Troubleshooting Tips for When Your Jeep Cherokee Won’t Start

jeep cherokee won't start

You hop in your Jeep Cherokee, turn the key in the ignition, and instead of the engine roaring to life, you’re met with silence. Or maybe a sad clicking sound or the whirring of the starter motor without the engine turning over. Whatever the symptom, one thing’s for sure: your Jeep won’t start. And you need to get somewhere.

Don’t panic, a no-start issue doesn’t mean you need an immediate trip to the mechanic. More often than not, the cause is something simple that you can troubleshoot yourself with some basic diagnostic tips. Armed with the right knowledge, you can save money and get your Jeep back on the road quickly.

This guide will walk through the major systems and components to check when your Jeep Cherokee refuses to start. We’ll cover common culprits like the battery, starter, alternator, ignition system, and more. You’ll also learn how to test each component to identify the exact cause of the problem.

Whether your Jeep turns over but won’t start, or won’t turn over at all when you turn the key, these troubleshooting tips will help you get to the bottom of the no-start issue. Let’s dive in and get your trusty Jeep started!

Checking the Battery – The #1 Cause of No Start Problems

The battery is the first thing you should check when diagnosing a no-start problem. A weak or dead battery is the most common reason a car won’t start. The battery provides the initial jolt of electricity that powers the starter motor and gets the engine turning over.

Without sufficient charge, the battery can’t supply enough amps to the starter for cranking the engine. The battery needs to be at or above 12.4-12.6 volts when the engine is off for optimal starting.

To test the battery:

  • Turn off all electrical accessories like lights, radio, etc.
  • Set your multimeter or voltmeter to DC voltage mode.
  • Attach the red lead to the positive battery terminal and the black lead to the negative terminal.
  • Check the voltage reading on the meter display.
  • If it’s below 12.4 volts, the battery doesn’t have enough charge for starting.

If the voltage is low, try charging the battery with a trickle charger or battery charger. Let it charge overnight and test the voltage again in the morning. If it still won’t hold a charge, then it’s time to replace the battery.

Also inspect the battery posts and cable connections. If they are loose or corroded, they can prevent sufficient power from reaching the starter. Use a wire brush to clean off any corrosion or buildup on the posts and terminals. Make sure the connections are tight.

Wiggle the cables while trying to start the engine. If the engine suddenly starts, then you know loose battery cables are the culprit.

Replacing the battery or cleaning and tightening the connections should get your Jeep started right up. This simple fix works about 50% of the time for no-start issues.

Testing the Starter Motor

The next most common cause for a no start is the starter motor itself. The starter is responsible for turning the engine over when you turn the key. If the starter is worn out or faulty, the engine won’t crank as it should.

Problems with the starter motor can manifest in a couple ways:

1. You turn the key and hear nothing. No spinning sound, no click, total silence. This typically indicates there’s an issue getting current to the starter or the starter solenoid is bad. The solenoid is basically the switch that activates the starter when you turn the key.

2. You turn the key and hear a single click or rapid clicking. This is usually due to a weak starter battery that can’t provide the amps required to turn over the motor. Or it could point to a worn out starter solenoid that is trying to engage but can’t.

3. The starter motor turns but the engine doesn’t crank. In this case you’ll hear the motor spinning but it lacks the power to actually crank the engine to get it started. It means the starter motor itself is likely worn out and needs to be replaced.

To confirm it’s a bad starter, first try tapping on the starter motor with a wrench or hammer while turning the key. If this temporarily gets the starter working, it indicates the motor is failing and should be replaced. Don’t use this trick as a long term fix though.

Replacing the starter involves locating it under the vehicle, disconnecting the wiring harness and mount bolts, then removing it for testing on a bench or rebuilding. Starters can be rebuilt but it’s often easier to replace it with a new or remanufactured one. Just be sure to get one that meets OEM specifications for optimal performance and longevity.

Check Charging System Components – The Alternator

Now if your Jeep Cherokee was starting fine previously before developing start issues, there’s a good chance the root cause lies in the charging system. As covered earlier, the battery alone doesn’t power starting. It needs to be continually recharged by the alternator while driving to maintain voltage.

