Car Won’t Start But Lights Come On: Common Causes and Fixes

If your car won’t start but the lights come on, it could be due to a dead battery or a faulty starter. Having a car that won’t start can be frustrating and inconvenient.

You may find yourself in a situation where you turn the key in the ignition, but nothing happens. However, if you notice that the lights on your dashboard and headlights are working fine, then the issue may not be with the battery or electrical system.

In this case, you might have a problem with the starter motor. The starter is responsible for cranking the engine and getting it to start. If it’s not functioning properly, you won’t be able to start your car even though the lights are coming on.

In the following sections, we’ll explore some common causes and solutions for a car that won’t start but has working lights.

Checking The Battery

To troubleshoot a car that won’t start but has lights on, start by checking the battery for any signs of wear or corrosion.

When your car refuses to start but the lights come on, the problem could lie with your battery. A weak or dead battery is often the culprit behind this frustrating situation. To determine if the battery is the issue, follow these steps:

Test The Battery Voltage:

  • Use a voltmeter to measure the battery voltage.
  • A healthy battery typically registers around 12.6 volts or higher.
  • If the voltage reads below 12.4 volts, it may be time for a recharge or replacement.

Inspect Battery Terminals For Corrosion:

  • Carefully examine the battery terminals for any signs of corrosion.
  • Corrosion can inhibit the flow of electricity and prevent a proper connection.
  • Clean the terminals using a mixture of baking soda and water or a specialized battery terminal cleaner.
  • Scrub away any corrosion gently with a wire brush, ensuring good contact with the terminals.

Ensure Battery Connections Are Secure:

  • Check that the battery cables are tightly connected to the terminals.
  • Loose connections can prevent the electricity from flowing properly.
  • Remove and reattach the battery cables if necessary, ensuring a snug fit.

Check Battery Cables For Damage:

  • Inspect the battery cables for any visible signs of damage, such as cracks or fraying.
  • Damaged cables can interfere with the flow of electricity.
  • Replace any damaged cables, ensuring the new cables are of the correct size and type.

Investigating The Ignition System

Investigating the ignition system can help determine why your car won’t start, even though the lights are working. Identifying potential issues with the spark plugs, starter motor, or ignition coil can lead to a proper diagnosis and solution.

Let’s delve into some troubleshooting steps to get your car back on the road.

Check If The Key Turns Smoothly In The Ignition:

  • Ensure the steering wheel is unlocked and not putting pressure on the ignition.
  • Insert the key into the ignition and try turning it smoothly clockwise.
  • If you encounter resistance or the key doesn’t turn, it may indicate a problem with the ignition cylinder or the key itself.

Inspect The Ignition Switch:

  • Locate the ignition switch, typically found near the steering column.
  • Check for any visible signs of damage, such as loose wires or corrosion.
  • Test the switch by turning the key to the “ON” position without starting the engine. If the dashboard lights illuminate but the engine doesn’t start, it could be a faulty ignition switch.

Test The Starter Motor:

  • Locate the starter motor, often positioned near the bottom of the engine.
  • Tap the starter motor lightly with a hammer while someone turns the key in the ignition.
  • If the engine shows signs of cranking or tries to start, the starter motor may be at fault. However, if there is no response, other components of the ignition system should be examined.

Examine The Spark Plugs:

  • Locate the spark plugs, usually positioned on top of the engine and covered by rubber boots.
  • Remove one spark plug wire at a time and inspect them for signs of wear or damage.
  • Check the spark plug gap using a gap gauge and ensure it falls within the manufacturer’s specifications.
  • If the spark plugs appear worn, or the gap is incorrect, replacing them might solve the starting issue.

Assessing The Fuel System

Assessing the fuel system is crucial when your car won’t start but lights come on. Check the fuel pump, filter, and injectors for any issues that may be causing the problem.

In this section, we’ll walk you through the steps to assess your fuel system and get closer to finding the solution.

Verify There Is Enough Fuel In The Tank:

  • Check the fuel gauge on your dashboard to ensure there is an adequate amount of fuel in the tank.
  • If the fuel level is low, fill up the tank with gasoline before proceeding to other troubleshooting steps.
  • Remember that the fuel gauge may not always be accurate, so it’s advisable to add a sufficient amount of fuel regardless of what the gauge indicates.

Check The Fuel Pump For Functionality:

  • Locate the fuel pump fuse in the fuse box and visually inspect it for any signs of damage or blown fuse.
  • If the fuse appears to be intact, use a multimeter to check if the fuel pump is receiving power.
  • Connect the multimeter’s probes to the appropriate terminals of the fuel pump’s electrical connector.
  • Start the ignition and observe the multimeter reading. A voltage reading of 12 volts or above indicates that the fuel pump is receiving power.
  • If the fuel pump is not receiving power, there may be an issue with the wiring or a faulty relay. Consult a professional mechanic for further assistance.

Inspect The Fuel Filter For Clogs:

  • Locate the fuel filter, which is typically located along the fuel line between the fuel tank and the engine.
  • Check for any visible signs of clogs, such as dirt, debris, or sediment.
  • If the fuel filter appears clogged, it may need to be replaced. Consult your vehicle’s manual for the recommended replacement interval and follow the instructions accordingly.
  • A clogged fuel filter can restrict fuel flow and prevent the engine from starting.

Test The Fuel Injectors:

  • Start by disconnecting the fuel injector electrical connectors.
  • Using a fuel injector tester or a noid light, connect it to one of the fuel injector connectors.
  • Start the ignition to observe if the fuel injector is receiving power and producing a pulse.
  • Repeat this process for each fuel injector in your vehicle to ensure they are all receiving power and functioning correctly.
  • If a fuel injector is not receiving power or is not pulsing, it may indicate a problem with the fuel injector itself or a faulty control module. Professional assistance may be required for further diagnosis and repairs.


Despite the frustration of a car not starting, there are several common reasons why the lights may come on but the engine won’t start. One possibility is a weakened or dead battery, which could be remedied by jump-starting the car or replacing the battery.

Another potential issue could be a faulty starter motor, which may require professional repair or replacement. Additionally, problems with the ignition switch or fuel system could be to blame. It’s important to diagnose the specific issue before attempting any repairs, as this can save time and money.

Regular maintenance and checks can help prevent future issues and ensure that your car starts smoothly every time. Remember to consult a trusted mechanic if you’re unsure about any aspect of your vehicle’s performance. With proper care and attention, your car will be back on the road in no time.

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