Car Won’t Start But Lights Come On The Dash

Nothing is more annoying than you turn on the ignition switch, and the car won’t start, but lights come on the dash. This issue happens to occur in the most critical situations.

But why does this happen? It may be due to the solenoid, ignition, or a dead battery. Is there any way to prevent it? What should you do when you face this situation?

If these are the questions popping into your mind, then it is the article you are looking for. In this guide, we will go through all the reasons why your engine might not be responding even when your dashboard lights work.

Why Won’t The Car Start But the Lights Come on?

Car wont start

There can be quite a few reasons why your car engine cranks but won’t turn it on while the radio and lights work. There are three situations that you have to consider if you run into this problem. They are:

  1. The car won’t start, but the lights work, and there is no noise at all.
  2. The car won’t start, but the lights work, and there is a clicking sound only.
  3. The car won’t start, but the lights work, and there is a car turning noise.

Situation 1: No Noise At All

In most cases, where your dash lights are lit, but your car won’t start, you will face the no-noise treatment. This situation is actually good compared to the other two because the fixes are simple, and there isn’t much damage that you have to handle.

That being said, you should always be careful when handling your car battery and other related parts. Here are the possible reasons that might be causing your car to lie idle while the radio turns on along with the light:

Problematic Starter Solenoid

Starter Solenoid

Without a properly functioning solenoid, a car can’t function. To power up our car, we put the car key in the ignition, and it completes an electrical circuit which we refer to ignition switch turning on.

  • How A Solenoid Works

When this happens, an electromagnetic field is generated, triggering the starter solenoid to push the starter pinion gear out. Then it completes a circuit across both terminals and starts the starter motor. This results in power coming to the engine, and you can start your vehicle.

So, as you can see, the starter solenoid is the key ignition component that ensures there’s power coming to the engine. Thus, if it is not working, then the car won’t start and will remain in the start position.

And as it isn’t functioning, you won’t hear any sound at all. Cause no power is going to the motor to create the sound in the first place. The radio and lights work fine because the connection is completely different. 

They use a similar electrical switch to the security warning light, the direct connection with the car battery, and it doesn’t depend on the starter solenoid.

Almost 90 percent of the time, if you don’t hear any sound and the lights are on, but the car isn’t moving, this is why. Just simply replace the starter solenoid, and your issue will be fixed.

Bad Ignition Switch & Its Fuse Box

  • Ignition Key

The ignition key is the most crucial part of the engine starter. If you don’t use it, then the circuit with the battery terminals won’t come alive, and your car won’t start.

If this key or the ignition switch has gone bad, then the engine will never come to life because power won’t be racing the motor. Lights will be on due to the battery, but the car won’t start.

Changing the broken ignition switch all by yourself will be quite difficult unless you are an engineer or professional yourself and have all the necessary mechanical parts at your disposal.

This is because you will have to take almost the entire dashboard and instrument panel to change the ignition switch, so it is better to leave this one to professionals.

  • Ignition Fuse Box

Your ignition fuse box can also get damaged, and a blown fuse will also lead to the vehicle not moving even when the battery is functioning. If the ignition switch fuse is the one to blame, you will obviously have to replace it, but you should do further investigation.

This is because you don’t get a blown fuse out of thin air. There was something that caused the fuse to blow, and if you don’t find that out, replacing it will only lead to another blown fuse box and more waste of money.

It is a circuit problem, and many factors like battery voltage, problematic jump start, damaged battery cables & jumper cables anything can overload the electrical system. Thus, the answer can only be found after a thorough inspection of the ignition switch itself & other parts related to the ignition switch.

Troublesome Electrical Connections

Now, this is a bit technical, but if you know your way around a car battery and know how to read the owner’s manual, then there won’t be any issue.

Sometimes, your car won’t start because some of the grounds and electrical terminals aren’t properly connected. The circuits connected to the light are functional; otherwise, they wouldn’t have been working.

So, grab your car’s manual, open up the hood, and see which electrical connections are connected and which aren’t. Sometimes dust and dirt clog up the connection as well. So, be prepared to clean them and then reconnect them.

The metal wire connecting to the starter motor often comes undone and can be the reason you are facing this predicament. Other electronic connections can also be blamed, so don’t leave any cables alone.

Damaged cables can also be the reason, and just changing them will get your car up and running in no time.

That being said, if you don’t have any experience with engine starters nor have the owner’s manual around, it will be best to ask the help of a professional because you don’t want to make your car’s station worse than it currently is.

Immobilizer Problem

Car Immobilizer Warning Light

Sometimes the car security system is the cause behind the vehicle not being able to move while showing signs of life. The immobilizer or the vehicle security system works to ensure that your precious purchase remains safe.

And if it doesn’t recognize the radio signals sent by your key due to poor connection or low battery level, then it can be a problem. This issue is mostly witnessed in modern vehicles as most older cars don’t have this system built into them.

The security system works differently on each model; slight model variations can have completely different systems built in. So, it is better to find a professional to take care of this mechanical part.

