What to Do when Your Car Won’t Start

Most people don’t know exactly what to do when their car doesn’t start. Many people call up friends or family, call a mechanic, call AAA, etc. etc. But wouldn’t you like to know exactly what you should be doing? In case there is some sort of emergency or even just so you don’t have to look stupid to a friend or family member or pay a mechanic some ridiculous amount of money, it would be nice to have some sort of knowledge on how to help yourself.

There are several things you have to consider right off the bat in case of an emergency:

Where is the location of the car? Whether the car is on the train tracks, in the middle of a highway, or is just sitting in your garage is obviously important.

If your car has all of a sudden turned off, is indeed sitting in the middle of the train tracks, and will not start up again, what most knowledgeable people would say is to immediately GET AS FAR AS YOU CAN FROM YOUR CAR. “A minimum of about 100 yards,” according to a driver’s ed instructor I am friends with (please for your safety remember this is a minimum; by all means go half a mile out if you wish, the further the better), is the distance necessary to go from your car. When a train hits a car, the damage done to the car has parts of the car flying all over the place – this is the reason for being so far away, otherwise a part of the car could come flying at you and your life could be put in jeopardy.

On account of the enormous amount of externalities dealing with this mess, I would advise you to try and save your car as long as trains don’t come by as much as every few minutes. You wouldn’t just be saving your car, you would be taking the lives of everyone around you out of jeopardy, not doing damage to their belongings, and not forcing the trains to be delayed because people have to come clean off the bits of your car that is left on the tracks. If your car doesn’t start and it is in the middle of a train track, I suggest not bothering to even try making it start yet, but instead changing the shift to neutral, asking for help (though you could probably do it yourself), and pushing your car away from the train tracks. You would be surprised how easily you could push your car, no matter how heavy (even if it is an SUV), as long as the car is set to neutral. If you do this, make sure not to step on the third rail (if there is one) because it can be electrified and can also be potentially dangerous. Do not forget that the moment there is the slightest sign that a train may be coming or if you do not believe you have complete control over the situation, have someone drive you away as fast as possible or run as fast as you can away from the tracks (remember, your life may be on the line).

If your car is stalling while you are on a main road or highway, all I can tell you is to put on both your directional signals (signaling people to go around you and that your car is not completely stable) and to try and get your car off the road. If you can’t get your car off the road completely, then try to get it onto the RIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD as much as possible in order to interfere with traffic as little as possible.

If your car is just sitting in your garage and will not start, then refer to directions below.

What kind of noise is the car making? Both when off and when you try to start it. Trust me when I say there is a difference in the noises a car could be making and what they can mean.

This might not sit still with you, but if it sounds like there is a noise coming from the engine that kind of sounds like a ticking time bomb, though it likely isn’t an actual bomb, there is a possibility that the car may actually explode. Now, I am obviously not talking about the movie theater “explode” where everything bursts into flames 50 feet up into the air, etc. In fact, I sincerely doubt you will see any sort of fire at all. It is not a myth that your car can explode; I know someone to whom this personally has happened to while he was calling AAA at a safe distance from a payphone (because he didn’t have his cell phone handy). If you hear this noise, again, GET AS FAR AS YOU CAN FROM YOUR CAR, a minimum of about 75 yards from the car. If anyone else is nearby or your car is in your garage while there are people in the house, evacuate everyone because they are in just as much risk as you are. Once you know everyone is of a safe distance from your car, call AAA and give them as many details as you can about the situation. Do not call friends or relatives – it is a potentially dangerous situation and you should call professionals. AAA knows what they are doing (I wouldn’t even trust an ordinary private mechanic, I would call AAA).

Now, not everyone’s life is an emergency. There are other things to consider as well:

Everyone has heard the “clicking noise” (when the engine cranks very slowly) that happens when the car’s battery is low (or the complete silence when your battery is completely dead) and you are trying to start the car. If this is the case, just make sure that it truly is the battery by checking if any of the accessories of the car work. If they do not, then that probably means the battery is low and you need a jump-start. All you will need to do this are jumper cables, which you should have tucked away in your car at all times for your disposal, and a person with a running car that is willing to give you a jump. First off, park the jumper car near enough to the car that won’t start so that the cables will be able to reach the batteries of both cars, and have the jumper car turned off. Next, carefully attach the RED jumper cable (there should be a cable that is of the color red) to the POSITIVE terminal (which should be clearly marked “pos,” or “plus (+),” and should also be slightly larger than the negative terminal) of the DEAD battery. Attach the other end of the RED jumper cable to the JUMPER car battery’s POSITIVE terminal. Then do the same with a BLACK cable for the NEGATIVE terminal of the JUMPER car’s battery and the other BLACK cable for some sort of solid metal part in the dead car’s engine (any solid metal would be fine). Don’t be frightened if you see a small spark when you attach the last end (it is normal for this to happen). Afterwards, turn on the JUMPER car and put it in reverse. Turn on the dead car (which should not be dead anymore, unless you didn’t connect one of the jumper cable’s well, in which case you should try to fix that and start again). Wait about 5 minutes. Then disconnect the cables in reverse order of how you put them on (this is important, if you try taking them off in another order, you may hurt yourself – remember, first take off the black cable on the dead car’s engine, then the other black cable, then the red off the jumper’s positive battery, and finally the other red jumper cable off your dead car’s positive battery). Then keep your engine on for at least 20 minutes so your alternator has enough time to fully recharge your battery.

Other things to consider:

What kind of problems has the car had lately and what history has the car had? And What is the mileage of your car and what can it handle?

If your car has gone through a great deal, has been driven more than the recommended mileage that your car should be driven, or has been in many small accidents or any major accidents over its lifespan, damage may be permanent and you should consider selling away the car entirely and getting another one. But always go through the following order (once you are definitely not in any type of emergency): First check if the problems your car has you can fix by yourself. If not, then you can bring it to a friend or family member that won’t charge you for their services to see if there is anything they can do to help (so you don’t waist any money. Then call AAA or call a mechanic and take their advice (if you bring the car to a mechanic, I suggest bringing it to several mechanics just to check that one isn’t ripping you off). If absolutely nothing can be done or it would be more cost-efficient to get a new car, then get a new car.

Good luck with all your future driving experiences. I hope I have been helpful to you.

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