GMC Terrain won’t start – causes and how to fix it

GMC Terrain is a reliable road companion, but its a machine with hundreds of interconnected parts, and like any other machine it sometimes fail to deliver normal operation. In this article we go through most common causes of Terrain breakdown and how you can fix the problem.

GMC Terrain second generation – (photo by GMC)

The most common causes that hinders normal starting operation of your Terrain are dead 12v battery, corrosion on battery terminals, and dead key fob battery. However, bad alternator, clogged fuel filter, broken starter, blown fuse, empty gas tank, immobilizer error, or any fault in the electrical system can also cause your vehicle not to start.


1. Weak Battery

If your Terrain’s engine won’t crank or cranks very slowly, then the most likely culprit is weak or dead 12v battery. Investigating more closely and doing a battery voltage test will clarify whether the starting problem is due to the battery. A test can be done to measure the voltage between the battery poles, check the acid level and assess the condition of the starter battery.

If a new car battery has been installed, the battery may not have yet reached its full capacity. There is nothing to worry about. A new battery only develops its full capacity over time.

12v battery location on GMC Terrain second generation

Test 12v battery

The voltage of the battery on your GMC Terrain can be measured precisely with a multimeter. Before the test, the multimeter is set to the voltage range of the battery and connected to its plus and minus poles. Successful testing of the car battery, i.e. checking the voltage, usually results in values ​​of approx. 12 to 13 volts. Values ​​above 14 or below 11.5 volts require an expert assessment of the condition of the car battery. Because the battery may have a defect with these measured values ​​and must be replaced.

Jump start GMC Terrain

If dead battery is the reason for the breakdown of your Terrain, you can easily jump start it using jumper cables and a healthy battery from another vehicle, or using a battery booster if available.

First connect red cable to the positive terminal of your Terrain’s dead battery, then to the positive terminal of donor battery. Next connect black cable to the negative terminal of donor battery, then to the bare metal in the engine bay of your Terrain. Start the donor vehicle and then your Terrain. Remove the cables in reverse order.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is how-to-jump-start-car-illustration.png
Illustration for jump starting procedure

2. Corrosion on battery

Corrosion on the contacts of your car battery leads to loss of contact and reduced current flow, which means that your engine can no longer start properly.


To know if your Terrain’s starting problems are from dirty battery contacts, you need to investigate them. If you lift the rubber covers over the two battery terminals, you can check the terminals for corrosion. If you discover white deposits or silvery-green deposits, but no further cracks or damage, you do not have to replace the battery, just clean it.

Clean battery corrosion

To clean the battery on your GMC Terrain, you have to remove the pole cables first, which requires no special knowledge, just a little concentration, as the order is very important. First remove the black cable from the negative pole. If the pole clamp is very tight, you can open it with pliers. We advise against using metal pliers, but if you use them, you must make sure that you do not touch any other parts of the body. Next you can unplug the red positive pole cable. Once the battery has been removed from the circuit, you can start cleaning the corroded battery. After cleaning, reconnect the terminals.

3. Weak key fob battery

If your Terrain has push start/stop button, then its possible that your vehicle may not start due to weak key fob battery. Don’t worry, you can still start your vehicle – the battery is only used to send the signal for locking/unlocking. If the key fob battery is empty, the door no longer locks or unlocks at the push of a button. The doors must then be opened manually. The immobilizer is controlled by a passive transponder. Passive means, among other things, that the transponder in the key does not need its own power source.

How to start GMC Terrain with dead key fob battery

If you have a model of Terrain which only has a key fob with start/stop button and no place to insert a key, then try placing your key fob as close to the start/stop button as you can and then start the vehicle.

Tip: You can try starting your Terrain with its second key. It will also rule out any other problem with the first key, for example, water damage.

4. Broken starter motor

A starter is a motor for starting the engine of your Terrain. The average life of a starter motor is about 100,000 to 150,000 miles, and the life will be shortened if the engine is started more frequently. In any case, since the starter motor also has a limited life, it will break down after using the car for a long time, and if the starter motor breaks down, the engine will not start.

Symptom: When you turn the key to start the engine of your Terrain, you will hear a clicking sound, which is the sound of a bad starter motor. And if the starter motor does not work with a healthy battery, suspect a malfunction of the starter.

If the starter fails, it usually needs to be replaced with a new one.


Temporary fix for starter

If the engine does not start due to the starter, the engine may start if you turn the key while hitting the starter motor with something like a stick or metal tool. This workaround is effective when the parts inside the starter are stuck together or the gears are slightly out of alignment.

However, it is possible that the starter is nearing the end of its life, so it is recommended that you have it inspected at a dealer or maintenance shop.

5. Defective alternator

An alternator is a generator that produces electricity. If your Terrain’s alternator fails, it will not be able to produce electricity and the battery will not be able to charge. Therefore, even if you think that the cause of the engine not starting is a battery failure and replace the battery, the battery will soon run out and the engine will not start.

Alternators rarely break down. In particular, modern cars have improved performance, so it is said that they will last 200,000 to 300,000 miles. Still, it can break down depending on how you use it, and in the case of a used car, the alternator may be quite old. Don’t let your guard down.