A bad alternator that’s no longer charging the battery will gradually lead to start problems once the battery loses enough juice.

Here’s how to check if the alternator is working:

  1. With the engine off, note the battery voltage reading on your multimeter. It should show 12.4-12.6 volts as covered earlier.
  2. Now start the engine and let it idle.
  3. Test the voltage again with the engine running. The reading should now be between 13.5-14.7 volts if the alternator is charging properly.

If the voltage is low or doesn’t increase with the motor running, the alternator isn’t working. Overvoltage (above 15 volts) also indicates issues with voltage regulation.

Replacing the alternator and adjusting drive belt tension will restore normal charging to keep your battery topped off and your Jeep starting reliably.

Ignition Issues – Switch, Lock Cylinder, Wiring

Problems with ignition components can mimic a starter failure by preventing the engine from turning over when the key is turned. As such, it pays to check for issues with the ignition switch, lock cylinder, and wiring.

The most straightforward test is trying to start the vehicle while wiggling the steering wheel back and forth. If the steering wheel is locked, it will prevent the ignition cylinder from rotating to start the vehicle.

A faulty ignition switch itself can also cut power to the starter even with the key turned. Turn the key all the way and check if you can hear the starter relay click. No click indicates an ignition switch problem.

Loose or damaged wiring in the ignition system can present intermittent issues as well. If jiggling wires causes the starter to suddenly work, inspect wiring for breaks and loose plugs.

Replacing lock cylinders and ignition switches can be complicated, so have a professional handle it if those are the culprits. Luckily wiring repairs are more DIY friendly.

Dodging Dead AAA Batteries in Key Fobs

This applies more to newer Jeep Cherokees with chip keys, but worth noting: If you have a wirelessly coded key fob that won’t unlock or start the car, the battery inside the fob could be dead. The radio frequency chip in the key needs just a tiny bit of power.

Try replacing the little CR2032 watch battery in the fob, and voila the magical key-to-ignition sequence works again! Just a $2 battery saving you a tow truck call out.

Sneaky Empty Gas Tank

Alright, let’s shift gears (pun intended) away from electricals and talk good old fashioned fuel. One of the simplest explanations for a no start is also the most obvious – running out of gas!

The low fuel warning light on older Jeep Cherokees has a reputation for not illuminating until past the point where engine starts become difficult. Don’t trust it as a foolproof gas gauge.

Before you dig into troubleshooting the starter, alternator, or battery – take a glance at the actual fuel readout. Is the needle flat on empty? Consider putting a couple gallons of fresh gas in and seeing if the no start situation resolves itself.

No need to tear things apart if the real issue is as simple as pumping in more dinosaurs. This tale of woe has stricken many a driver who swore they had enough fuel left to run errands. Take heed and watch that gas gauge!

When to Call a Mechanic for Complex No Start Diagnostics?

This guide covers the most common and easy to diagnose causes of a Jeep Cherokee failing to start. But if you’ve worked through all the battery, starter, alternator, ignition, and gas related checks without pinpointing the problem, it may be time to bring in a professional.

difficult no start diagnoses may involve electronic engine control modules, fuel pumps, anti-theft systems, valve timing components, and more. Diagnostic computers and specialized training help mechanics troubleshoot complex interactions between systems.

While the fixes outlined here work more often than not, it’s important to know when to seek assistance. If your Cherokee is still leaving you stranded in the driveway, don’t hesitate have an expert take over. The cost of professional diagnosis is well worth it to get your Jeep running reliably again.

Closing Thoughts on Getting Back on The Road

Having your trusted Jeep Cherokee let you down with a no-start situation can be hugely frustrating. But armed with a methodical troubleshooting approach, you can identify the culprit faster than you might think. Oftentimes it comes down to something minor like a battery or connection in need of attention.

Hopefully this guide has provided a helpful framework for diagnosing why your Jeep won’t start. Use these tips to check the major systems that could be preventing your engine from turning over and running. With some perseverance and a few easy repairs, you’ll have your Cherokee back on the road cruising again in no time.

Here’s to more adventure-filled journeys ahead behind the wheel of your Jeep! Just take care to monitor that fuel gauge so this doesn’t happen again.

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