This is a relatively common phenomenon and it can happen to any car, no matter its age or mileage. To diagnose the problem, you’ll first need to visualize the starting circuit. This will show you where the disconnect could be to explain why you are not getting “crank” (starter turning the engine).

How A Starting Circuit Works

The starting circuit begins at the vehicle’s battery. In most cars, this is a standard 12 volt lead-acid battery, usually located in the engine compartment at one corner – most commonly against the firewall on the right (passenger’s) side.

start circuit3

The battery will have red and black (positive and negative) terminals. The black (negative or ground) will usually lead to a ground on the vehicle’s metal frame. The red (positive) will have a thick lead that goes directly to the starter solenoid, sometimes via an electronic control box. This starter lead will be the thickest cable running from the battery’s positive terminal. It is made to carry the largest amperage load the battery can produce (often defined as its “cranking amps”).

The starter’s solenoid (which is usually attached to the starter as the “hump” on its back or side) takes the power supplied by the battery and ramps it up to make it stronger so the starter can turn quickly. Think of this process as a water pipe with a series of loops that get smaller and smaller in diameter, increasing the water pressure without increasing the amount of water flowing through. This makes the water jet out the other side faster and further than it would have at its original pressure. The higher rate of electricity gives the starter motor more “oomph” to turn the engine over.

The process of starting the car begins at the ignition switch in the driver’s cockpit. The key turn completes a small circuit that tells the battery to release power to the starter solenoid. The solenoid ramps up the power given to it and that power causes the starter motor to turn very quickly. This turning is translated to the engine, which turns as if it were running (aka “cranking the engine”). Turning the engine causes the pistons to rise and fall in the engine block, activates fuel and spark, and (hopefully) ignition of the engine so that it begins running on its own without the starter motor turning it.

There are a few other things in the circuit, of course, depending on the car, its age, and what accessories or features it may have, but the circuit always has the above components working in that sequence.

Why Nothing Happens On a Key Turn

Now, thinking about that starting circuit, consider the things that could be going wrong to interfere with it. They keyswitch may not be sending the signal to tell the battery to send juice to the starter, the battery may not be able to send enough power to the solenoid to turn the starter, the solenoid may not be ramping up the power given to it, or the starter may not be functioning and able to turn.

In the case of no sound, light dimming, or other problems, the problem is going to be either the ignition switch not sending the signal or the battery being unable to send the power to the solenoid. Otherwise, there would be some kind of action happening, even if it doesn’t start the car, that would denote other issues.

For example, when the starter solenoid is bad, it usually gives off a “clicking” sound as the power enters it from the battery and gets sent straight to ground instead of turning the starter. As another example, a bad starter would probably either make a grinding noise, a “spinning” noise, or the solenoid clicking noise. Likewise, a bad battery would probably not be able to power the dash and headlights and if they were working, they would still dim during a start attempt.

Repairs

A low or bad battery can be easily tested with a standard ohm meter or at any auto repair shop or parts store (they usually do this free of charge). A loose battery cable connection is often the simplest of causes for a non-start.

A bad starter solenoid means replacement is needed. Similarly, a bad starter is likely going to require replacement. Most likely replacing one means replacing the other anyway. Finally, a bad ignition relay from the keyswitch can be circuit tested and repaired/replaced.

It’s all a matter of knowing what to look for.

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An automotive enthusiast for most of his adult life, Aaron has worked in and around the industry in many ways. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press (RMAP) and freelances as a writer and journalist around the Web and in print. You can find his portfolio at AaronOnAutos.com.

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42 thoughts on “Nothing Happens When I Turn the Key (Starting Issues Diagnosed)”

  1. I took out my CD player now my car won’t start. The battery is good. When I turn the key I lose all power. When I turn it back I get the interior lights back. Can someone help?

  2. i have a 1999 plymouth breeze the other day my wife was driving the car and when she got home it shut down just before she could turn into the driveway . the car has no power no dash lights no head lites no radio nothing . i made sure the battery was charged and tryed to see if anything worked and still nothing.would the coil have anything to do with it?

  3. Hi I have a 2003 Toyota Camry. Today, while running errands I came back out and the car did nothing when I turned the key. the battery is fine, because all electronics work fine, etc. There is just no click, no cranking, etc when I turn the key. thoughts on if this could be the starter or the starter solenoid? thanks!

    1. Low charge state in the battery could mean that accessories work OK, but there isn’t quite enough juice to crank the engine. Could also be a connection to the solenoid or a bad solenoid. Or a loose connection off the battery or to the solenoid.

      1. Man I have a 01 Nissan Xterra the car wouldn’t crank without jumper cables I swapted transmissions in it and now the starter has constant hot but no ground even when I turn the key I’m lost

  4. Thanks mate, this is a very basic and helpful explanation! I have had a handful of beaters back in the day, but had a nice truck with no issues for years, until now. Having to deal with a shitty van and diagnosing issues, so this was a nice refresher:) Cheers,JB

  5. I have a Mazda pickup B2200 it was running good until one night I drove it to the store when u was about to leave I started the truck but it didn’t have no lights on dashboard no click on the ignition what is the problem how do I fix it? I had put a new battery but it still doing the same what should I do next?

  6. I have a 2014 Jeep Wrangler Sahara turn key on and there nothing acts like no battery contacted then after a few tries of turning key off and on a few time-s back to normal

    1. Your keyswitch may be going bad. Or it may have a faulty connection. You’ll have to do continuity and circuit checks from the battery (source) to the starter (end point) to check the entire starting system, which will include the keyswitch and associated items.

