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4th generation of BMW's popular 3 Series line of sedans and coupes.

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Car randomly doesn't start. Lights come on but doesn't turn over.


I have a bmw e46 1999 which randomly doesn't start . Lights come on when I turn the key but no sound. The ignition comes on and is fine . The lights are bright as they should be without dimming.

When i have the problem , I use to be able to bump it down hill and start it but that no longer works. The same applies for a jump start with another car.

I broke down the other day and i tried bumping and jumping it which didn't work . I called the recovery service out , and upon arrival low and behold it fired up straight away (I waited for an hour in the freezing cold n even tried starting it during the wait but no luck)

So he said my battery seems to have the power to turn the starter so didn't think it was that. He done a test on the alternator whilst engine running which read 46 amps at 13.8 and said it's not likely to be the alternator .

I took it to my mechanic and he immediately said change it battery as most likely that.

So I purchased a brand new battery and installed it . I drove for 2 days of short journeys and had no issues

The next day I done a 60 mile round trip . On my return journey it didnt start . I turned the key 5 times n it eventually started . Once the car is running it doesn't stall .

So I'm totally baffled and hope someone can help me

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i don’t have the answer but i have a 2000 e46 with the EXACT same problem! turn the key, lights come on, but it won’t crank! when i bump start it it works no problem. and occasionally it will crank and start. please help!


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Hi Zane,

When you said "the ignition comes on and is fine", what do you mean? Does it sound like it's cranking but just not starting? Or is it just clicking?

If it is just clicking, it could be that your starter is starting to die. Some of the coils may be damaged, and the starter may land in a dead-zone position and not crank. Pushing/rocking the car slightly while it is in drive (if it’s a manual transmission) may get it out of that position, as well as repeatedly trying to crank it a few times in quick succession…which you did. I would suggest checking & testing that next.

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Thank you for you reply . I meant the ignition light comes on . It doesn't crank .

No clicking sound as such but I thought if car doesn't bump start then it isn't likely to be starter ?

I wonder if there a test a mechanic can do to check its functionality.


You're right...bumping it down a hill should start it.

In any case, it sounds like the starter isn't being activated. There are some Youtube guides which show how to test a car's starter and solenoid assembly. The fact that it doesn't stall when running makes me think that it has something to do with your ignition system. The symptoms sound strongly of starter, but it could be the starter relay or something else..


Hi @tigertiger ,

Try the following as a rough test to check if the ignition key switch is OK.

Turn the key to the Start position and if the engine doesn't start to crank, let the key spring back to the Run position unaided.

If the dashboard warning lights don't light up there may be a problem with the switch


thank you Author , ill get the starter / relay check . Thanks again . I really hope to get to the bottom of it quickly


Jayeff ,

Thanks for your reply .

the lights do come on on the dash after the key springs back when not starting


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