If the alternator breaks down, it must be replaced with a new alternator.

6. Clogged fuel filter

The fuel filter of your Terrain does not wear out like a mechanical part, but it gets clogged by dirt and airborne particles and clogs over time. The permeability of the filter drops, and so does the fuel pressure. To a certain extent this doesn’t matter, but if the fuel filter is too dirty, the engine will no longer perform at full capacity and in some instance may not start at all. Cleaning is not possible, you can only change the filter.

7. Fuel pump failure

If your Terrain’s fuel pump fails, then the engine won’t start. The pump normally ensures that the necessary amount of fuel is passed from the tank to the injection system of the engine with sufficient pressure.

Before your fuel pump stops working, it usually becomes noticeable: if your car’s engine breaks down from time to time, the car is difficult to start, the engine jerks a little or the engine performance drops, you should have your pump checked.

Wear or contamination of the pump can be the reason for this. If the pump is leaking, a power contact is broken, a line or a pump lever is broken, the fuel pump is usually also noticeable before failure. You can have a defective fuel pump replaced in your workshop.

8. Blown fuse

In rare cases, a blown fuse could also be the culprit in the breakdown of your Terrain. Check all fuses in the fuse box essential for starting the engine. But, be careful when lending a hand yourself to the fuse box! The box is under power and repairs or tests should always be done in a workshop.

9. Defective spark plugs

Without functioning spark plugs, the engine will not start. The spark plugs themselves are often not affected by a defect. Instead, plug connections on the ignition system come loose. If only one plug is actually loose, you can fix the problem yourself on site. If a spark plug has failed, it must be replaced in the workshop.

10. Rodent damage

Rodent damage can be another reason why your GMC Terrain won’t start. The animals crawl under the vehicle and bite through cables and wires. In principle, this can affect all vehicle systems such as the fuel supply, the oil supply or the power supply.

The rodent damage can usually be seen quickly by looking into the engine compartment. The damage caused by the rodent bite can be repaired in the workshop. Be prepared for relatively high costs here.

11. Engine failure

Although very rare, but it can also be the cause of the breakdown of your Terrain. If a vehicle has an engine failure, then nothing works anymore. It is not uncommon for the driver of a vehicle to be responsible for such damage. Typical causes include tearing of the timing belt, incorrect fueling, insufficient oil, hydrolock, overheating of the engine, or continuous driving in an excessive speed range.

GMC Terrain second generation engine

Only an experienced mechanic can diagnose engine failure in a workshop.

Use OBD2 scanner for diagnosis

Since GMC Terrain is equipped with on-board diagnostics (OBD), a fault diagnosis can provide initial indications of where the malfunction is located.

To begin troubleshooting, you must first connect the diagnostic tool to your Terrain. The OBDII connector is usually located under the dashboard. With the wire connected, you should turn the ignition on. But be careful not to start the engine. Most diagnostic devices then ask for some information about the vehicle. It is important that you enter this 100% correctly, otherwise the result of the search may be falsified. In addition to the vehicle manufacturer and model, you usually also have to type in the engine and vehicle ID number. For exact troubleshooting, always check whether the information is correct.

Conclusion

There are many reasons why your Terrain may not start. When looking for the trigger, you should always start with the most obvious cause, the empty battery.

In any case, it is advisable for laypersons to call a breakdown service or a workshop. In the event of a defect, the latter can directly initiate the repair.

Author: Nabeel K
Email: nabeel@wheelsjoint.com



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Janie
Janie
2 years ago

My 2011 terrain will not start. Battery is fully charged. Makes no grinding noise trying to start. But the dash lights light up when turning key over but the head lights were dim right before failure of engine. Dash says engine power is reduced… anyone with any info as to what this could be please and thank you.

Johnny Mitchell
Johnny Mitchell
2 years ago
Reply to  Janie

My 2013 doesn’t start, doing the same as your car did. You ever find the solution?

Chris Greenley
Chris Greenley
2 years ago

Did you resolve the issue?

DIANE
DIANE
1 year ago

My 2013 terrain is doing the same thing what was your solution please

A.Marie
A.Marie
2 years ago
Reply to  Janie

Mine is having the same issues, 2011 Terrain.

Cynthia Torres Robles
Cynthia Torres Robles
1 year ago
Reply to  A.Marie

How did you fixed it? I have a 2011 and just started doing the same problem? Thanks

Martha Gunter
Martha Gunter
2 years ago
Reply to  Janie

Our 2016 is in the shop for the same problem and they called us to see if we tried to jump someone.

Amber
Amber
1 year ago
Reply to  Martha Gunter

Were you able to fix this? Mine is doing the same!

Brian
Brian
8 months ago
Reply to  Janie

2013, wont start…. when it does the emergency flashers are on and dash says service power steering??

rob duncan
rob duncan
2 years ago

2020 Terrain, 3 months old and having all kind of trouble with this damn car.

Vikki
Vikki
2 years ago

How do you tow a 2018 GMC Terrain then without damaging anything because the energy brake locks the tires.

Last edited 2 years ago by Vikki
fil
fil
1 year ago

My Terrain starter turned but wont start the engine