What Are the Signs of a Bad Starter?

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.


How to Identify Bad Starter Symptoms?

1. The engine won’t turn over

When your vehicle won’t start, it might be a sign of a bad starter. This is usually characterized by nothing happening when you turn the key or push to start. The starter motor is responsible for rotating the crankshaft so the engine can turn over and requires an electric motor that generates torque for it to do its job. If the solenoid inside the starter weakens, this may not produce enough power to rotate the flywheel or delay shifting the position of its pinion, resulting in long cranking periods or complete failure to ignite.


2. You’ve got lights but no action

Experiencing common bad starter symptoms can be quite frustrating, especially when you’re all set to hit the road and suddenly, your car refuses to cooperate. Imagine turning the key in the ignition, expecting the familiar sound of your engine roaring to life, but instead, you’re greeted with a brightly lit dashboard and an eerily silent engine.

This might make your heart sink as it usually points to an issue with the starter. The role of a starter is crucial, as it is responsible for engaging the engine in motion when you switch on the ignition.


3. Unusual noises

It’s a beautiful day, and you’re eager to hit the road, but as you turn the key, your car greets you with some unusual noises—a clinking, grinding, or whirring sound that you haven’t heard before. These noises could very well be indicative of bad starter symptoms, and while it might be tempting to ignore them, doing so could lead to significant engine flywheel damage in the long run.


4. Smoke coming from under the hood

It’s never a good sign when smoke starts coming out of your car – this is because it could be an indicator of either a blown fuse or short circuit. If your starter has been having trouble starting, the issue may have over-heated, leading to some problematic smoke being released. Instead of trying to start it again and causing more damage, it might be best to call for help.


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.


What causes the starter to fail?

There are a few common causes of faulty starters, such as faulty electrical connections or a damaged electric motor. But it’s also important to keep an eye out for issues with the solenoid switch, starter pinion, or freewheel. By being diligent about the state of your car’s starter, you’ll catch any problems early and be able to get them fixed before they become major headaches.

How To Fix Starter Motor Problems

Signs -of-a-Bad-Starter (2)
Signs -of-a-Bad-Starter (2)

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:

1. Look Under the Hood

Begin your investigation under the hood, taking a close look at the battery and battery cables. Ensure that everything is in working order, as a weak or dead battery or faulty cables might be the real culprit behind the car’s trouble starting.

2. Tap the Starter

Well, here’s a simple trick you could try before making any expensive replacements or visits to the mechanic. It’s called tapping the starter. All you need to do is give your starter a few gentle taps using a hard object (e.g., a hammer). Remember not to pound it too hard!

This easy method can work wonders by helping the electrical components in your car come back into contact with each other. Sometimes, a little bit of tapping is all it takes to power up your starter and get you back on the road in no time.

3. Adjust the Transmission

In some cases, it could be as easy as adjusting the transmission by shifting it from the “park” setting to “neutral.” Yes, you read that correctly – just this subtle change might make all the difference! You may be wondering what could be triggering this peculiar situation; well, the culprit could be a faulty neutral safety switch causing a technical glitch, preventing your beloved vehicle from starting in “park.”

4.  Clean or replace components

Be sure to test the power from the ignition switch to the solenoid and starter. It’s also important to check any fuses or relays that are part of this chain of command. There is likely a safety interlock in place as well that needs to be tested. If all those checks don’t provide an answer, then try tapping on the starter with a small hammer as someone turns the key. This will often do the trick when there is something minor jamming up inside the starter or solenoid. Finally, cleaning connections and replacing switches or relays which are bad can help bring your car back to life.

5. Check the Fuel Gauge

It may sound a bit far-fetched, but running out of fuel is a common reason behind a car’s inability to start. So, before you dive into more complicated solutions, take a moment to check your fuel gauge. If it turns out that your gas tank is indeed empty, that mystery is solved, and all you need to do is refuel to get back on the road!

Just 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.

Related: How To Test a Starter Relay

How Long Do Starters Last?

It is fascinating to note that the longevity of a starter hinges not only on the miles driven but also on factors like the environment surrounding the car. In fact, car owners living in warmer regions may witness their starters outlive the 100,000-mile benchmark, while those residing in chillier areas might encounter a slightly earlier expiration.

Another intriguing way to gauge the durability of a starter is by counting the number of successful engine ignitions it enables, totaling approximately 80,000 starts throughout its existence.

So, the next time you sneak a glimpse at your odometer, don’t forget that it offers a valuable insight into the lifetime of your car’s starter, empowering you to be a well-informed and confident vehicle owner.


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.


Can you jump a car with a bad starter?

There’s no denying that jump starting a car can occasionally work wonders, especially when you’ve had a long day and you desperately need to get back home. However, if your car’s starter is the culprit behind your vehicle woes, a simple jump start just won’t cut it.

The truth is, a jump start primarily targets your car’s battery, giving it a much-needed boost – not the starter itself. Even though the battery powers the starter through a relay, relying on a jump start to consistently overcome a bad starter is wishful thinking at best.

To truly put the problem to rest, take your car to a trusted mechanic who can figure out if the starter is the real issue and remedy it accordingly.


Can a bad starter drain your battery?

The answer is yes, a faulty starter can indeed deplete your car’s battery. The problem may become significantly worse if you persist in attempting to ignite the engine, as this continuous action expends a considerable amount of power from the battery. To avoid finding yourself stranded with a drained battery and a car that won’t start, it’s essential to recognize the early signs of a failing starter and address the issue before it escalates.


How can I test my car starter without removing it?

First, ensure that the ignition is off and the transmission is set to “park” for your safety. Next, attach one end of the red or positive jumper cable to your battery’s positive terminal, and carefully touch the other end to the starter motor’s positive terminal. If this action causes the engine to spin or crank, you’ve identified the issue to be with the cables, connections, or relay.

However, if the engine doesn’t crank, take it a step further by grounding the black or negative jumper cable between the drivetrain and negative terminal of the battery. Touch the red cable to the starter’s positive terminal and observe if the engine cranks. If the starter cranks the engine this time, you’ve solved the puzzle – a bad chassis ground is the culprit.


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!

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