My Car Won’t Start But The Radio And Lights Work [8 Things To Check]

There are few feelings worse than when your car won’t start. If you’ve ever been in this situation, you’ve probably assumed it was the battery. But, what does it mean when your radio and lights work but the car won’t start? We’ve done some extensive research to help you identify what could be wrong.

There are several reasons why your car won’t start even though the radio and lights work. They include:

  • A dying battery
  • Dirty or corroded battery terminals
  • Starter not functioning properly
  • Ignition switch problem
  • Blown fuses
  • Spark plug issues
  • Bad Fuel Pump
  • Empty gas tank

Keep reading to find out more about each of these causes and how to deal with them. Some problems, like a dirty or dying battery, are easier to address than others, like a fuel pump problem or a bad starter. We’ll try to help you understand what’s happening with your car so that you can work with your mechanic on fixing the issue. As always, our posts are for educational and entertainment purposes only. We wish to discourage you from trying to diagnose or fix car problems on your own. If your vehicle is experiencing problems, make sure you consult a qualified mechanic.

Woman starting car. Close up of female hand starting car with key, My Car Won't Start But The Radio And Lights Work [8 Things To Check]

Can A Car Battery Be Dead If the Radio Still Works?

Typically, people assume that the battery is not dead if the radio turns on when they attempt to start the car. Though this is technically correct, it does not mean that the battery is alright. This may come as a surprise, but the fact that your radio still works does not mean that your battery is not the issue.

It does not take a lot of power to turn on the radio and lights, so the fact that they come on when you try to start the car is not the major diagnostic clue we tend to believe it is. The battery can still have enough juice left to turn on the radio, but not enough to start the rest of the electrical systems. A dying or leaking battery may be able to power some systems in your car, and this may lead to confusion when trying to determine what is causing your car’s issues.

If the lights and/or the radio come on but the car does not start, you may also have dirty or corroded battery terminals. The terminals are what connect the electrical system to the battery. If these are dirty or corroded, the connection could be negatively impacted. A poor connection can prevent the battery from properly supplying power, even if it has plenty of life left in it. It is fairly easy to tell if the terminals are dirty or corroded. If they are, you can clean them relatively easily yourself.

Car Battery Corrosion: What Owners Need To Know

Attempting to jump start your car can also either confirm or eliminate the battery as the cause of your issue. If you can get the car started by jumping it, it’s a good bet that your battery was the problem. However, this is not always true.

How Do You Tell If It’s Your Starter Or Your Battery?

Your car’s starter is a motor that uses power from your battery to turn the engine. Like a battery, it can also benefit from a jump start. So, if your car runs after getting a jump start, you may incorrectly assume that the battery was the issue. Knowing how to tell the difference between your battery being dead, dying, or dirty and your starter being the problem is important.

A clicking sound as you attempt to start your car is usually the clearest indication that your starter is the problem. Other times, smoke may come out of the hood as you crank the car. Sometimes, though, there are no clear indications associated with the starter. If you cannot determine whether the issue is your battery or your starter, get your car to a mechanic. He or she will use their knowledge and experience to determine the cause of your problem.

What Are The Signs Of A Bad Ignition Switch?

Your car is a complex system consisting of a number of relays. A failure in any of these relays can prevent the car from operating as it should. The ignition switch is one of the first relays that must work correctly to get your car started. This switch sends a signal to the battery to start the car. If the ignition switch is bad your car will not start.

So, how can you tell if the ignition switch is bad? The clearest indicator of a bad ignition switch is if the lights on your dash do not light up when you attempt to start the car. If you turn the key to the second position (between off and on) and the dash does not light up, the starter is likely bad. Similarly, if the car immediately stalls after you start it, the ignition switch should probably be replaced.

Can A Blown Fuse Cause A Car Not To Start?

If your battery, starter, and ignition switch are all working as they should, a blown fuse could be the reason that your car will not start. Like your home’s electrical system, your car has a set of electrical fuses. If the fuse for the starter, the fuel pump, or another pivotal part of the car is blown, the engine may not start.

You can check the fuses yourself, but be sure the power to the car is off, and they key is removed from the ignition. To be on the safe side, you should have a mechanic check the fuses for you. Mechanics know what to look for, and have the experience that most car owners lack.

Spark Plugs Could Be The Issue

Spark plugs play a critical role in powering your vehicle. They are what ignites the fuel in your car. Like any other part, eventually they wear out. They can also crack, break, or simply get dirty. Any of these are enough to prevent your car from starting as it should. If your lights and radio work, your dashboard lights up as it should, and there is no clicking noise or smoke coming from the hood when you try to start the car, it’s very possible that one or more of the spark plugs may need to be cleaned or replaced.

The good news is that spark plugs are inexpensive and easy to replace. Even if you are not comfortable doing this type of work yourself, a mechanic can quickly and easily handle spark plug issues for you.

Spark plug for engine in male hand on the background of a car with an open hood

A Bad Fuel Pump

Electricity and gasoline are the two main components necessary to get your car started and to keep it running. If your electrical systems all check out, it may be an indication that you have some sort of problem related to gasoline. If the spark plugs are okay, the fuel pump might be to blame.

A fuel pump gets gas from the fuel tank to the carburetor. If it cannot properly deliver the fuel where it needs to go, your car won’t start. Having a mechanic examine the fuel pump and fuel system can help you determine the issue’s origination point. Unlike spark plugs, fuel pump replacement is a more complex job and should be handled by a professional.

An Empty Gas Tank

Some explanations are so obvious that you may fail to notice them. This is especially true if you are running late and your car won’t start. You may completely overlook the fact that you are out of gas. Sometimes it is a simple oversight on your part that can explain what is happening. 

The good news is that once you get over the feelings of embarrassment and frustration, having no gas in your car is a simple, inexpensive problem to fix. Getting even a small amount of gas into your car from a gas can in your garage can be enough to get your car started until you can get to a gas station. Though irritating, this is one of the best possible outcomes for your wallet when your car won’t start.

A close up photo of a gas gauge pointed at empty

Summing It All Up

Now that you know some reasons that your car won’t start, you can know what to look for and how to determine what may be happening. We hope that this post has been informative and given you a clearer understanding of what may be affecting your car. If you are looking for more information about how your car works or how to troubleshoot other issues, we encourage you to check out some of our other posts:

How To Check Car Battery Life [3 Simple Ways]

Air Conditioner Only Works When Driving — What Could Be Wrong?

 

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