Say that during your lunch hour you decide to finally clean your dirty & neglected car. So you drive down to the local wash & vacuum and spend 30 minutes dutifully cleaning the machine that had served you so well, until today. As you turn on the ignition to leave, you hear the familiar clicks of the electrical systems cycling on but then silence where the sound of the engine should be. Yep, you’re away from home, and your car won’t start…bummer…but wait you might just be able to get out of this without Triple A’s help.
When this happens, and you can never quite predict when this will happen, a lot of things go through your mind. Usually, the first thing you think about is, ‘how am I going to get out of here’, closely followed by ‘how much is this going to cost me.’
Usually, when a car won’t start, it’s because the battery is dead, which can easily be tested by turning on the headlights or one of the other numerous electrical devices in a car. If the problem is with the battery, first check the battery terminals for corrosion, if they’re not corroded, then get a jump start. If they are corroded, clean the terminals with a metal brush, or by pouring Coke over them.
If the problem isn’t a dead battery, then it’s possible that your Starter has failed you. If this is the case, here are two things that could save you an embarrassing phone call and/or outrageous towing charges.
1. Use a hammer or lug nut wrench to bang on the starter.
Look under the hood for a small cylindrical “can,” that’s the solenoid. The solenoid is an electro magnet that pulls your starter motor “toothed gear” onto the flywheel…blah blah blah. Anyway, just tap (not hit) the solenoid with a hammer or something metal, then run to the driver’s seat and turn the ignition. If this method works, it also proves that the problem is the solenoid, and not one of the numerous other electrical or mechanical pitfalls. The starter spins around; and a solenoid, activated by current, pushes a cog from the starter against one from the engine, so that the starter is actually spinning the engine.
2. Push start. (Note that this only works for manual transmissions)
a. Put the car in 1st gear, ask someone walking-by to push the car until its moving about as fast as you can walk, then shift to neutral when the car is in motion.
b. Alternatively, if you happen to be parked on an incline, let gravity work for you, thus saving you the torture of asking a complete stranger to push your car.
Note that replacing the starter ran me around $100 for the part and $70 for labor.