Car Won’t Start But Radio Works: Causes & Solutions

Your car won’t start but radio works can refer to some signals below. As the root cause depends on whether you hear nothing, only clicks, or slow ignition.

  • Nothing – check the starter solenoid, electrical connections, ignition switch, fuse, immobilizer, and battery.
  • One click – check battery, starter solenoid, starter motor, and stuck motor.
  • The car turn over – check the battery and have a mechanic fix the wrong ignition key. In addition, you should look for cam belt or camshaft problems and issues with the sensor or control module.

Overall, this is not an uncommon event and the answer could be a pretty simple fix. By setting a few factors, you will be better able to identify the problem. At the very least, these will help the mechanic when you first bring your car to the shop.

Car Won’t Start But Radio Works: The Details

If your radio works but car won’t start, you may be a bit confused. But here’s the reasons in more detail.

If you don’t hear anything

So your lights come on, the radio works, but your car doesn’t start and you hear nothing. This means that neither the starter motor nor the starter receive power. So it represents a problem with the starter ignition system. This could be a battery, a starter solenoid, or an ignition switch. Another thing to check is the fixture.

Start-up solenoid

When the electromagnet in the starter receives power from the battery, current flows through the coil. This creates a magnetic field, which attracts electricity.

If the starter solenoid fails, you will hear no click and no power to the motor. There will be no sound at all. However, nothing interferes with the battery and its electrical connection to the lights and radio. The starter solenoid is the most likely problem if you don’t hear a click but the radio still works.

Poor electrical connection

Poor power, ground, and other connections can also cause this problem. The circuits connected to the battery and electrical devices must be complete for the radio and lights to work. It is assumed that the battery is also working properly.

The electrical and grounding connections to the starter may be loose, dirty, or corroded. Either of these will impede the current flow and prevent it from working. However, they will not interrupt the electrical circuits of lights and radios.

radio works but car won't start
Poor electrical connection may be one of a problem my car won’t start but the radio works. (Photo: Ride Time)

If you’ve worked with starter motors before, you’ll feel comfortable troubleshooting this problem yourself. Cleaning or replacing washers and checking the surrounding wiring may fix the problem. The car can start when you turn the next key. If you are not familiar with the starter kit, it is better to entrust it to a professional.

When reconnecting the motor, it is easy to create a short circuit by accidentally connecting the wire to the metal housing of the motor.

Ignition switch and fuse

Turning your key closes the ignition switch, completing the circuit to start the engine. If this switch fails, electricity will never reach the starter motor, even if the battery is in good working order.

The ignition switch can be difficult to change on its own. It usually involves getting rid of a lot of the trim on the dashboard. You’re better off taking your car to a mechanic for a replacement if you’ve ruled out all other possibilities.

Similarly, the ignition switch fuse may have blown. Check your fuses to see if this particular fuse is intact. Of course, if it explodes, you’ll need a new one. However, keep in mind that it happens for several reasons.  You will need more diagnostic work to identify the underlying circuit problem.


Immobilizers are a complex subject. Your car immobilizer system recognizes the radio signal from the transponder on your key. It will prevent the car from starting if it does not register the presence of your key.

All immobilizers work in different ways, depending on how their manufacturer has designed them. Check your key battery first. You may need to see an auto electrician or a professional locksmith if it works. A warning light on the instrument panel appears on modern vehicles when there is a problem with the dynamic code lock that makes your car can’t start.

If you hear a click sound

When you turn the car key and hear a click when the lights and radio come on, voltage is reaching the starter magnet. If the electromagnet is active, the drive gear must also protrude to cut the teeth of the flywheel. However, it doesn’t have (enough) power to spin the gears. As a result, the flywheel and crankshaft are stationary.

Low battery

Hearing a click means the solenoid is active and working. However, something at this point is preventing the starter motor from spinning on its own.

The problem is most likely that the battery has been partially discharged. Although it still has to have some power – the lights and radio are working – the starter motor consumes a significant amount of current. It takes longer to start the car than to run the headlights.

Due to that, the lights and radio can still work, even when the battery is almost empty. Here, you may notice dim lights (including the dashboard lights). Radio stations can also have difficulty with higher volumes.

