How To Troubleshoot A No Start (GM 3.8L)

One of the most stressful things to have to experience in life is having the car no start. What makes matters even worse is not knowing what could be the cause of the cranks but does not start condition.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news... but quite a few different things cause your car or minivan to not start.

The good news is that diagnosing your no start condition doesn't have to be hard or difficult. With a solid diagnostic strategy, you can do it yourself and replace the failed part, whichever it may be or... learn enough to make an informed decision at your trusty mechanic shop. In this article I'll show you the basics of testing/troubleshooting such a problem.

I'll also explain some of the basic causes of a no start condition, since knowing what to test and how to test it, before replacing it, will save you time and money.

Here are the contents of this article at a quick glance:

  1. Important Tips And Suggestions.
  2. No Start Condition Basics.
  3. No Start 1: Checking For Spark.
  4. No Start 2: Checking For Fuel.
  5. No Start 3: Checking Engine Mechanical Condition.
  6. No Start Summary.
  7. Related Test Articles.

Important Tips And Suggestions

It's important to know that a no crank and a no start condition are not the same thing. Here's a brief description:

In a no start condition your engine does turn over when you turn the ignition key to start.. but the engine doesn't start. In other words: your vehicle's starter motor is cranking the engine but the engine is not starting.

A no crank condition means that the engine is not cranking when you turn the key to crank the engine. This is usually due to a bad starter motor, bad ignition switch, bad neutral safety switch, or maybe the engine threw a rod and is locked up.

If your 3.8L GM vehicle is experiencing a no crank condition, the following tutorials may be of help:

  1. How To Test The Starter Motor (GM 3.8L).
  2. How To Test A Does Not Crank Condition (Case Study). (at: easyautodiagnostics.com).

No Start Condition Basics

To successfully troubleshoot the cause of the no start condition of your GM 3.8L equipped car or mini-van, you need to know that there are three very basic components the engine needs to start and they are:

  1. Air.
  2. Fuel.
  3. Spark.

When your GM 3.8L equipped vehicle cranks but does not start...it's because one of these components is missing from the mix.

So, when testing the cause of your vehicle's no start condition, you'll be doing specific tests to see if the problem is being caused by the Fuel System, or the Ignition System, or the Engine Mechanical system.

Here are some more specifics:

1.) Ignition System

  1. The Ignition System is the one responsible for creating and delivering spark. Without spark, the engine will crank but Not Start.
  2. The Ignition System of the GM 3.8L equipped vehicles covered by this article use a distributor-less ignition system. More specifically, it uses a coil pack type ignition system.
  3. In my experience, the most common component failures, of the Ignition System that cause a no start no spark condition are:
    1. BAD ignition control module (ICM).
    2. BAD ignition coil pack.
    3. BAD crankshaft position sensor.
    4. BAD camshaft position sensor (if equipped).
  4. All of the above Ignition System components can be tested in a methodical way to find out exactly what has failed (if indeed something has).

2.) Fuel System

  1. The Fuel System is the one responsible with supplying the engine with fuel.
  2. The Fuel System component that causes the majority of no start no fuel problems:
    1. Fuel pump relay.
    2. Fuel pump.
  3. The fuel pump can be tested to make sure it has really fried.

3.) Engine Mechanical System


  1. The engine pistons and cylinder head valves (and all the other related components like: timing belts, etc.) are the ones responsible for the induction of the fresh air the engine needs for the combustion process.
  2. Although rare, internal engine mechanical problems can and do cause no start conditions.
  3. Possible internal engine problems are:
    1. Blown head gasket.
    2. Blown engine.
    3. Broken cam gear.

OK, the list of possible things that can go wrong looks pretty long... but it is rare to see (or have) two different components go BAD from two separate systems at the same time.

The cool thing is, is that there is a diagnostic strategy that you can use to figure out exactly what's wrong with your particular no start problem. Let's find out more about it in the next subheading...