Why Does It Take Your Car Longer to Start?
It’s never a good sign if you turn on your ignition and the car doesn’t start immediately.
You can still drive the vehicle if it turns over after a few seconds (or minutes), but you have a bigger problem that you will need to fix.
If your car takes longer to start, there’s an issue with either the battery or the starter. There are many reasons your vehicle isn’t engaging, from charging problems and poor wiring in the starter to a bad battery and one that drains when the car is parked.
If the problem only occurs when turning on your car in the morning, it’s likely the battery. However, if your vehicle takes longer to start after driving, you probably have a starter issue.
2 Possible Starter Problems
1) Poor Connections
A starter relies on two wires to function. The large one connects the battery to the starter, sending power from one to the other. The smaller wire is more of a signal, telling the starter to draw power from the battery when turning on the ignition.
If one of these wires fails due to damage or corrosion, the system can’t function as designed. The larger wire may not draw enough power from the battery, while the smaller one may send a weak signal.
In either case, your car may take longer to start.
Fortunately, you may not face issues on the road, and the problem may only arise when you turn off the car and need to turn it on again.
Regardless, you take your car to a mechanic so they can replace the wires.
2) Bad Starter
While bad wiring is often an issue, the starter itself can also be a problem.
Turning your key in the ignition triggers an electromagnet, causing the starter gear to engage the teeth on the flywheel. As the starter moves toward the flywheel, it brushes electrical points, which send power to the starter monitor.
The monitor engages the starter, which brings the engine to life.
During this process, high current flows through the electrical points, and regular usage may wear them out over time. Worn electrical contacts mean reduced power, leading to a slow-spinning starter and an engine that struggles to turn over.
If your starter doesn’t function properly, it’ll likely need replacing.
2 Possible Battery Problems
1) Charging Issues
In most vehicles, the starter draws power from the battery, and the battery draws power from the car’s charging system.
If the starter isn’t the problem, check that your charging system supplies enough power.
Your battery may function well, but if it doesn’t receive enough power, the engine will take longer to start or may not start at all.
A malfunctioning system may be due to a bad alternator or worn belts.
An alternator generates 13.5 to 14.5 volts when the car is on. You can test it by attaching a multimeter to the terminals.
If the voltage is lower than what’s needed to start the engine, you’ll have to repair the system.
2) Worn Out Battery
A bad battery is arguably the most common reason your car takes longer to start.
Car batteries rely on a chemical reaction between lead and sulfuric acid to generate electricity. This electricity starts the engine and powers accessories when the car is off.
Battery size is crucial in the amount of current produced – a larger battery generates more current, and a smaller one generates less.
The automotive industry rates batteries in Cold Cranking Amps (CCA) – the ability of a battery to crank the engine in cold temperatures. A high rating means your battery generates enough power to crank the engine in winter conditions.
As you charge and discharge your battery, the lead plates wear out, leading to weak chemical reactions and insufficient power. The rate of corrosion increases if you constantly drive in the cold, as the battery works harder to generate power.
Reduced battery power leads to a slow-spinning starter and a car that takes longer to start.
Understanding your battery’s service life is crucial so power issues won’t catch you by surprise.
During routine maintenance checks, a good mechanic may check your battery for free and can even inspect your alternator and starter. They should report the health of your electrical system, and if you have any problems, they should guide you on how to solve them (or do it themselves).
If your battery runs below 70%, you’ll want to consider getting a new one. Though your car will likely still run, there’s no guarantee you won’t face issues, especially if driving in the cold.
My Car Starts Even Slower in the Cold
Cold temperatures take a lot out of vehicles.
Reduced temperatures slow down the chemical reactions in your battery, and if it has a low CCA rating, it may not produce sufficient current to start your engine.
Lower temperatures also affect how fast your fuel pumps, especially if you have worn injectors. If your fuel isn’t being pumped, the engine cannot run.
The final reason your car is slow to start in the cold is thickened engine oil – the lower the temperatures, the more viscous the oil. Thick oil is hard to pump, and without oil, the car can’t function.
Plug the car in if you’re parking it in subzero temperatures.
My Engine Turns Over But Won’t Start
There are three leading causes of an engine that turns over but doesn’t start:
- A weak spark
- A malfunctioning computer
- Low or high fuel pressure.
Your engine doesn’t only need fuel to run – it also needs air. Spark plugs ignite this air/fuel mixture to start the car.
The process may not be as effective if you have a weak spark, and you can test your spark plugs using a multimeter or spark plug tester.
If the plugs are fine, check the ignition coil.
If the ignition coil is also fine, the issue might be the vehicle’s computer.
The computer determines when a spark happens using either the crankshaft position sensor or the camshaft position sensor.
Poor communication between the sensors and the computer leads to a mistimed spark or no spark at all.
The problem is likely fault codes, and you should take the vehicle to a mechanic to reprogram them.
If the vehicle computer has no issues, check for insufficient or excessive fuel pressure.
If your vehicle has fuel injectors, expect a PSI rating of 35 to 55 at the fuel rail. If the pressure is lower, you may have a defective fuel pump or pressure regulator.
If the pressure is higher, you may have a malfunctioning regulator or a kinked fuel line.
Replacing the related components usually solves the problem.
My Car Won’t Start At All
If your car doesn’t start at all, the problem may still be any of the issues above.
If it’s a recurring problem, take the vehicle for a tune-up.
The mechanic will run diagnostics and may change your spark plugs, spark plug wires, fuel filter, and/or engine air filter. They may also clean the throttle body, reset the computer, and change your oil.
Though a thorough tune-up isn’t cheap, if issues are found (and fixed), your vehicle shouldn’t have start problems for a long time.
A car that takes longer to start is usually due to poor starter connections, a defective starter, charging problems, or a bad battery.
In more specific cases, the problem may also be the spark plugs, fuel pressure, or car computer.
You can diagnose most of them on your own, but the fix almost always requires a professional.