Why a car won't start when you push the Start button?

By Vlad Samarin Updated: October 28, 2023
If the car doesn't start by pressing the Start button, there are a few things to check. The Push Button Start works in steps. Once you know at which step things go wrong, you will have an idea why the car won't start.
Push button startStart button

The first step is when you open the door and have the key fob inside the car. The key fob has a chip with the code that is programmed to the vehicle. The security system wirelessly reads the code from the key fob and if it matches, allows the vehicle to start.
When you push the Start button:
First, the vehicle's computer checks if the brake pedal is depressed.
Second, it checks if the vehicle is in Park or Neutral.
Third, the computer checks if the battery has enough power, and only then activates the starter motor that turns over the engine, or switches to "Ready" mode if it's a Hybrid or Electric car.
In some cars, there is one more step: the electric steering lock must unlock the steering before the engine can be started.

To find out why the car won't start, try answering these questions. If the answer has a link, follow it; if not, continue to the next questions.

1. Do the lights come on on the dash when you press the Start button? Yes No
2. Is the "key not found" message displayed or is the key warning light on? Yes No
3. Does the car start if you hold the key fob right next to the start button or insert it into the slot? Yes No
4. Does the car start if you press the start button multiple times? Yes No
5. When you press the brake pedal, do the brake lights come on? Yes No
6. Does the transmission gear indicator show the transmission is in "Park" Yes No
Does the Steering Lock warning light stay on? Yes No.
What happens when you push the Start button?
- The instrument lights start blinking and nothing happens.
- There is a click, the gauges move, but nothing happens.
If the starter cranks normally, but the car won't start, read this guide: The engine cranks but won't start ».

No lights on the dash

If no lights are coming on, it's possible that the battery is completely drained or one of the battery terminals is not connected properly. You might need to have your car boosted. Your battery may also need to be tested. Read here: how to check the battery.

"The "key is not found" light is on.

Security light flashing Key warning light
In most cars with a push button start, the key fob must be inside the car to start the engine. How does your car security system know that the key fob is inside the car? The key fob has a small transmitter / receiver inside. It communicates wirelessly with the vehicle's security system. Often, when a key fob battery becomes weak, the key fob fails to communicate with the car.
How to start a car when the fob battery is weak How to start a car when the fob battery is weak
The solution is to place the key fob close to the start button, like in the photo or if there is a special slot for the key fob, insert it into that slot. If this helps start the car, you know there is something wrong with the key fob or its battery. You can also try using the second key fob and see if it makes any difference. If the battery in your key fob is weak, your dealership can replace it for you.

The Start/Stop Switch is malfunctioning

Honda Start-Stop switch Engine Start/Stop Switch Assembly
The start/stop switch itself is not immune to failures. If the vehicle does start after pushing the start button multiple times or pushing it under a different angle, the start/stop switch itself could be worn out. For example, this problem is not uncommon in some Honda vehicles. The start/stop switch is an inexpensive part and is fairly easy to replace.

The brake lights don't work

With a push button start system, the car can only be started when the brake pedal is depressed.
How does your car's security system know that the brake pedal is depressed? There is a brake light switch installed at the brake pedal. It does two things: it turns your brake lights on when you press the brake pedal and lets the security system know that the brakes are applied.

If your brake lights don't work, the brake light switch, its electric circuit and the fuse must be checked. In some cars, there is an indicator on the dash asking you to press the brake. If the indicator stays on even when you are pressing the brake pedal, the brake switch is the suspect. Brake switch failures are very common. Read more about the brake light switch.

The transmission indicator doesn't show that the transmission is in Park

Transmission gear indicatorTransmission gear indicator
An automatic car with a push button start can only be started when the transmission is in Park or Neutral. Sometimes the transmission range switch doesn't work properly and even when you shift the transmission into Park, it still indicates that it's not in Park. Some cars may start in Neutral but won't start in Park. This is also an indication that the gear selector switch doesn't work properly. Read more: 2 Reasons Why a Car Won't Start in Park but Starts in Neutral

The Steering Lock warning light stays on or message is displayed

In some cars, the problem with the steering lock can cause the vehicle not to start when the Start button is pressed. For example, the BMW service bulletin SI B61 29 06 for describes a problem of a no-crank, no-start situation in some 2006-2007 BMW vehicles. The condition may be intermittent. The ELV (Electric Steering Lock) warning is shown in the Instrument Cluster. Read the bulletin on the NHTSA website.

There was a similar problem with a number of Nissan vehicles. Google 'Nissan Electronic Steering Column Lock (ESCL) Voluntary Service Campaign'.

According to the Toyota Tech Tip T-TT-0222-13 for some 2012-2014 Camry, Avalon and Prius models, The vehicle might not start or ready-on because the steering wheel lock is engaged so that the steering wheel may only be turned very little from side-to-side. The Tech Tip recommends "Gently move the steering wheel from side-to-side to relax tension on the steering lock actuator."

Symptoms of a weak battery

The instrument lights start blinking and nothing happens.
There is a click, the gauges move, but nothing happens.
When the battery is weak, it might have enough power for the dash and exterior lights to come on, but not enough to turn over the engine. What typically happens in this case is when you press the Start button, the dash lights would start blinking, or there could be a click, but the vehicle will not start. Read here: how to check the battery.