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Wednesday, February 15, 2006 12:41:39 PM - Views Technotes :: The Definitive "I can't start my car!" guide...

The order of starting troubleshooting... 
Power, Spark, Fuel, Compression, Timing. Check these five things, and it will start.

Step 1. Does it crank?
If it isn't even cranking or just clicking - you probably have a problem with your
battery. Get it tested. You can take the battery to any auto parts store or a battery place,
and they will test it for free. See how many cranking amps it has. Does it have at least
12v? Many places can even charge the battery for you too.

If you hear the starter spinning, but it's not 'catching' Your starter solenoid
might be broken. The solenoid is what moves the starter to engage it on the flywheel. You can bang it with a hammer to see if you can get it to unstick - but you
probably will be better off with a new starter. The solenoid is the smaller cylinder on the top of the starter.

Another tip for the solenoid, from -  the solenoid wire from the ignition, has a spade connector down by the firewall, that is usually corroded, and totally unnecessary. I cut the connectors off, and splice the wires together.

Get a new battery. New cables. Nice cables...

Jump to Power, Spark, Fuel, Compression, Timing

Step 2. Do you have spark?
To test this - you can take off one of the spark plug wires. hold it against the
head or valve cover. (DON'T hold it close to the end or on the metal part. You will be
sorry) Have someone else crank the car and see if it sparks against the metal. If have no
sparks, it's time for ignition troubleshooting.

You can see where the wires go

Jump to Power, Spark, Fuel, Compression, Timing

Step 3. Do you have Fuel?

Stand in front of the car, near the fuel distributor, with the hood open and put
your head near the fuel distributor. Have friend turn the key to on. You should hear buzzing
for 3 seconds or so. Have friend crank the engine. Again you should hear buzzing. If you don't hear buzzing, then it's likely your fuel pump relay is bad.

This is the fuel Distributor

Fuel Pump Relay Location (Usually labeled 2)

The following applies to CIS-E - anything with a 1.8 16v - or 87-90 Golf/Jetta

Thanks to Freerevving on the vortex for this one...


if you have fuel to the fuel distributor, but no fuel to the injectors:

the DPR can cut off fuel to the injectors for three reasons:

1) you have no spark

2) there is a wiring fault in the spark signal wire and the ECU "thinks" there is no spark.

3) (and most likely): fried Ignition Control Module (ICM).

The ICM controls the spark and the spark signal to the ECU. If there is no spark (or if the ICM is fried) the ECU will decide to send reverse current to the DPR, which cuts off fuel pressure from the injectors. A good way to test this is to unplug the DPR. If fuel squirts out of the injectors with the DPR unplugged, then it's time to replace the ICM. If fuel still doesn't squirt out, then you have a clogged fuel distributor.

(this is probably the hardest thing to diagnose, but that's how you do it.)


Also along these lines - the Idle screw can rattle out slowly. Especially if you could start it before, but it stalled at traffic lights. Screw it back in. It's a small hex screw on the back of the throttle body. Use thread lock if it comes out often.

The idle screw is on the back of the throttle body

Jump to Power, Spark, Fuel, Compression, Timing 

Step 4. Do you still have compression?

When it's cranking - does it sound normal or does it sound very smooth? If it's smooth - you might have a blown head gasket on your hands. Do a compression test if it sounds like that.

It's a blown head gasket

Jump to Power, Spark, Fuel, Compression, Timing

Step 5. Is the engine timed right?

If you've messed with the timing lately, you can fix it like this...

line up the TDC mark on the flywheel... (the little white 0). You see this through a
white 1" plug on the top of the transmission right near the engine.

  • Line up the dimple on the INSIDE of the cam pulley with the flat of the cylinder head valve cover at the front.

  • Pull off your distributor cap, and turn the intermediate pulley around till the rotor points at the line on the shield [pic]

  • Reinstall the timing belt, holding the intermediate pulley, so it doesn't rotate while you tension it.

  • Put the cap back on, clip the clamps on. The wires go 1-3-4-2, 1 is at TDC (the line)

If you don't have a timing gun - adjust the ignition timing like this...
Turn the distributor until the idle starts to rise, then back it up a little bit.

More timing information
Make sure you're going off the right mark of the camshaft sprocket. Align it with the valve cover.


Timing mark on the Flywheel - Sometimes it isn't there.

Timing mark on the inside of the distributor - This is TDC

Jump to Power, Spark, Fuel, Compression, Timing

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