  7. I have a 1979 Buick leasbre and I parked the car one night, go out the nest day and I have nothing. No power to anything. I know the battery is holding a charge, been hooked up a car to jump it and I stall have nothing at the key turn. Have replaced fuses and the ignition module and I still get nothing. Getting very discouraged. Any help would be appreciated

    1. Make sure the battery cables (especially the ground) are secure and connections are clean. On older vehicles like yours, that’s more often the problem than is anything else. You may also have a faulty solenoid or keyswitch connection.

  8. Hey i have a 1998 subaru my car wont start ive replaced the battery the alternator and the starter and still nothing when i turn the key nothing happens no lights no sounds no headlights and also theres no lights working inside or where the speedometer is thatnks for the help

  9. 2006 explorer parked vehicle everything ok. Went out a few days later turn key nothing happens. Headlights work radio works. Put new battery in terminals cleaned. Wont crank. Gounds checked. Any idea.

    1. I have a 2005 Chevy Malibu classic , and I recently Started having a prproblem with the car starting , I charged the battery with a battery charger for an hour and a half and it was completely charged , when I go to start it , there’s no sign of life , only lights and stuff but the weird thing is the headlights flash on and off when I turn my key, and then nothing . I have a light on my dash that reads theft system that I’ve never seen before . But it’s been a while that I’ve had tbis problem curious if it’s the starter or not

      1. Could be the connection from the battery to the car. Check the posts for corrosion and/or a loose connector on the positive or negative side. It could also be the security unlock in the keyswitch. May need a reprogram or replacement.

  10. Started my garaged 1970 Monte Carlo 350v8 on below zero morning…has a new battery and kicked it over and idled for several minutes before going totally dead…I mean nothing when attempting to turn it over. No lights, no spark. Battery is fully charged. The probable cause (of which could be many I realize) on this much sitting classic?

    1. Most likely a loose ground wire. That year GM engines sometimes had continuity issues at the distributor coil. Might be overheating. Only way to test that is with a thermometer. Could also be a bad ignition module.

  11. This morning I got home and I pulled in front of the driveway and my car ran fine last night and when I turned my car off it would not start back up and I took it to autozone and they fully charged my battery and when it was put back in my 2005 Chevrolet Malibu LS V6 my car would not start up there was no clicking sound or nothing can you please tell me what you think it could be

  12. cant get the car keys to open and close ,sent for new ones put still nothing happens,we havnt been using the keys for awhile,but you can still here it click,when you press the putton.but still nothing happens

  13. I have a 95 gmc sierra, 5 speed manual that decided to up and not start the other day. I got it, push in the clutch and turned the key, after turning over once it just stopped and nothing happened at all during my following attempts to start it. After cleaning my cable connection and checking my fuses(since this truck has no starter relay) I tried again an it started clicking. Tapped on solenoid think it was stuck, still just clicked. The battery is brand new and fully charged. And I swapped the starter for a new one since the old one had some years on it anyways. And now when I try to start it, my lights just dim. No clicking, just lights dimming. I’ve checked and double checked all my connections and cables and am at a loss as to what could be wrong with her.

  14. I went out this morning to start my 1994 Chevy Caprice. No lights came on in the dash..it didn’t make a sound at all! Would not start! My pass fault key came on all the time. Even wouldn’t start for me a couple of times..would that have anything to do with it??I had to wait then try it an it finally started..but today my car is out of commission! Can u plz help!

  15. I have a 2005 Mazda 6 4cyl with a new battery. 99% of the time the car starts fine but every once in a while I’ll turn the key and nothing happens, no clicking sounds, nothing. Will turn it off and retry again and it starts right up and runs fine. And this problems seems to be getting a little worse/more frequent. Any suggestions??

  16. I have a 1987 Isuzu pup truck 2.3 liter and I parked on a hill put it in park and shut the engine off and it want say anything in park or any other gear.after I putting it in park it’s like something was stopping it from going to park so I pushed a little harder to get it in park and heard a click noise from shifter not sure if this has anything to do with it not starting but I need help

  17. Have a 2005 Pontiac g6 changed the computer but now car won’t start click or anything when I turn the key lights turn off any ideas

  18. I have a 2001 ford expedition xlt v8 Triton 5.4lt. Back in November of last year the old battery died on me (was 5 years old) so bought a new one all was good. In December after the first snow fall it decided to not start and just crank and crank and crank. But as soon as it warmed up it started and drove just fine. It has been like this off and on all winter. Took it to a shop was told I have a ground issue and a new ground was wired. A month later (currently) it won’t start its 70° and I don’t know why. It would just crank and crank. Had a friend jump it again and now there is absolutely nothing. No crank, no click, no spin, just nothing. However all rights work and the battery has plenty of spark. I have done fuel tests, spark tests, checked the fuel shut off, and replaced a few sensors and I don’t know what else to do. Please help. (sorry if this is a really old thread)

  19. I have a 2007 chevy impala that won’t start. When I put the key in and turn it clicks once n all lights go out and it keeps my key for like 10 seconds but soon as I get the key back out the lights pop back on plzzz help idk what to do

    1. Sounds very much like a dead battery or loose battery connection. The lights are dimming/going out because the battery doesn’t have the juice to power those plus the engine’s electronics.

  20. I have a 2006 GMC Sierra 1500. When I turn the key on no light or anything come on. Doesn’t even crank or anything. Battery and Alternator have been replaced

  21. I have a 1993 chevy k1500 my transmission went out while I was driving I turned it off and back on created in first gear to a stopping point and turned it off. The truck now won’t start not even make a attempt no click or nothing I’ve replaced the starter/ igntion switch/ relay. And cannot figure out why it won’t work. The solenoid wire was fused together with a smaller wire so I figured it grounded out against the engine block so I clipped off the damaged wire and spliced it back together and still nothing. My headlights and dome lights work . But my power windows and locks do not work. Neither does any of the dash lights . I can’t find the problem please help!.

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