Why Does Car Cranks Too Long Before Starting? Causes, Diagnosis, & Fixes

Car cranks too long before starting is an ugly experience that most car owners have received their peak share. In most cases, the vehicle will eventually start and run well. Though, you shouldn’t ignore it if this happens repeatedly.

It indicates something is wrong in the system. Diagnose and rectify the leading cause early before it escalates and drops expensive repair bills on the table. Here, you’ll learn the possible causes, diagnosing procedures, and how to resolve the underlying issues. But first, let’s see the potential causes.

how long should a car crank before starting

What is the possible cause of car cranks too long before starting?

When you turn the ignition key, the starter motor receives an electric signal to turn the flywheel. And the flywheel rotates the crankshaft, which keeps the engine running when everything is fine.

However, this predefined procedure will be interrupted whenever there’s an issue. This can manifest in several ways like the car won’t start, the car takes long crank time when the engine is cold, or long cranking before starting, whether the engine is cold, warm, or hot.

For your vehicle to run as predefined by the manufacturer, several components, like the spark plugs, fuel flow, and engine compression, must be in good condition. If any of these are not working as expected, it’ll affect how the car starts.

Here are the possible causes you should look into if you’re asking why does my car cranks long before starting.

Spark issues

Several ignition system components work in harmony to produce sparks during the combustion process. These components include the spark plug wires, ignition coils, distributor, spark plugs, ignition switch, ignition module, and crank position sensor. These components must be in good condition to produce the required spark to start the engine without cranking it repeatedly.

A problem with any of these system components will interrupt the required spark needed to start the vehicle at the first crank.

Low fuel flow

Adequate fuel flow plays a significant role for an engine to run optimally. Issues with the fuel delivery can make car cranks too long before starting when warm. Fuel flow issues can emanate from a failing or weak fuel pump, clogged fuel injectors, clogged fuel filters, contaminated fuel, or low gas in the tank. (Kindly, note that the fuel gauge is not always correct).

Your vehicle needs proper fuel pressure to start and run, especially gas-injected engines.

Low compression

Every internal combustion engine requires strong compression to start and run. A compression ratio in an internal combustion engine is the ratio of the volume of the cylinder with the piston in the lowest position compared to the volume of the cylinder with the piston in the highest position.

If there’s a low compression on one or more cylinders, air will leak across the piston rings, invariably limiting the work the cylinders should do to rotate the crankshaft.

Loose or broken timing chains, belts, belt tensioners, and snapped overhead camshafts cause low compression.

Power supply issues

Like the ignition, several components work in harmony to provide the necessary power required to start your vehicle. If the engine cranks too slow to start, the problem may be caused by a weak starter motor, bad battery terminals, or a low battery. The starter motor requires high amperage to crank and start the vehicle. If the battery is weak, it won’t provide the electric juice needed for the motor to turn the flywheel.

If a weak starter is the culprit, you’ll notice an unusual noise when turning the ignition key. Sometimes, it may not start until you tap the starter motor. Other power supply issues are corroded or weak battery cables, blown fuses, and shorted or open wires.

How do you diagnose a long crank?

When you notice the symptoms of hard starting, which is long cranking before starting, you likely have spark issues, power supply issues, low compression, or fuel delivery issues. Without a proper diagnosis, you cannot point to any of these possible causes. Here are proven ways to diagnose a car that cranks for a long time before starting.

Check for fuel supply.

The first thing you should check is the fuel supply. Firstly, check if the fuel pump is working. To do this, turn the vehicle to the ON position and listen to the gas tank. A functioning gas tank should be making a buzzing sound as you turn on the ignition.

If there’s no buzzing sound, the fuel pump is likely dead and not sending gas to the engine for combustion. A failing fuel pump can cause a long crank time when warm.

However, you need to note that the fuel pump on some cars only works when the engine is running. So you have to check your owner’s manual to see how your pump works.

If the fuel is pumping, check the fuel pressure to see if it is enough to start the vehicle. Also, check the fuel filter for blockage. A clogged fuel filter can cause hard starting. If you’re involved in a collision, check your vehicle inertia switch.

An inertia switch is a safety feature that automatically shuts down the gas flow after a collision. 

But all vehicles don’t have inertia switches. So, you have to check your manual to see if your vehicle has this feature. Your service manual should tell you how to switch it on to allow fuel flow.

Check the power supply.

If you suspect you have power issues, check the battery terminal and ensure they are correctly tightened and free of corrosion. If the terminals are corroded, clean them properly. After that, check the battery and ensure it is fully recharged. Check this article that explains the process of testing car batteries in detail for a proper guide.

If the vehicle emits a whirring noise when cranking, check the starter motor and ensure it is in good condition. First, try tapping the starter motor and see if that rectifies the issues. If it does, you have a weak motor that needs repair or replacement.

