What words or phrases can be used to describe a car unsuccessfully starting, i.e. a car that won't start when the key is turned in the ignition.

I am writing a satire on the dependence which people feel towards technology and would prefer it if I could describe the failed attempt at starting a car using auditory imagery.

I know that when the key is turned in the ignition, there is a "revving" sound, but I don't have a word to describe the sound when the revving dies down.

  • Can you think of a word that describes any sound dying down? If you can, try looking for synonyms in a thesaurus, tell us which you've considered and why they're unacceptable. Meanwhile, the 'revving' sound is probably the engine turning over. – JHCL Oct 7 '15 at 6:19
  • 1
    revving up then slows down. – Nikita Shrivastava Oct 7 '15 at 6:24
  • To rev the engine is to give it gas which increases the rpms. Not related to trying to start it but it makes that waa waa waa sound. I would just say "that sound of your car trying to start." There are people out there who really know cars and if you use the wrong word it will instantly discredit your writing. Just my two cents worth. – michael_timofeev Oct 7 '15 at 8:25
  • rrrrr...rrrrr...rrrrr – Hot Licks Sep 25 '20 at 12:28

I'd call the sound a sputter:

to make explosive popping or sizzling sounds or to utter explosively and incoherently


If you Google sputter car, you get many examples.

  • I don't think this is what he's asking about. He's asking about the continuous, high-pitched whining sound that the engine makes when you turn the key but it won't start. – Barmar Oct 8 '15 at 0:27

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