That being said, most modern cars come with a neutral safety switch or some sort of security code to handle this type of situation. This option is generally labeled as manual transmission by some car companies.

Situation 2: Hearing A Clicking Sound

If you hear a clicking noise when there is only light and radio, you can be assured that the ignition key and solenoid are working properly. But the starter cranks may be facing the issue because they are not getting enough power to trigger the pinion to spin.

Completely Dead Battery Or Low Powered Battery Terminals

Dead Battery Car Wont Start

The most probable cause for the car not turning on after hearing the sound of the solenoid working is a problem with the battery. It is either completely dead or has a very low amount of power left in it.

A dying battery can be saved if it receives proper care and recharge. But unless you have the instrument panel and tools to do so, then the best option would be to get the battery to a mechanic.

If you want to be sure, you can hook up a DVOM to test the battery, and depending on the reading; you decide whether it is active or whether you are dealing with a dead battery. 

The reading that you need to confirm are:

  • 12.7 to 13.2 V = fully charged battery
  • 12.4 V = 75% charged battery
  • 12.2 V = 50% charged battery
  • 12.0 V = 25% charged battery
  • 0 – 11.9 V = Flat or Discharged or Dead battery

Depending on your battery checks, you might have to perform a jump start. You have to do that if you want to have extended periods from the current battery and don’t want to purchase a new battery. Though sometimes fully charged batteries can be at fault, you can’t be sure unless you run a load test on the battery.

In most cases, though, it is better to buy a new one than try to bring a discharged one back to good shape. That isn’t fairly easy and needs a bit of luck, to be honest.

Damaged Or Faulty Starter Motor

While it is quite rare, there have been cases where the starter motor was the reason the car wasn’t moving in the first place.

There are quite a few reasons why a starter motor can be broken. It can be due to electrical overload, physical force, gathering dirt and dust, or the lack of proper overall maintenance.

To check if the starter motor of your vehicle is damaged, use a multimeter. If the results come in negative, then you will have to opt for a new starter motor; there’s no other way around it. But be sure that it is a bad starter motor and not the solenoid terminal at fault because the multimeter detects problems for both.

Clogged & Damaged Starter Relay Or Solenoid Terminals

The starter solenoid will still make the clicking sound even when its terminals are damaged from the overloading of electric current. Or they may be getting rusty due to the years and dust gathering. They can also simply come loose at times.

If this is the case, then take out the starter motor, then the solenoid, and clean it up properly. While it does seem simple, these parts are vital for your car and, therefore, should be conducted by a professional car mechanic.

A Seized Engine & Fuel Management Issue

While it isn’t that common, a seized engine will surely lead to your car having trouble after the ignition. To be sure of the fact, check the engine light on your dashboard first. If there are dim lights glowing that say ‘Check Engine,’ then you are suffering from a seized engine.

There are a lot of factors that can lead to an engine not receiving enough power for ignition. It can be as simple as an empty gas tank.

If your car doesn’t have its fuel tank properly filled, then you should see a blinking light on the dash suggesting to fill the gas tank. Take the car to a fuel pump, and your troubles should be fixed.

The fuel system isn’t always the one to blame, though. Lack of coolant can also run your car to bad ignition. Radiator malfunction can also lead the engine to stop working, so check all the engine-related facts if you find signs that it is the reason why your car won’t start.

Check Fuel Fill Inlet Light Meaning

Situation 3: Turning Over Sound

Now, if you turn on your car with your key and there is both clicking and turning sound, but the car still doesn’t move, then there are a lot of factors that you might have to consider.

Dead Car Battery

Generally, when this happens, then it is the case of a discharged or dead battery—and just revamping the battery does the trick most of the time. Sometimes there is also a faulty connection between the battery and engine called bad ground; if that happens, this situation can also appear.

Internal Failure

If a battery failure is not the case for the car to lose power, then it is probably one or multiple internal failures inside the car. From problems to clutch pedal to fuel pump, anything can lead to power loss at this point.

We recommend that you use OBD code readers to find the problem code on your car and then find solutions depending on the result.

Some of the most common problems that lead to a car won’t start, but there is turning over sound are:

  • Burnt or damaged ignition coils
  • Faulty fuel injectors & pumps
  • Broken spark plugs
  • Leaked gas tank
  • Thermostat and other sensor-related issues

There are a lot more internal problems that a car can face, and if we start to describe all of them, then this guide will be extremely long. That’s why if your vehicle shows signs similar to this situation, it is better to take it to a mechanic’s shop and diagnose it there.

They have the necessary tools and experience that will fix your vehicle without risking anything.

Final Thoughts

If your car won’t start but lights come on the dash, there can be a lot of reasons behind that. And as you have seen from the guide, some problems are fairly easy to resolve while others require a vast amount of technical knowledge to do so.

So, be careful and fix them to your ability. If you find it difficult, then go seek the help of professionals instead of tinkering by yourself and increasing the damage further. Best of luck and happy driving!

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