Do you hear a whirring and clicking noise when you turn the key in your car’s ignition? It could be a sign that there is something wrong with your engine starter. Knowing the signs of a bad starter can alert you to potential problems, so that needed repairs can be taken care of before they become serious or costly.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss what signs indicate that you may need to replace or repair your starter and how to identify them. Keep reading if you want to learn more about diagnosing any issues with your vehicle’s engine starter!
What Is a Starter?
Having a properly functioning starter is essential for any vehicle; without it, the car literally won’t move. The starter consists of two components: the primary motor and solenoid.
The motor allows you to turn the crankshaft and get the engine running, while the solenoid (or relay) engages its drive gear and controls power flow from the battery. If either one of these fails, you’re left with no choice but to jumpstart or tow your vehicle.
Common Bad Starter Symptoms
- Clicking noise or whirring and grinding noise
- Dashboard lights up but engine won’t power up
- Engine won’t crank even after attempting a jumpstart
- Smoke coming from your car
- Oil soaked starter indicating an oil leak
Clicking noise or whirring and grinding noise
One of the common symptoms of a bad starter is a clicking sound or whirring and grinding noise when you try to start your car. Sometimes, the starter may fail without making any noise, or it may produce unusual sounds. If you hear any strange noises when starting your car, it’s best to have it checked by a professional mechanic.
Dashboard lights up but engine won’t power up
When you turn the key or push the start button, and the dashboard lights up, but the engine doesn’t power up, it could indicate a problem with the starter. A faulty starter may not provide enough power to ignite the engine.
Engine won’t crank even after attempting a jumpstart
If your car’s engine won’t crank after attempting a jumpstart, it may be due to a bad starter. The starter is responsible for turning the engine over, and if it is defective, it won’t be able to start the engine. It’s advisable to bring your car to a certified technician for repairs if you suspect a bad starter.
Smoke coming from your car
If you see or smell smoke coming from your car, it could indicate an electrical issue with your starter. The starter is part of your car’s electrical system, and it can be subject to blown fuses and short circuits. If you have been trying to start your car without success, the starter can overheat, leading to electrical issues and smoke.
If you notice any smoke, it’s best to avoid trying to start your car again and call for help immediately.
Oil soaked starter indicating an oil leak
If you notice that your starter is drenched in engine oil, it could be a sign of an oil leak. Oil leaks can cause starter issues, so it’s essential to keep an eye out for oil leaks to avoid such problems.
Your starter can usually be found on the passenger’s side (if RWD) of the engine, just below the exhaust manifold, or on the driver’s side (if FWD) above the transmission or under the exhaust manifold. They can also be located just under the intake manifold on some vehicles.
If you suspect an oil leak, it’s best to have it inspected by a professional mechanic to prevent further damage to your car’s starter or other components.
What Does a Bad Starter Sound Like?
A bad starter produces a distinctive loud clicking sound that you just can’t ignore. The tempo can vary, with some sounding like a rapid-fire, click-click-click-click-click-click-click-click, while others may have a slower cadence, more like click, click, click, click. This peculiar noise is unique to a failing starter, so if you ever hear it, brace yourself for the cost of a brand-new starter.
Related: How To Test a Starter Relay
How To Fix Starter Motor Problems?
If you’re experience bad starter symptoms, it’s important to troubleshoot the issue as soon as possible. Here are some steps to help you do so:
Check the Battery and Battery Cables
The first step in troubleshooting a starter problem is to check the battery and battery cables. Look under the hood and inspect the battery and cables to ensure they are in working order. A weak or dead battery or faulty cables could be the real culprit behind the car’s trouble starting.
Tap the Starter
If the battery and cables are in good condition, try tapping the starter gently with a hard object such as a hammer. This simple trick can help the electrical components come back into contact with each other, and sometimes, a little bit of tapping is all it takes to power up the starter and get you back on the road.
Adjust the Transmission
If tapping the starter doesn’t work, try adjusting the transmission by shifting it from “park” to “neutral.” A faulty neutral safety switch could be causing a technical glitch, preventing your vehicle from starting in “park.” This simple change might make all the difference.
Clean or Replace Components
If the previous steps don’t provide an answer, try testing the power from the ignition switch to the solenoid and starter. Check any fuses or relays that are part of this chain of command. Test the safety interlock that is likely in place. If all these checks don’t provide an answer, try tapping on the starter with a small hammer as someone turns the key. Cleaning connections and replacing switches or relays which are bad can also help bring your car back to life.
Check the Fuel Gauge
If everything else checks out, take a moment to check the fuel gauge. Running out of fuel is a common reason behind a car’s inability to start. If the gas tank is empty, refuel to get back on the road. Remember, if these approaches don’t prove successful, it’s time to consult with a qualified technician, who can both diagnose and resolve the underlying issue with your car’s starter.
How Much Does It Cost To Fix A Starter?
The cost of a starter replacement can vary greatly depending on the type of starter and the extent of the required repairs. While you may be able to find rebuild parts for as low as $50, the costs can go as high as $350. If you’re considering a brand-new starter, you can expect to pay anywhere from $80 to over $350.
Keep in mind that if you choose to hire a qualified mechanic to handle the replacement or the rebuilding of your starter, you’ll need to factor in their labor charges, which can bring the total expenditure to a range of $150 and even go over $1,100.
FAQs about What Are the Signs of a Bad Starter?
Where is the starter located?
You will typically find the starter nestled on the driver’s side of the engine, just below the left bank of cylinders. If you’re curious about its appearance, the starter can be easily identified by its distinct cylindrical shape that consists of a large cylinder with an attached smaller cylinder.
How Long Does a Starter Last?
A car starter can typically last around 80,000 starts, which is roughly equivalent to 150,000 miles for some vehicles. However, this can vary depending on factors such as driving conditions, frequency of use, and the quality of the starter.
Can you jump a car with a bad starter?
Jump starting a car primarily targets the battery, not the starter. While the battery powers the starter through a relay, relying on a jump start to consistently overcome a bad starter is wishful thinking.
To fix the problem, take your car to a trusted mechanic who can diagnose and repair the faulty starter.
Can a bad starter drain your battery?
Yes, a faulty starter can drain your car’s battery. Continuously attempting to start the engine with a bad starter will use a lot of power from the battery and could leave you stranded.
How can I test my car starter without removing it?
You can test your car starter without removing it by following these steps:
- Turn off your ignition and ensure that your transmission is in “park” for safety.
- Attach the positive jumper cable to your battery’s positive terminal and touch the other end to the starter motor’s positive terminal.
- If the engine cranks, the issue is with the cables, connections, or relay.
- If the engine doesn’t crank, attach the negative jumper cable to the battery’s negative terminal and ground the other end between the drivetrain and negative terminal.
- Touch the positive jumper cable to the starter’s positive terminal and observe if the engine cranks.
- If the starter cranks the engine, a bad chassis ground is the issue.
If you think your car is having problems with its starter, do not wait and get it checked right away. Delaying an appointment can end up costing you more money than if you’d take your car in to get looked at as soon as possible. We know how difficult it is to deal with starter troubles which is why we hope this article has helped equip you with knowledge on the signs of a bad starter leading to better informed decision-making!
I’m Timothy Ballard, owner of a used car dealership in Springfield. I love just about everything automotive, but I have a special place in my heart for trucks. I’m an ASE Certified Master Technician, so I know my way around a car. In my spare time, I enjoy traveling with my family and hiking new trails.