It will crank, but it won't start. Lightning?

My garage was struck by lighting this morning, and about two hours later I heard a very loud snap coming out of the vicinity of my garage. The snap was so loud, my ears were ringing. When I went to start my car (2002 Mercury Grand Marquis), it would just crank, but never turn over. The interior lights and trunk lights did not work, so I replaced the battery thinking that the power surge could have affected the electrical system of my car…and I needed a new battery anyway. With the new battery installed, all of the lights once again work, but the car still will not start. The voltage meter is low and it never runs low. I tried resetting the fuel pump shutoff, but it was never tripped and I can hear it pumping when I turn the key on. Is it likely that the mechanical failure is due to forces outside of electricity even though this car has never failed to start, or could the electrical surge have affected something else (alternator, fuses, etc.)?

The voltage meter you usually see is indicating the chargeing voltage usually 14v, without the car running it indicates the battery voltage 12 volts good, 9 volts bad, are there numbers on the guage? Maybe a bad battery and a charge could help, maybe a bad relay fuse or fuseable link.

How is the garage?

Thanks for the feedback. We changed out the battery earlier today with a new one and even tried charging it from another vehicle in case it was weak. Thank you for the feedback regarding the fuse and link. The garage isn’t too bad. Some roofing shingles were catapulted about 30 feet away, and there’s some minor to moderate damage to the facia and soffit, but nothing terrible. The biggest casualty is the car!

Relay is also a seperate component, most relays have the same relay for multiple purposes, so then they can be swapped. The manual might indicate potential problem fuses and relays. Just for kicks can you put it into neutral and try to start it?

That lightning strike may have damaged the engine computer.

Know anyone with a scanner that can monitor input/output signals from the computer?

If not, have a towed to someone who does.

Too bad that they don’t make surge suppressors for engine computers.


@tester one of my thoughts also but decided to go with lighter fare before doom and gloom, the brains can get a tad expensive!

If you have comprehensive insurance, it should cover having your car repaired.

I’m skeptical that the lightning had anything to do with the car not starting. The OP did say that it had been two hours after the lightning that he heard this loud snap.

I suppose the cars computer could have been frying away for two hours…then Bang!!!

I think it was a coincidence.

I’d put that battery on the charger over night and also check that the terminals that connect to the battery are perfectly clean where they contact the battery posts. Many times a dirty terminal can carry the load for the lights, radio etc., but not the heavy load demand for the starter. So when you turn the key to start all it does is clicking.


I really can’t think of anything that would cause a snap loud enough to cause ringing ears short of a battery explosion but 2 hours after the fact is pretty iffy.
The possibility that a Variable Load Control Module could have blown itself up is a possibility I suppose but that’s only a guess; a wild one.

My suggestion would be to go into the underhood fuse/relay box and test every single fuse in there as there are a number of them related to the PCM, fuel pump, VLCM, and so on. It only takes one popped fuse to muck up the works and cause a no-start.

Low voltage is mentioned along with the new battery. How is this low voltage being determined; voltmeter, message center display, etc?

I’m with Triedaq, I think you should just have it towed and let them do the diagnostics on it. If you have shingles blown off from the force, even though it was two hours later, you have to suspect the after affects of lightening and I would be surprised if insurance didn’t cover it. That kind of voltage can be very high and I have heard of people having most of their appliances replaced due to a strike like this. Some years ago my wife and I watched with wonder as what looked like a ball of fire came in the back of the house and out the front. We’re still not sure what we saw but know we saw something really strange. Built up static electricity could have caused a loud snap after the fact if it found a ground.

Unless it’s the Delorean from “Back to the Future”, a ightning strike is bad. Call your insurance guy and see if your homeowners or auto policy will cover it and then get it towed to a shop for diagnostics on the electrical system. Or call Doc Brown, he re-wired the Delorean after it was struck with lightning and made it work again. Good luck! Rocketman

@Bing. Most likely you saw what is known as ball lightning. Weird, beautiful but dangerous and scary.

It’s quite possible your car was damaged if lightning hit your garage. A coworker has a Ford C-Max. Lightning struck the light pole next to his parking spot with enough ferocity to physically blow the fuses out of the pole onto the pavement. His transmission controller was destroyed by the close strike and he was without his car for some time while a new controller was obtained. Fortunately the warranty covered it. (I doubt he mentioned the circumstances under which it died)

Many years ago while driving down the highway during a thunderstorm, lightning struck close enough to my car to damage the FM section of my radio. The tape deck still worked but the radio was dead. As electronics get more and more miniaturized and more complex, they also become more susceptible to damage like this.

This is a pretty interesting problem. The car had some protection at least from a direct hit by the lightning being inside the garage. The loud snap that was heard much later sure seems strange. I doubt it had anything to do with the car. Why the lights wouldn’t work even though the starter would crank the engine is strange. Perhaps there is a module involved with the control of those lights and changing the battery out reset the module.

The tires of the car help isolate it from ground and damage that way. If spraying some starter fluid into the air intake doesn’t get the engine going then the ignition system should be checked out along with checking for any error codes from the ECU.

We tested every fuse we could find, but they all seem to be functional. I put it in neutral, but it didn’t start. I do know someone who has a portable reader, but he’s not available anytime soon. I have an insurance adjuster coming by soon, so we may have our answer soon enough. Thanks for the input.

If spraying some starter fluid into the air intake doesn’t get the engine running the ignition system is most likely not working. That could be due to a bad crank sensor or a problem with the ECU.

I don’t doubt for a moment that the lightening strike was related to the loud snap and to the car failure. IMHO it is not at all inconceivable that the lightening strike left a large charge somewhere in the car that ultimately broke through the “dielectric” (whatever that was, tires, an insulator, or whatever) and discharged with a loud snap. And the charge that a lightening strike could leave could be large enough to easily cause damage. While the amount of current that a bolt of lightening passes discharges the “system” in milliseconds, it’s huge. The breakdown voltage varies widely depending on the air’s humidity, particulate count, the length of the discharge path, and other factors, but the number generally used for discharge through damp air in regular ambient temperature and ambient pressure (29.92 in. hg), is generally considered as 3 million volts per meter. A lightening bolt also emits extreme levels of EMI, which dissipates almost instantly with distance, but creates an extreme field immediately around the current path. That alone can blow things.

The recommendation to contact your insurance company is, IMHO a sound recommendation. This could have damaged a number of things, including the ECU, and it has the potential to become expensive. The insurance company will probably say “Act of God” and not cover the claim, but the call is free.

If the lightening got to your car, the first thing it would likely do is zap one of the fuses in the wiring at the battery. Forget what those kinds of fuses are called, but they are very close to the battery. Sometimes they are just a special kind of wire, on my Corolla they are actual fuses, but located right in the positive battery connector. “Fusible links” I think is how they are referred. Check those.

Fusible link. I think the adjuster is going to have you have it looked at to see what is wrong before a decision is made but its good to document the lightning strike with them.

If your car is cranking at normal speed it is not the battery. Cranking and tyrning over mean exactly the same thing, what your car is doing is cranking but not starting or even attempting to start (ie, coughing or sputtering)