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The starter is faulty because it’s old and worn, or the car’s battery is weak and struggling to engage it. It might also be that the electrical connections are faulty. More rarely, it might be a faulty ignition switch, starter relay, or a broken ring gear.
Are you having trouble getting your car to start? It can be frustrating, but don't worry! This could signal that something's wrong with your vehicle. Paying attention to your car's behavior and understanding how to communicate it with your local auto shop helps you assess the problem before it worsens.
In this article, we'll break down the most common causes of bad starter symptoms. We'll also help you communicate with your mechanic about it by explaining what information they typically need.
A parasitic draw is when something in your car uses battery power even after you turn the vehicle off. For example, some cars have accessories that stay active for a short time after the car turns off. However, if these accessories use more than 30 milliamps, something is probably draining the battery. As a result, the vehicle might run out of battery even when parked.
Signs of a bad starter are slow engine cranks, needing to jump-start the vehicle, clicking noises when starting the vehicle, no lights on the dashboard after ignition starts, or remote doors not working. Save this information; they're essential if you go to an auto shop later.
The starter system helps your car engine start through electricity. It uses a flywheel or flex plate ring gear to make the engine spin fast enough to start. However, it needs power from the 12-volt battery to work. If the battery is weak or damaged, the starter motor won't be able to spin the engine fast enough to start it.
If you notice the engine cranks slowly, clicking sounds or the car doesn't do anything when you start, save this information; they're essential if you go to an auto shop later.
The starter motor helps your car start. It needs a good electrical connection to work. If wires going to the starter are loose, burnt, or damaged, the motor won't get enough power to spin and start the engine. So, even a jump-start attempt won't make it work.
If you notice the engine cranking slowly — or not at all, burnt wire smells, clicking noises when starting the vehicle, no lights on the dashboard after the ignition started, or if the remote doors don't work, save this information; they're essential if you go to an auto shop later.
The charging system in your car is responsible for keeping the battery charged. It includes electrical components like the alternator, drive belt, and voltage regulator or current sensor. The alternator generates electricity to power the engine and accessories such as lights, radio, and climate control. However, it can wear out over time, and its components can fail.
Suppose the alternator, belt, regulator, or connections are not working well. In that case, the charging system won't produce enough electricity to keep up with demand, and the battery will not have enough power to restart the car.
If you notice a check engine light on the dashboard, battery warning, clicking noises when starting the vehicle, slow cranks while the engine is hot, the vehicle normally starts after the engine cools down, no lights on the dashboard when the ignition is on, or if the remote doors don't work, save this information; they're essential if you go to an auto shop later.
The starter in your car is a small electric motor with gears that connect to the engine. Over time, the gears can wear down, and the electrical part of the starter, the solenoid, can also have issues. For example, burn spots on the solenoid contacts can prevent current and voltage from flowing to the starter. Also, a clicking noise when trying to start the car can mean the solenoid is working, but the contacts aren't allowing the current to flow.
If you notice a sound like both engine and motor are working simultaneously, a grinding sound or dashboard lights turn on while the car doesn't start, save this information, they're essential if you go to an auto shop later.
The ring gear around the flywheel helps the starter motor turn the engine on. Manufacturers attach it to the flywheel by welding or pressing. Over time, the gears from the starter can wear the ring gear down, especially if the starter is faulty or misaligned. If the gear gets damaged, the starter gear may struggle to start the engine.
If you notice a sound like both engine and starter are working simultaneously and a grinding sound, save this information; they're essential if you go to an auto shop later. Plus, pay attention to how often the noise happens. Sometimes, the noise may only occur when the engine stops at a specific spot where there is damage to the teeth. This can make the problem appear to be intermittent.
Explore the following typical inspection results that show a potential cause for the symptom and select the one you believe is similar to your vehicle's issue.
This image shows the result of a battery and charging system test. The battery's rates are below what they should be.
A customer had to tow their vehicle into the shop. Their concern was that when they tried to start the car, they pushed the start button, and the dash light activated and dimmed. They also heard a rapid clicking noise.
The technician tried to start the vehicle during the test drive but only heard a rapid clicking noise. The technician jump-started the car to drive it. No other related issues to the customer's concern were found in this first test.