Check the condition of the battery with a multimeter on the two terminals. Ideally, you would be looking for 12.6 Volts. The battery needs to be replaced if you see anything that drops or exceeds 12.0 Volts. It doesn’t hold charge well enough to start your car.

Alternatively, you can use a battery tester. This will tell you the status of the car battery. It can also be used to test the starter motor and alternator after you have driven.

How to fix

If you come across an event where the car won’t start but radio works, you may want to try starting your car by following the steps below:

  • Connect the positive (+) red lead to both anodes first.
  • Attach the black lead to the black negative (-) terminal of a working car and the unpainted ground point in a dead car’s flying engine.
  • Start the work car and run it for a few minutes.
  • Gently pressing the gas to increase the rpm will help charge the dead battery faster. Now, let the car idling, start another car.
  • If all goes well and the other vehicle’s engine starts, turn off both cars before disconnecting the bridge in reverse order: black, then red.
  • Now it will start on its own.
  • Take a car for a fairly long and fast journey (at least half an hour). This allows the generator to fully charge the battery.

You can still have starting issues the next time you start your automobile. In this case, replace the battery and check the generator. At least one of them may be damaged in some way.

If your car won’t start after the jump but the radio still works, try leaving the jumper connected longer. As mentioned, try sitting in a moving car and cranking the engine up to 2,000 rpm for a few minutes. One will make the other work much faster.

why won't my car start but my radio works
If the problem persists, you may need a new battery to fix it. (Photo: Joe Belanger)

Damaged or dirty electromagnetic terminal

If you are still wondering why car won’t start but the radio works, the damaged or dirty electromagnetic terminal may be the issue.

Remember how the starter and motor solenoid worked together? When the starter solenoid is drawn back by the electromagnet, it connects the two terminals, sending electricity to the motor. These terminals can be loose, damaged or dirty, or rusty. Any of these can prevent current from reaching the motor itself, even though the solenoid is activated as usual.

You can remove the starter motor, remove the solenoid, and remove it to clean or replace the terminals. However, if you have it done by a professional, it will take longer than replacing the entire starter motor unit (including the solenoid).

Starter motor damaged

Although starting motor failure is unusual, it can always happen. A damaged starter motor, whether from electrical overload, dirt, or physical injury, will receive power but nothing can be done.

The starter solenoid will also remain attracted to the electromagnet, creating a clicking sound. In this case, use a multimeter to find out if the starter motor is working. Without a detailed investigation, it can be complicated to know if there is a problem with the motor or the solenoid terminals.

Confiscated engine

Many causes can cause your engine to jam, such as a lack of coolant or engine oil. It means you’re not going anywhere. However, the battery will probably still work. That’s why your car radio and lights can turn on even when the car won’t start.

The vehicle overturns but does not start

If the car won’t start but radio works, it may roll over. A quick jump or bumpy start will soon put you on the road. You may need to replace the battery with a new one, and also check the starter and alternator.

If it’s not the battery, the underlying problem may be one or more of the following:

  • Faulty spark plug
  • Broken ignition coil
  • Damaged fuel injector
  • Faulty fuel pump or relay (or other fuel pressure-related faults)
  • Fuel line leak or no air in the tank
  • Time series/belt
  • Camshaft
  • Loss of compression
  • Bad sensor
  • ECU error
  • Inertial switch off (cutting off fuel for the engine in old cars)

If it’s not battery related, the root cause of your car rolling over but not starting could be a faulty igniter. However, it could be an ignition failure in at least two cylinders. You can try using an OBD II code reader to find any errors the ECU may have stored. Otherwise, you will need complicated professional diagnostic work from an automotive electrician.


If your car won’t start but radio works and also the lights, at least some car power comes from the battery. Active headlights use much less energy than a starter motor. If it’s not the battery and the motor isn’t spinning, the fault may be in the starter solenoid, the starter motor, or the ignition switch.

Take your vehicle to a local trusted mechanic or electrician to perform most electrical repairs. That being said, don’t be afraid to do some investigation of your own. A technician will always appreciate any input you have.

In short, don’t worry too much. If you can’t start the car, you may have to tow or call a mechanic. However, the problem does not seem to be too severe or costly. You’ll be on the road again within hours.