Few things are more frustrating than realizing something is wrong with your car, but not being able to figure out what it is. If your car is able to start normally but makes a clicking noise, you may be wondering what exactly is going on. Since it starts, it doesn’t seem that bad, but surely that sound means trouble.
There are a couple of reasons that your car starts but makes clicking noises you should be aware of. Sometimes they are accompanied by other symptoms, and sometimes not. Let’s take a look at why your car might start but make a clicking noise at the same time.
Clicking Noises on Ignition
Trying to figure out why you get clicking noises on ignition could be a bit of an uphill battle. No doubt if you Googled it already you will have seen many articles that tell you what it means if your car clicks but doesn’t start. You’re less likely to find out why it could, even though it does start.
- Starter solenoid. The starter solenoid is an important part of your ignition system. It’s located between the starter motor and the battery and delivers current from the battery to the starter.
When power from your battery reaches the starter solenoid, the solenoid begins moving. This causes a pinion to engage the ring gear of your engine’s flywheel, which allows your engine to start.
If you’re experiencing a series of rapid clicks when you try to start your car, this could be the starter solenoid. The likeliest cause of this is a problem with wiring. You may have a loose connection, or some terminals are corroded.
If there is still power getting to your starter solenoid, and your battery is working properly, it’s likely a loose connection or corrosion is causing an issue with the transfer of power. Because of this, the solenoid is struggling to start properly, and you’ll hear these clicks before an adequate amount of power is able to travel from the battery to the starter to get things moving.
Because the starter solenoid is part of the starter itself, you’ll need to replace the whole starter if this is the problem you’re dealing with.
- Starter relay. The starter relay is before your starter solenoid in the path from the battery to your engine. It redirects power from the battery to the solenoid. When the starter relay is functioning properly, then you’ll get a full electrical current travelling through it.
Normally if the relay fails, the current ceases and no power is going to reach your starter. However, there can be instances when certain mechanical problems or dirt or corrosion can affect your relay’s ability to transfer power. In these cases, it may struggle, and you’ll hear clicking before the full current is re-established and your car starts.
Replacing the starter relay will cost somewhere between $60 and $200 depending on the type of car you have, and where you take it to get it replaced.
- Starter motor. When people refer to your starter being bad, they often take the starter motor, the starter relay, and the starter solenoid all together. And as we have seen, it could be either of those other two. But it could also be a problem with the starter motor itself.
If the starter relay or the starter solenoid are not the source of the problem, you may just have a bad starter motor. It hasn’t failed completely yet, but it will soon.
If you need to get a starter replacement for your car, you’re looking at a cost somewhere between $430 and $700.
- Battery. Normally when you put your key to the ignition to try to start your car and you just get a series of clicks but no power at all, the immediate thought is that it’s a battery issue. If the car does start, and the lights turn on, most people would discount the battery right away as being a problem. That may be a rush to judgment.
As we mentioned with the starter solenoid, the problem could actually stem from the battery. If the terminals on your battery are heavily corroded or the connection is loose, even a brand-new battery is going to have trouble getting your car started. Reaction may be delayed and you’ll hear that clicking sound because your engine is trying to start and there is some power, but not enough.
The other possibility here is that your battery is still producing a charge, but not enough of a charge. There is a point between a battery that is too weak to power your car, and a battery with a reliable charge where it can still start your vehicle, but it struggles.
Your battery should have a charge of 12.6 volts. If it drops below 12, it’s going to be too weak to get your car started. However, if you have a charge of 12.2 volts, for instance, that may still be able to get your car started after some struggling.
Depending on whether you are able to replace your own battery or you need a mechanic to do it, and the type of battery you buy, getting a new battery with a good charge in your car is going to cost you somewhere between about $50 and $200.
If the problem that you need to address is an issue with corroded terminals or loose wiring, then you should be able to take care of these on your own.
How to clean and check your battery terminals
It surprises a lot of drivers to find out that the problems with their car starting stem from an issue with corroded battery terminals. Even batteries with a good charge will perform like old, worn-out batteries, if this is the case. Keeping your battery terminals clean is the key to ensuring this is no problem.
A quick visual inspection can let you know if there’s a problem with your terminals. Pop the hood of your car and take a look at where the wires are attached to the battery, those two metal terminals that stick out of the top.
Battery terminals are prone to corrosion. If the terminals in your battery look dirty, and especially if there is a buildup of white or grayish crusty substance on them, that is a problem. This substance greatly impedes your battery’s ability to transmit a proper charge.
Cleaning battery terminals is an easy job that you can do at home without having to worry about going to a mechanic. Since a new battery can cost over $100, doing this job yourself is a bit of preventative maintenance that will save you some money and only takes a few minutes of time.
You only need a couple of supplies to clean a battery at home.
- A stiff brush for cleaning. This could be a wire brush, or even a toothbrush in a pinch.
- The cleaning solution. You can buy specially formulated battery terminal cleaner, or you can mix your own. Baking soda mixed with water into a paste can get this job done fairly easily.
Remember, you’re working with a car battery here and it does have a substantial charge in it. So, make sure you do everything safely to prevent any injury.
- Start by removing the cables from your battery terminal. Loosen the nuts and remove the clamps. The black or negative terminal has to be removed first. When it’s done, you can take off the red or positive cable from the terminal. Remember to put them back in the reverse order, so negative goes on last.
- Before working on the terminals, check the cables. If the terminals are corroded, there’s a chance that the cables have started to corrode as well. The cables can’t be cleaned the same way the terminals can, so if they look damaged, you’re going to have to buy some new ones.
New battery cables are fairly cheap, you should be able to get them for under $15.
- If you’re using a specific battery terminal cleaner that you bought, you need to follow the instructions on the bottle or container as they are written.
- If you’re using a baking soda mixture, apply it directly on to the post of your battery. You’ll notice it starts to foam, that’s perfectly normal. The baking soda is a basic substance, and acid causes the corrosion, so the two will react with each other. This is what you want it to do.
- As the mixture foams, you can apply more to your brush and start scrubbing around the terminal. If your battery cables are okay, but the clamps are a little corroded, scrub those as well.
- The substance should scrub off fairly quickly. Once you’re satisfied with the cleaning job you’ve done, use a lint-free cloth to dry off the terminals.
- You can prevent further corrosion by applying some petroleum jelly to the posts.
- Replace the battery cables or use new ones if you had to get rid of old damaged ones. The red, positive cable goes on first, followed by the black, negative terminal. Secure them in place and you are done.