During the vehicle health inspection, the battery failed the load test and needed replacement. After replacing the battery, they tested the charging system, which worked fine.
The customer approved additional tests to ensure no other components were damaged from the low battery voltage. The technician recommended the customer replace the car battery quickly to avoid further issues when starting the vehicle. In this case, the car didn't suffer further damage.
This image shows an amp meter connected to the battery. In this case, the meter's readings indicate a parasitic draw.
A customer came to the auto shop concerned that their car's battery died after not driving the vehicle for more than two days. However, the car would function normally if they used it daily.
The technician found no issues related to the customer's concern on a test drive. Then, they did a vehicle health inspection, which didn't lead to any problems with the battery or charging systems. So, the customer approved additional tests.
The mechanic did extra testing by monitoring the battery draw after all the car’s computer systems supposedly shut down. Then, they checked the remaining power usage. They found a high current draw caused by the trunk light staying active due to a broken trunk latch switch. The battery was draining; the technician had to replace the trunk latch switch.
The additional test above focuses on finding parasitic draws, which was successful in this case. Note that additional tests are the standard procedure when dealing with parasitic draws. Plus, they might be more complex, depending on the case.
This image shows a broken ground wire. In this case, it's broken in two and requires replacement.
The customer came to the auto shop because their car won't start. They had tried to jump-start it and even removed the battery and tested it, but the car wouldn't start. So they had to ask for a tow service.
Upon arriving at the shop, the technician had to push the vehicle into the service bay. During the vehicle health inspection, the technician tested the battery and found it was fine. They also noted that there were no lights or accessories on.
The customer approved additional diagnostics, and the technician performed a resistance test on the battery cables to the starter. The technician found that there was an open wire on the ground side.
Following the ground wire to the engine block near the starter, the technician discovered that the ground wire was burnt in two at the block end. Consequentially, the connection was poor, compromising the electrical response.
This image shows a digital tester displaying reading results. The results show that the voltage regulator is faulty.
A customer came to the shop because of a troubling battery. They replaced it twice in the last three months. Plus, they noticed that the lights in the vehicle were dimming, and the car wouldn't start. So they mention using a trickle charger at night to try and keep the battery charged.
During a test drive, the technician observed that the battery light was flickering and the lights in the vehicle were dimming.
During a vehicle health inspection, the technician tested the battery and found it had a low charge. Additionally, they also discovered there was very poor Charging from the alternator.
After getting approval for additional costs for testing the charging system circuits as needed, The problem was the alternator’s regulator. The regulator, in this case, is an internal part of the alternator and the alternator was replaced as a better option with a warranty rather than changing the alternator’s regulator on a high mileage vehicle.
This image shows a starter with a faulty solenoid. In this case, the starter assembly requires replacement.
A customer came to the auto shop because their vehicle wouldn't start. When they tried to start it, they heard a clicking noise, and the dash lights activated.
The mechanic started the vehicle after repeated attempts to get it in for testing on the rack.
During a vehicle health inspection, they found nothing related to the customer's concern. So, the customer approved additional tests.
Additional testing while the engine didn't start revealed that the starter solenoid was the issue. The solenoid is part of the starter and is essential for operating the starting system. So, the technician replaced the starter with a new assembly.
Based on the shop’s experience with this car, a remanufactured starter was not recommended.
This image shows a ring gear with missing teeth. This critical damage prevents the gears from working, causing a failing starter. So, they need replacement.
A customer dropped off their vehicle, saying they heard a lot of grinding and clunking noises when starting it a while back. Now, when they try to start it, they hear a whirring noise, and the engine doesn't do much. They even tried to jump-start it, but it did not work.
The technician could not test drive the vehicle as the starter was only spinning, and the engine wasn't reacting.
During the vehicle health inspection, they didn't find any significant information. So, the customer authorized additional tests. In these tests, the technician confirmed that the starter was turning on but not engaging the ring gear.
Upon further examination, using a special inspection camera, the technician found that some of the teeth on the ring gear were missing and damaged. Plus, the starter gear also had damage. So they'll need to replace both the ring gear and the starter.
Starter's drive gear. Blown fuse. Primary motor. Starter motors. Starter pack. Poor maintenance. Main motor's electrical contacts.