a jump from your neighbor or coworker, it’s likely that your alternator is failing.
  • Your headlights and cabin lights are funky – Dim or flickering lights are a common symptom of a failing alternator. The electrical charging system in your car isn’t generating enough juice to keep the lights on, quite literally, meaning you’ll notice flickers when you press the accelerator, use the stereo, roll down the windows, plug in your phone, or perform any number of actions related to your car’s electronics.
  • The “Check Battery” lights are always on – This is a common source of confusion amongst car owners. A battery light will illuminate in your dashboard anytime there is an issue with the battery’s charge. If your car battery light comes on, your vehicle’s onboard computer has detected that there are irregularities in the voltage, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you have a dead battery! Oftentimes, the problem lies with a faulty alternator.
  • You hear unusual sounds or smell unusual smells – The alternator works with various components in your car, including various pulley systems and belts. If your alternator seizes, so too will some of those pulleys and belts. The added friction will ultimately cause the rubber on your car’s belts to deteriorate, and we all know what burning rubber smells like—yuck. Similarly, bad alternators can often produce grinding, shrieking, or clanking sounds from under the hood.
  • Your car stalls more and more frequently – Failing alternators will cause your car to stutter and stop as it continues its downward spiral toward the junkyard. At first, you might stall once at a stop sign. Next thing you know, you’re stuck in the bank drive-thru lane with a car that won’t even turn over.

The first step toward diagnosing a bad alternator is to test your battery with a multimeter or visit your local mechanic or dealership. If the battery gets the green light, you know to inspect the alternator next.

Could it be a Bad Battery?

If your vehicle won’t start in the morning, your car battery could very well be the culprit. Common signs of a dead car battery include:

  • Slow-cranking engine – If your car does eventually start and keeps running, you may have a failing battery, not a failing alternator.
  • Bulging battery case – Exposure to extreme cold-heat fluctuations can cause your car battery to swell up.
  • Corrosion on terminals – Heavy bits of corrosion or rust is a classic sign that your battery should be replaced.
  • Rotten egg smell – Batteries release gas when they’re bad. This smell is usually similar to rotten eggs or sulfur and can invade your cabin through the vents.
  • Replacement date has passed – Car batteries have come a long way over the years. Most new batteries can last at least five years, though you should always reference the “replacement date” labeled on the battery.

Other Reasons Your Car Won’t Turn Over

Although a dead alternator or bad battery is probably your issue, other components may be the problem. (Cars are finicky, right?)

  • Ignition – Do the headlights turn on but the car won’t start? You might need a new ignition switch, which is relatively affordable. Ask your local auto service center for recommendations.
  • Starter – If your engine doesn’t crank at all or simply clicks when you turn the key, you may need to replace your car starter motor.
  • Fuel filter – Your car’s fuel filter can get clogged with debris over time, limiting the amount of gas that reaches the engine. It’s best to replace your fuel filter at least once per year, though you’ll want to seek advice from your vehicle’s manual for proper replacement intervals.
  • Fuel pump – A failed fuel pump relay could be preventing gasoline from entering the engine.
  • Spark plugs – All engines must have a spark, fuel, and proper compression to run. If your spark plugs aren’t initiating that first step, your car’s probably not going anywhere. It’s recommended that you replace spark plugs every 100,000 miles, so check your maintenance schedule.
  • Steering wheel – It may seem silly, but if you’ve locked your wheels, your key won’t turn. Just wiggle the steering wheel around while you turn the key to fix it.

Learn More About the Reasons a Car Won’t Start with Northside Ford

Take a deep breath and relax—it’ll all work out. To get a thorough electrical inspection and replacement alternator in San Antonio, request a tow to Northside Ford. Our service technicians can test your car’s battery, spark plugs, belts, and alternator to identify the problem and get you back to the grindstone. Contact our San Antonio Ford service center at (210) 525-9800 to schedule an appointment.

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