Sadness with my 2006 Honda Civic LX: it won't start and I am baffled

Hello Car Talk peoples! This is my first post ever. I am rather desperate since I have left my husband stranded without a working car when I had to drive out of the state for work this morning. sad trombone!

This is a 2006 Honda Civic LX which it won’t turn over.

Last night my husband & I replaced the battery because it was old, and that still did not fix the issue.

The lights, stereo, electronics, etc will turn on, but when you turn the key, it’s just a very sad sounding “whirrrr” and nothing. It sounds like the battery is dead, but it obviously isn’t. There’s no clicking…it has a full tank of gas…the key is programmed fine and is not new…

Further details: yesterday we were able to turn the car on (though it was slow to start: we thought it was the battery…) and move it to the driveway one time. After that, even jumping it off doesn’t work.

Previously for the last week or so I’ve been experiencing a slowness to the start (I would turn the key and it just took a little longer than it has before to finally turn on) and also my headlights & interior lights were flickering pretty severely during my night driving. We had someone at Advanced Auto check the battery and alternator with one of their gadgets, but the alternator checked out fine. The battery was old and showing that it didn’t have much left, so that’s why we replaced it.

We checked a lot of the fuses and didn’t find anything blown. The alternator belt looked good, we made sure all the battery connections were tight & secure…

We are just so confused as to why it’s not working…!!

I’m not sure if the intermittent lights flickering is related or unrelated. I am in a relatively warm place (Georgia, US) but it’s not been all that hot lately… I’ve never had any other problems with the vehicle…

Thank you!!!

Sounds like your starter isn’t engaging properly. You can probably temporarily fix this by giving the starter a whack with a mallet, but the permanent fix is to replace the bendix on the starter.

For explanation, the starter has a little gear on a rod. When you start the car, the gear moves down the rod and makes contact with the engine’s flywheel. The gear then spins, which turns the flywheel. Since the flywheel is connected to the pistons, they move as well, which starts the car.

If that gear doesn’t move, then the starter just sits there whirring away as the gear spins without touching the flywheel.

Whacking the starter can un-stick the mechanism that moves the gear back and forth (the bendix), allowing it to extend again.

This car is not cranking with the key in “start”, right? This is a common problem and usually easily – note I didn’t say inexpensively – fixed. If the whirring sound is actually something spinning and coming from the starter area, @shadowfax is probably spot on. My experience with Corolla starting problems anyway is that this failure mode is not common. More likely the failure producing this symptom – assuming the battery is good and fully charged – would be either the battery connections are corroded, or the starter solenoid contacts are failing. The symptom in either case is usually a clicking noise but no engine cranking; but it can be a sort of buzzing noise too, which might sound like something whirling or spinning. Other things could be wrong too. To start, a mechanic would measure the voltages at both terminals of the starter motor during attempted cranking. If the voltages are ok but the engine doesn’t crank, most likely a new starter motor is needed.

The battery has a main power cable that ties to the starter solenoid. Sometimes battery acid corrosion can get to the wire strands of the cable and cause the trouble you describe. Replacing the cable is required to fix the problem. There is another smaller wire connection from the battery to the main power distribution panel under the hood which is usually located near the battery. This lead supplies power to the rest of the car. There could be a problem with that connection causing the lights to flicker but if just the lights are having trouble then the light circuit needs to be checked for a bad connection. You don’t have a shorting problem which would blow a fuse, you have a faulty power connection problem causing the trouble.