Check for blown fuses by removing and inspecting them visually or by using a test light or multimeter. You may have a blown fuse for the starter circuit. For a comprehensive guide, check this article that explains the smart ways for finding a blown fuse easily.

Check the spark

Sparks are one of the common reasons car cranks and eventually starts after long cranking. Spark issues can also prevent cars from starting at all.

To diagnose if you have spark problems, start by looking at the spark plug wires and the distributor cap for damages (If your vehicle uses a distributor). If you have a newer car model, check the ignition coils. These ignition components can become lousy over time. Check if there’s a spark arch from the plug wire or ignition coils using a spark tester and replace defective ones as needed.

Remove or replace and clean the spark plugs. Meanwhile, examine the plugs to know if the engine has been flooded after several attempts to start it. Remove the spark plugs if the engine has been flooded and let the flood dry. After that, reinstall them and try again.

Check the engine compression.

If none of the above diagnosis could pinpoint the root cause of the long crank before starting, check the compression using a compression tester or gauge. You can also run a leak-down test to see if the cylinders have any leaks. You can contact an experienced mechanic to run the test if you’re not a DIYer.

After running these diagnoses, you should be able to track the root cause of the problem. However, if you cannot detect the culprit, have a mechanic make a thorough diagnosis. After which he should be able to track the cause and advice you on what to do or proffer solutions to the underlying problem.

symptoms of hard starting

How do I fix if my car cranks too long before starting?

As explained earlier, several factors can cause a car to crank for long before starting. If you are asking how do you fix a car that cranks too long before starting, you need to diagnose the vehicle to track the root cause. You need one or more of the following repairs to fix a car that cranks too long.

  • Replace defective ignition coil or plug wires
  • Re-time and clean or replace faulty plugs
  • Clean or replace malfunctioning distributor
  • Manually activate the inertia switch
  • Recharge low battery
  • Clean corroded battery terminal
  • Replace or repair a weak starter motor
  • Clean or replace a clogged fuel filter
  • Replace weak fuel pump
  • Replace defective fuel injectors
  • Fix low compression issues.

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs

Q: What happens if a car is turned on for too long?

Idling your car for long will inevitably lead to some adverse effects like high gas consumption, as it uses more fuel on a stationary point. And if you’re idling with electronics running, like the radio, air conditioning, or car heater, it’ll gradually drain the battery juice, leaving you stranded in the middle of nowhere. You could overheat your engine if you leave it idling too long.

Plus, if metal shavings are in the engine, you could wear the bearings and cause lifter and valve damage inside the engine.

Q: How long should a car crank before starting?

Typically, cars should take 2 to 3 seconds to start. If it takes longer than that, there’s a chance something is wrong with your car.

Though, there’s an exception to this rule. For instance, if you parked your car for long or worked on the fuel delivery system or the spark, the engine might take multiple cranks before coming up. But after the first few starts, it should start coming up within 2 to 3 seconds max. If not, have a service technician diagnose and rectify the problem.

Q: How long can a car stay cranked?

While cars should start within 2 to 3 seconds, some take much more than that. Plus, cars take longer time or even multiple cranks to come on after working on the engine. But in all you do, do not crank the engine over 15 seconds. If you crank a car for up to 15 seconds and it refuses to come on, return the key, give it a 20 to 30 seconds break, and retry it. Holding the key for more than 15 seconds will likely wear off the amateur in the starter motor.

Q: What causes excessive crankshaft play?

The possible causes of excessive crankshaft play in a newly overhauled engine could be the crank and block are not correctly grounded or dressed in the thrust area, the main-bearing journal or thrust cap is cocked, or a bent crank. Always have an experienced mechanic overhaul your engine to avoid these costly mistakes. And if you choose to do it yourself, ensure you install everything correctly and crosscheck before moving to the next component.

Q: How long can you crank a car before the battery dies?

This typically depends on the engine’s condition and the battery’s health. For instance, if the engine is revolving fine with a fully charged 75 amps battery, it’ll take up to 1 hour of cranking before the battery runs down. And if the engine is rubbing or not revolving as it should, it may kill a fully charged 75 amps battery within 30 minutes. 

Final Words

This article has outlined why car cranks too long before starting, the diagnosing procedures, and how to fix them.

However, if your car takes too long to start after sitting, remove the throttle body hose, spray some starting fluid, and try it again. If the issue starts showing up after a long sitting, it could mean nothing is wrong with the vehicle, but the engine needs support. If the starting fluid doesn’t fix the problem, you have to follow the diagnosing procedures above.

In any case, if you don’t understand the inner workings of your car, contact an experienced mechanic to track the root cause and rectify the problem.

Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a certified mechanic with over a decade of experience in the mechanic garage, and he has over five years of experience in the writing industry. He started writing automotive articles to share his garage experience with car enthusiasts and armature mechanics. If he is not in the garage fixing challenging mechanical problems, he is writing automotive repair guides, buyer’s guides, and car and tools comparisons.

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