The Chevrolet Express van from General Motors has long been a popular choice of cargo van and a passenger vehicle in the US.
It was first introduced to compete with the long-standing and competitive Ford Transit van.
It has come in many engine sizes and dimensions over the years to suit many different needs.
This article answers the question “Why Won’t My Chevy Express Start?”…
Why Won’t My Chevy Express Start?
There are many possible reasons that your Chevy Express won’t start. The three most common causes of a Chevy Express not starting are connected to the battery, alternator, or starter engine.
The battery turns out to be the problem 38 percent of the time, the alternator is found to be the culprit 27 percent of the time, and the starter is determined to be the cause of the failed start about 20 percent of the time.
What Are The Causes, Symptoms, And Fixes?
The 3 most common causes of a failed start in the Chevy Express are down to the battery, alternator, and starter engine.
Besides these three, however, other possibilities include the ignition switch and fuel system.
Below we’ll take a look at each of these and how we might know which is the real reason that our Chevy Express isn’t starting up for us, or at least not starting as easily as it should.
Just over 1 in 3 cases of Chevy Express vans not starting is caused by the battery.
If the battery charge in your Express has fallen too low, then it won’t be producing enough energy to power the components it needs to get the engine started.
The 12-volt battery on the Express is like any other car battery. It will lose power if:
- Any electrical systems are left on while the engine is not running.
- The car and its engine are inactive for long periods of time.
If you have left your Chevy Express sitting in your garage for many weeks or even months without ever being driven once, then there’s a good chance that the life of the battery has been completely leached out.
Another possibility is that you or someone else left the headlights on overnight, or even the interior dome light or another electrical system.
They all draw power from that same 12-volt battery.
Your Express battery is powered by the kinetic energy of the engine, so the solutions are as follows:
- If the battery is dead and the engine not starting at all, you can perform a jump start using another vehicle battery.
- If you don’t have another vehicle battery available, you can attach a trickle charger to the battery and recharge enough until you can start the van and then recharge the rest using the engine’s power.
- If the battery is low on power but you can eventually get it to start, then all you need do is run the engine for 20-30 minutes to allow it to recharge the battery. The best thing to do would be to take the van for a drive.
- Prevent battery power loss by driving the van at least 30 minutes per week.
Another reason for a Chevy Express not starting is a problem with the crucial alternator component.
While you’re driving, the alternator is what provides the power from the battery to other parts of the vehicle like the headlights.
When you were last driving, did you notice the headlights dimming or flickering at all?
If so, then the problems you’re having starting the car are more likely linked to a bad alternator.
Other electronic accessories in your car such as the infotainment, dash lights, dome lights and more may also dim, flicker, or otherwise appear to malfunction momentarily if the alternator is going bad.
To fix this problem completely, the best policy is to invest in a new alternator, for which you should expect to pay up to $250 altogether.
You may have to add $20 or so to that if you also need the serpentine belt replacing or repairing. That’s common during alternator replacement.
This is one area where the potential repairs can get more expensive, costing up to $526 on average.
Most of that cost is in parts, with labor typically only contributing about $100 to the cost.
The starter solenoid receives power from the battery and then turns the engine’s flywheel using that power.
This in turn powers the crankshaft, which gets the engine up and running on its own.
When you go to start your Chevy Express, do you hear the starter solenoid click, but then nothing?
The absence of that turning sound, but the presence of a click in the solenoid suggests that the starter motor itself has a problem.
Your starter engine should last you at least 75,000 miles. After that, however, the chances of starter engine failure start to increase.
Interestingly, newer cars that feature Start-Stop technology are at a greater risk of starter engine problems than those without it.
Fixing the ignition switch is mercifully less expensive on average than fixing the starter engine. You can expect to pay up to about $200 in total.
The ignition switch on your Chevy Express is a power switch for the van’s many electrical components.
When it fails, your Express may lose power either temporarily or seemingly permanently.
If you’ve noticed that certain components like the A/C do not switch on or have had cutouts recently, then the thing stopping your Express from starting right now is likely the ignition switch.
Fortunately, this kind of ignition switch problem is reserved almost entirely for high-mileage Chevy Express vans.
If you have a model from the 1990s or early 2000s and are struggling to start it, this could be a reason for it.
If some component in the fuel system such as the fuel pump starts to leak or makes a lot of noise, then it can lead to problems such as not being able to start your Chevy Express.
Weaknesses and malfunctions in the fuel system mean that not enough fuel is getting to the cylinders where it needs to be, which means that the car can’t combust enough fuel and create the power needed.
There’s no specific milestone at which Chevy recommends that you replace the fuel pump on the Express.
You just need to look out for signs of leakage and/or diminishing performance such as weak acceleration when driving, and then later a failure to start altogether.
Fuel pump replacement, for example, can cost up to $876, and this is a typical cost for major repairs to the fuel system.
One final cause could be worn or depleted spark plugs. If they can’t provide that all-important spark, then no part of the engine can get started up.
If you’ve driven the Express van between 40,000 and 90,000 miles without changing spark plugs, then it might be time to check and/or change them.
A job to replace spark plugs in your Chevy Express shouldn’t cost more than $150 at the high end, and $100-120 on average.
Can I Start With A Bad Ignition Switch?
If your Chevy Express ignition switch is bad, it is technically possible to start the engine, but a thoroughly ill-advised and bad idea.
Yes, you can start the engine either through hot wiring or jump starting, but there are so many reasons, primarily for safety, why that’s a bad idea.
If you have a bad ignition switch, then it means that at any point while you’re driving on the road, the electrics could cut out and you’d have to re-perform your hot wiring or jump start.
This would be exceedingly dangerous if, for example, the electrics cut out when you were driving on the freeway or otherwise at high speeds.
It’s, therefore, a better idea not to attempt to start or drive a Chevy Express or other vehicle that has a bad ignition switch.
How To Start With A Failing Starter Engine?
With the Chevrolet Express, you won’t be able to start the van if it has a failing starter engine because all Chevrolet Express vans are built with automatic transmissions.
With a manual transmission and the key in the “on” position, you could hold in the clutch while others push the vehicle along up to about 10 MPH and then release the clutch.
This won’t work for an automatic transmission, however.
Can I Drive With A Bad Alternator?
The alternator is a key component that helps transfer kinetic energy from the engine into the 12-volt battery for charging.
If you have a bad alternator but you manage to get the Chevy Express or other vehicle started, then you could drive it, but with severe limitations.
Without a properly working alternator, you could only drive the vehicle for as long as the voltage/amps in your battery were lasting.
No alternator means no new energy is being transferred in.
Sooner or later with a bad alternator, your Express will grind to a halt, and very suddenly.
That sudden stop could happen as you’re pulling out of a busy intersection or while you’re traveling on the freeway.
It’s therefore exceedingly dangerous to drive with a bad alternator on any vehicle, including the Chevy Express.
Can A Completely Dead Battery Be Recharged?
Yes, a completely dead battery can be recharged just so long as its chemistry and physical integrity are sound.
To recharge the battery, you can do a number of things:
- Attach a trickle charger to give enough power for the battery to start up and then use the engine’s kinetic energy to charge the battery the rest of the way.
- Use jumper cables between the dead battery and a working 12-volt battery to provide enough power for an initial start, and then once again use the engine power to charge the rest.
- Separate the battery and entirely recharge using a trickle charger over several hours.