Post Written By AutoPadre
If you're like me you find it stressful and even a little embarrassing when your car takes a long time to start in the morning or after getting off work.
Why does my car take so long to start? A problem with the fuel, ignition or charging system can lead to a car taking a long time to start.
Below are some steps you can take to troubleshoot and hone in on the system and part that is causing the problem.
I have often wondered why a car could take a long time to start so I did some digging and came up with a list of reasons starting with the easiest problems leading up to the most difficult.
It is important to get a hard starting problem taken care of as oftentimes a vehicle taking a long time to start is an indication that a component is wearing out that may lead to an even worse problem and inconvenience down the road.
So it is critical that you diagnose and fix the problem as soon as possible.
There are various systems and components in the car that work together to start the vehicle.
We will explain the systems one at a time, along with troubleshooting tips, to help narrow down your hard-starting problem and offer solutions to keep your car reliable and safely on the road.
First off, I highly recommend buying an OBDII scanner. An OBDII scanner will detect trouble codes that your car's ECU (electronic control unit) returns out.
AN OBDII scanner is compatible with all makes and models post 1996 sold in the USA.
Cheap reliable scanners are available for around $20.
They plug into your car's OBDII port and then connect to an app on your phone via bluetooth. Compatible with both IOS and Android.
Codes returned will oftentimes point directly to the charging, fuel or ignition systems making troubleshooting far easier, less time consuming and cheaper!
Whether or not you have a scanner you'll want to read through the rest of the article in its entirety to get familiar with the car's systems and how they could be causing your car to take a long time to start.
First off we will have a look at the vehicle's charging system.
The charging system consists of:
As a battery ages it loses its effectiveness as the chemicals inside get depleted.
Eventually as the battery wears out it will no longer be able to hold a charge large enough to start the car.
A poorly charged or worn-out battery can be a reason why your car takes a long time to start.
The battery will not have the juice to crank the starter over fast enough to develop the required momentum to start the engine.
If a battery is worn or depleted it is important to troubleshoot why! Is it just because its old? Or is it because a faulty alternator is not charging it properly?
"An alternator works based on Faraday's Law which states that when a permanent magnet (alternator's rotor or coil) is moved (by the car's engine) relative to a conductor (alternator's stator), or vice versa, an electromotive force is created. If the wire is connected (alternator's stator) through an electrical load (car's electrical system), current will flow, and thus electrical energy is generated, converting the mechanical energy (car engine's ) of motion to electrical energy."
A bad or worn out belt may cause the belt that drives the alternator to slip which will lead to the alternator not spinning enough to fully charge the battery.
Bad diodes are a common cause of hard-starting. The alternator's diodes convert the alternator's AC current to DC current to charge the battery.
If one or two diodes fail you may still have enough power to charge the battery, but once a few more fail, the battery will not get fully charged.
Worn out brushes can cause a low charging situation.
Brushes provide a contact from the car's battery to the alternator's coil to control the alternator's voltage output.
A bad smell like burning rubber or hot wires can mean the alternator is overheating and it's time to replace it.
First ensure there is voltage going to the starter! If no voltage is reaching the starter fix that first as the starter is probably not the problem!
If you are sure there is voltage going to the starter the following symptoms could be an indication of a bad starter:
If you turn the key and the engine turns over it's not a starter issue.
A faulty starter could have multiple causes:
Look for melted wirings, disconnected connections, shorts, corrosion etc.
Bad wiring to the starter can cause a vehicle to take a long time to start or start inconsistently.
There are two wires that go to the starter:
If one of these wires is damaged or if there is a poor connection in the circuit it can cause the vehicle to take a long time to start.
Bad wires or corroded terminals can prevent the battery from charging properly.
Inspect the wires for cracks and disconnect the fasteners from the battery and clean the terminals with a wire brush.
If you have confirmed that you have a good battery, alternator and starter the next place to look is at the fuel system.
The fuel system consists of a pump, filter, regulator and injectors.
The pump pumps fuel through the filter and injectors and finally into the combustion chamber of the engine.
To diagnose the fuel system you can use a fuel line pressure gauge. Most fuel systems run between 35 and 45 psi.
Low fuel pressure can be the cause of hard starts because an insufficient amount of fuel is reaching the engine for combustion to occur.
This is called running lean. Low fuel pressure can be caused by a number of things including:
A clogged fuel filter - the fuel filter is located between the pump and the engine.
A plugged up fuel filter can prevent the necessary amount of fuel from getting to the injectors.
Faulty Fuel Regulator - A broken diaphragm spring in the fuel regulator can be the cause of low fuel pressure.
The fuel pressure regulator is the component that is responsible for regulating the pressure of the fuel that is pumped to the injectors.
Many regulators are vacuum powered as well some are electronically controlled.
If your car takes a long time to start plus one of the following symptoms is occurring you will want to dig in deeper and investigate your fuel pressure regulator.
There are a few common symptoms of a faulty regulator:
A quick diagnostic technique is to disconnect the vacuum hose from the end of the fuel regulator and see if any fuel leaks out the regulator.
Leaking fuel points to a diaphragm leak and the regulator will need to be replaced.
To check for a clogged injector you need an injector tester. The tester simulates the injector system allowing you to diagnose each injector individually to find the clogged injector. You can then clean or replace the injector.
If your engine is flashing a check engine be sure to check that first! It may give you a misfire code pinpointing the exact cylinder that is misfiring, saving you a ton of time troubleshooting!
Ignition systems in modern vehicles can be complicated and are varied between vehicles but a commonality between all of them are the ignition coils and spark plugs.
A fouled spark plug has a harder time igniting the fuel in the engine which can be the cause of your vehicle taking a long time to start.
You can check if you have spark with a spark light test tool that is available at all automotive parts stores.
Modern cars use, via the crankshaft and camshaft position sensors, a computer to detect when spark should be delivered to the combustion chamber.
A car can be difficult to start when cold for a few reasons.
One reason is that the cars computers need time to calibrate themselves.
The most obvious thing to do first is see if a check engine light is on.
If so you can use an OBD2 code reader to check your codes.
Google is your friend and you can google your code to find out if it is related to difficult starts and what components may be causing the problem.
A vacuum leak can lead to hard starts and/or rough idles.
To check for vacuum leaks you can first visually inspect and check for any cracked or disconnected hoses.
You can also use a smoke tool or carb cleaner to try for changes in idle.
Air Intake Tube can be torn or cracked.
This can lead to additional air to enter the engine without the requisite increase in fuel which will lead to long crank times at start up.
The car's MAF (Mass Airflow Sensor) can cause a mixture issue due to contamination.
This can often be fixed by cleaning the MAF sensor with a can of MAF cleaner.
A Problem with the car's anti-theft system could be the reason why the car won't start.
Some vehicles have an anti-theft system that consists of a chip in the key and a receiver inside the vehicle.
The key communicates with the receiver to let it know that it is the right key for the vehicle to start.
If your car is taking a long time to start it's important to find out why before it leads to bigger problems and maybe leaves you stranded.
An OBDII scanner tool is probably worth the investment as it can save you time and money in diagnosis.