Getting Car Started for Dummies

You try to start your car.  What happens?  (Before continuing be sure to note #E. a. below)

A.        Absolutely nothing: no "click" noise from starter.  Likely little or no battery power to car.  If you have another charged battery and jumper cables available, try
            to jump start the car.  If this works, but you still want to find and fix the problem, shut the engine down again, disconnect the jumpers, and go to #1.

B.        Starter clicks, but starter motor does not run.  Power is not getting to, or through the starter solenoid.  OR starter motor burned out.  Go to #2.

C.        Starter motor runs with a high whine noise, but does not crank engine.  Likely stuck worm gear assembly in starter motor.  Go to #3.

D.       Click noise from starter (sometimes chatter noise instead of single click), but engine does not turn over.  OR, engine barely turns over --- grunts.  Likely weak
            battery power to car.  Go to #5.

E.        Click noise from starter and engine cranks, but does not start:  Go to two possibilities below:

            a.     Engine cranks over at very high speed: much faster than normal.  Stop testing immediately!!  Serious problem indicated: timing belt or chain, or broken
                    cam shaft or gear.  Engine needs major repair, and may be damaged much further by continuing. Unless some vandal pulled out your spark plugs during
                    the night!

            b.     Engine cranks over at normal cranking speed, but does not fire, or fires intermittently.  Goto #4

1.        From A, above: if the jump start worked, the problem is either a dead battery or bad battery connections.  Skip the next paragraph, and continue.

           If it didn't could be power not getting to car, or just not getting to the starter solenoid coil.  Turn on the headlights.  Do they burn brightly?  If so, power is
           getting to the car, and the battery and the connections are probably (though not yet certainly) ok; and there's a problem with the ignition switch or the smaller
           wiring to the starter assembly. Go to #6 below.  

           If not, power is, by far most likely, not getting to the car at all, or getting there insufficiently. This means a dead battery, or a bad battery connection.  If you
           have a cheap voltmeter, which every dummie ought to carry in his car, while the headlights are turned on, measure the voltage at the battery posts (not yet at the            connectors).  
A lot less than 12 volts?  You have a dead battery.  You will need to jumper or push start your car, and get it down to a Les Schwab store,
           where they will check out your system (likely for free, as to the checkout) and charge your battery or sell you a new one, and/or scold you about turning
           everything off the next time you park your car (or a short in your electrical system could also be indicated), or direct you to get a new alternator.  

           At least, or very near, 12 volts?  The battery is probably not the problem, nor is the alternator, and the battery connectors probably are.  Move the positive
           lead to the positive connector and the wire coming out of it.  Got 12 volts all the way to the wire?  Then positive connector  probably not the problem.  Move
           the negative lead to the negative connector, and the wire coming out of it.  Still 12 volts all the way?  If not. the negative connector or wire connection to it is
           faulty.  If you have a faulty connector you can often get an emergency start by rapping the connectors gently with a hammer, tightening, them, etc.  If you want
           to do it right, remove the connectors, wire brush them and the battery posts thoroughly, and replace them tightly (not tightly enough to break the soft lead).
           You should then be on your way!

2.        From B above.  Power is most likely either not getting from the battery to the heavy wire contact on the starter solenoid (usually an attachment on the starter
           itself, which serves as a high-current switch, or more accurately, relay, to send power to the starter motor), or the solenoid switching contacts are corroded or
           pitted.  To fix this, first make certain that the heavy wire is securely connected to the solenoid: no looseness.  If so, the contacts are indicated as the problem.
           Although to fix this will require taking the whole starter assembly out and working on it on a workbench, or replacing it, you can likely get an emergency start
           out of it by repeatedly trying switching the start switch on and off maybe a couple of thousand times.  Replacing it may be preferable, as they are not usually
           as expensive as you'd think; and they usually give you some refund for your old one.

3.        From C above.  This indicates a faulty gear assembly on the starter shaft worm gear, or broken gear itself. The gear is not engaging the engine flywheel.   It may
           just be stuck from solidified grease deposits, and fixable on a workbench.  As with #2 above, you may be able to get an emergency start by repeatedly trying,
           allowing the motor to stop spinning each time.

4.        From E.b. above.  This could be one or more of many possible problems, under the general headings of: ignition, fuel, and compression.  The first two you can
           probably do something about quite easily, and the latter will be more serious.  Fuel could be, too, if it's a carburetor problem.  A lot of writing involved in all
           cases --- to be continued.