You have places to go and things to do and problems with your vehicle can keep you from being where you want to be when you need to be there. If you’ve ever gotten up, had breakfast, and then headed out to your car only to discover that when you turn the key, nothing happens, your whole day can be ruined.

You need to find out why your car won’t start. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a dead car battery. Alternatively, it could be the starter. Rarely, it could be an indication of a serious engine problem. How can you diagnose which part is bad? There are some things you can try before consulting a mechanic.

Don't assume the worst

It’s pretty obvious – if your car engine won’t turn over, try turning the key again. See what happens on our dashboard. Look at your gauges. Maybe you’re just out of gas – it happens. If that’s not the case, try to turn the car on again, and listen to what happens. Does the engine seem to be trying to turn over, or are you just getting a clicking or grinding sound? You could have a bad car starter, or dirty spark plugs.

Bad car battery

People tend to assume that all the components of their vehicle are going to work properly, but the fact is that the battery is likely to be the first thing to go. Check your battery terminals for corrosion. Clean them up with steel wool or a wire brush, and then try to start your car again. If it still doesn’t work, it could be the starter.

Bad starter

A bad starter actually sounds quite a lot like a dead battery – you turn the key, and all you hear is a click. It might not be the entire starter, though – it could be a weak component known as the solenoid. It prevents the starter from creating the correct current to start your car.

This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as Starter or Car Battery: How to Diagnose Which Part is Bad? and was authored by Valerie Johnston.


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