Common Reasons an Excavator Won’t Start!

When a hired excavator doesn’t start, the first thing we do is panic, worry, and stress. Which, from an operator’s point of view, is not ideal before getting stuck into a day’s work. Without the correct equipment, you could end up encountering delays. Delays, which could cost you money in the long run. To help get you back up and running as soon as possible, we have put together a range of common reasons an excavator won’t start to help you troubleshoot the problems.

Most common issues can be resolved quickly, however by being aware of them, you can add these additional checks to your daily start-up procedure.

Let’s get up and running!

Familiarizing yourself with the excavator

One of the most common reasons an excavator won’t start is that the operator is not completely familiar with a particular machine. Each excavator is different. Indeed, they all have the same components. However, with technology advancing and new machinery being churned into the hire industry. Issues begin to arrive with some operators when starting them. It is extremely important that if you have never used the same model of excavator from the same hire supplier; you should ask for a walkthrough. Having a greater knowledge of the excavator’s layout is an easy, quick fix. Most plant hire suppliers will offer a walkthrough of the machine during handover. Therefore, you should always take up the offer, especially if it is free.

Most skilled operators will be able to troubleshoot the most common reasons an excavator won’t start, providing they know the layout of a machine.

Security Code and Input Methods

Another common reason an excavator won’t start is because of an incorrect security code or input method. Security codes are used on most excavators these days, especially in the hire industry. This has become a standard deterrent to be installed to protect the machine from being stolen.

Security codes are often generated for each hire. Meaning that an excavator won’t be able to operate without it. It is important to remember the security code for your excavator. We advise that codes are kept safe and are only given to the operators during the hire period.

Depending on the size, model or manufacture of the excavator you are working with, will determine the input method. Some excavators will have keycode panels, others will have integrated systems built into the console. Again, it is not a one size fits all situation. If you are ever unsure how to input a security code successfully, then ask during your handover procedure. Doing so will allow you to waste no time at all when it comes to getting the excavator started.

See below an example of how to start a 3T excavator fitted with a keycode ignition.

Further, see the difference between a 3T Excavator and this 9T excavator input.

Engaging hydraulics/ ToGo

Another common issue found with starting an excavator is engaging hydraulics. On smaller machines such as micro and mini 1.5T machines. This is normally engaged by lowering the left-hand armrest. This is subject to the manufacturer and age of the digger. However, in larger excavators, you are required to manually engage the hydraulics before operating the machine.

The hydraulics on larger excavators can be activated by a button found either on the control panel or under a keycode ignition. On JCB excavators you can expect to see a “ToGo” button which engages the hydraulics and also confirms commands. Below is an example of a “ToGo” button on a JCB 9-28T excavator. 

ToGo Button 9T JCB excavator

Engaging the hydraulics is an essential part of the start-up sequence. We would highly recommend that you are aware of how to correctly operate the control panel of your excavator. If you are unsure, always check with your supplier during the handover procedure. Small details like these are essential to raise with your supplier to avoid delays.  

Kill Switch

Occasionally, when starting an excavator, you can follow all the start-up procedures and the machine still won’t start. By now, may feel that there is something mechanically wrong with your hired excavator. But before coming to this conclusion there is one other thing you should always check, which is the kill switch.

Kill switches on excavators are rare and are normally found on machines that have automatic hydraulic engagement. They are designed to stop the machine quickly if there is a need to do so. However, these switches can be one of the most common reasons why smaller diggers won’t start. It is worth noting during your handover the location and correct positioning of the switch to start the machine successfully. A small issue that can be easily avoided.

Here are some examples of two kill switches found on our Kubota excavators and their correct starting positions.

Micro Digger Kubota U10-5 kill switch location engaged/disengaged positions


Disengaged (ready to start)

1.5T Mini Digger Kubota kx19-4 location and position/disengaged positions


Disengaged (ready to start)

If you ever conclude that this issue is the issue for the excavator failing to start. Remove the ignition key, reposition the kill switch to the disengaged (ready to start) point as shown, insert the key into the ignition and start as normal.


Another very common issue that will prevent an excavator from starting is failing to have the seatbelt engaged. This is a very common safety requirement for a large amount of plant machinery available to hire on the UK market.  

When a seatbelt is not engaged, then you can expect warning lights to appear on your excavator’s dashboard. Or, if you fail to see these warning lights, the excavator will not allow you to start.

Wearing a seatbelt while operating any type of plant machinery is essential to protect yourself and others around you. 10% of all fatalities from operating an excavator stem from the machine overturning. Which, when using a seatbelt can drastically reduce the chances of a fatality taking place. Therefore, don’t take the risk, and secure it correctly when conducting your start-up procedure.

If, for some reason, your seatbelt will not engage correctly, you will need to contact your hire supplier and explain the machine is unsafe to operate.

Left Armrest

left hand arm rest

To successfully start an excavator, the left-hand armrest needs to be up and not engaged. Only when the engine has started should the armrest be lowered to begin working. If you try to start the excavator with the left armrest down, you are likely going to receive an error warning.

To correct the procedure. Turn off the excavator, lift the armrest, and key on to position 2 to start the excavator. You must ensure that all other start producers are conducted to successfully start the digger.


One of the least common reasons an excavator won’t start is because the isolator key has been turned or removed. Isolators are situated in several different places on the excavators. They are normally found close to the machine’s battery and either will be removable or unremovable.

The machine’s battery’s location is dependent on the excavator’s make and model. Some will be situated in service compartments, others, under the operator seat in the machine’s cabin. It is advisable to avoid using the isolator on a hired excavator unless advised to do so by your supplier. However, in the real world, it does happen.

You will be alarmed of an isolator or battery issue if the electrics of the machine do not turn up when the key is turned to position 1. With no power from the machine’s battery, the excavator will not start.  

To troubleshoot, you can ensure that the isolator key is turned to the on position. Failing this, you should contact your hire supplier and explain that the machine has no power and there is a battery fault.

Conclusion of common reasons an excavator won’t start.

As we have discovered in this resource, there are several reasons why a hired excavator won’t start. However, by troubleshooting through these most common issues you are likely to be up and running before long. Providing you hire your equipment from a reputable supplier, you will rarely encounter any serious issues with starting a digger. If this resource has not successful help you start your excavator, you should contact your supplier directly for further assistance.

WHC Hire Services is committed to helping its clients get the job done. With one of the largest and youngest fleets of excavators in the UK, we have the resources to boost your performance when it comes to plant hire. For excavator hire, see the wide range of machines we have available for delivery and collection. Click here for more.

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