Got a bad starter? Unfortunately, most of the time you don’t realize your vehicle has a faulty starter until you can’t start your car in the morning, or worse you’re stranded somewhere far from home. The starter is one of the most important components on your vehicle and when it goes it’s very hard to get your car started until it's replaced. Usually, the only option you have left is to call a tow service which can be expensive. Emergency towing services like AAA could take several hours before they even arrive.
If you have some mechanical knowledge you can attempt to start your car even with a bad starter. In this article, we are going to show you how to best troubleshoot a vehicle with a failing starter.
What Is A Starter And What Does It Do?
A starter is the component on your vehicle that transforms electrical energy into mechanical energy. It’s a small motor that’s powered by the battery and it's responsible for cranking over or getting the engine running. If the battery doesn’t have sufficient power, the lights may be able to turn on in the car but it won’t start. In most cars and trucks the starter is attached to the engine or the transmission
The 12-volt battery which is standard in most vehicles transmits electrical energy to the starter via the primary battery cable. However, to turn over the engine the starter needs sufficient energy from the battery. When the driver turns the key in the ignition to start the vehicle, the starter solenoid which is attached to the motor moves the starter gear into the flywheel gear and that's when the starter spins.
The starter is designed to spin the engine until the engine is able to run on its own. After the starter gear disengages from the flywheel its job is done for the moment. It is important to note that the starter does have its limitations.
Did you know that the starter is only capable of running for a few seconds before it overheats? The starter is subjected to high temperatures during cranking when converting electrical energy to mechanical energy to mechanical motion. Unlike other components, the starter doesn’t have any way of cooling therefore cranking for more than a few seconds can cause damage to the starter.
How Can You Tell If You Have A Bad Starter?
A bad starter can be a big inconvenience. Yet before a starter completely fails there are always signs of impending doom. Check out the top symptoms of a bad starter:
The Engine Won’t Crank
Perhaps the biggest indication of a problem within your vehicle’s starter is that when you put the key into the ignition nothing happens. This is usually a result of a bad starter solenoid or a motor that is overheated and burnt out or there is an electrical issue. In some instances, the problem could be a dead battery. When you bring your car in to be serviced by a technician to inspect the starter, the battery, and its connections as well as other electrical components related to the starting system also has to be examined.
Starter Doesn’t Spin But Engages
Depending on the situation, you might hear the starter engage when you turn the ignition over but you won’t hear the motor start. If this happens it's due to the flywheel attached to the gears. Some starter problems are more mechanical in nature. This is a result of the gears being stripped or becoming dislodged against the flywheel. In this case, the engine won't turn over until a new starter is installed.
Do you hear grinding noise when you try to start your vehicle? There may be instances in which the starter gear won’t properly mesh with the flywheel in the engine. This will cause a loud grinding metal on metal grinding noise or you might even hear a loud screeching noise when you attempt to start your car up. The flywheel gear ring might be damaged.
See Smoke When Starting Up
Do you see or smell smoke coming from the hood when you are trying to start the motor? Keep in mind that the mechanical starter draws on electrical currents. The starter will overheat due to power being continuously supplied to the starter or the starter motor even after the engine has already been ignited.
If this happens you’ll see smoke or smell smoke coming from under the hood of the vehicle. An overheated starter can be a result of a blown fuse, a short circuit, or a faulty ignition switch.
How To Start A Car With A Bad Starter
Sometimes your car may need a whack here or there to get it started. If your starter is failing and you need to get your vehicle started so that you can make it home or to a mechanic here are a few tips:
Check the battery connections
Since the starter relies on positive currents from the battery, the first thing you should do when the starter fails is making sure that there aren’t any loose connections from the starter to the battery. Yes, a loose connection wire or bolt makes for a weak ground connection which could be the reason why the starter might fail to engage. In some instances, the starter may spin but the engine won’t crank.
Make sure the connections are secure and free of corrosion. If you detect any loose connections from the battery to the starter you can tighten them with a ratchet. The red battery cable connects directly to the starter solenoid or relay. The wire connected to the starter and battery is split into two and the other wire leads to the alternator.
Remove the corrosion
Corrosion can also be the root of your car’s starter problems. Over time it's normal for dirt, grime, and grease to build up over the starter and the battery. This can cause corrosion to develop which obstructs the flow of electrical current. Corrosion eventually builds up on the terminals, cables, and wires. If you notice that your battery is corroded you can remove some of the corrosion so that the battery can juice up the starter.
Fine sandpaper can be used to remove corrosion from the battery, terminals, and cables. If you don’t have any sandpaper in your home or in your car you can try a mixture of water and caustic soda or baking soda. Exercise caution during the cleaning process so that you don’t damage the connections.
Bypass the starter relay
This trick can work on older car models or vehicles where the starter is in close proximity to the battery. You can use a screwdriver to bypass the starter relay. Use the screwdriver to connect the positive starter terminal and the solenoid terminal. This directly connects the 12-volt current to the solenoid.
Use a tool to tap the starter
This is one of the oldest tricks in the books but it can help get the starter going. It's common for starters to develop dead spots between the field coils and armature. Use a heavy tool like a hammer or a wrench to gently tap the starter, this will get the armature to spin so that it can engage. However, this trick doesn’t work with vehicles that are equipped with traversal engines since the starter is located at the back of the engine making it impossible for you to reach.
Push Your Car To A Start
If you have a car with a manual transmission you can push your car to a start even with a bad starter and a failing battery. You’ll need someone strong enough to give your vehicle a push while you turn the ignition switch on. Make sure you put the car in moving gear as the vehicle is pushed at least ten miles per hour. After you let the clutch go the engine will turn over and you’ll be able to drive the car home.
If you have a bad battery it won’t be able to supply the starter with the energy it needs to turn the engine over. However, if your battery is in fairly good condition then jumpstarting can help overcome dead spots in the armature giving the starter enough power to spin.
Rebuilding or Replacing A Bad Starter – What’s The Best Solution
Rebuilding your car’s starter is the less expensive option and is ideal for individuals that are on a tight budget. If you own an expensive car like a BMW or Lexus you know that replacing the starter can be costly. Rebuilding a starter involves discarding the worn parts and installing new or remanufactured parts. If you decide to have your starter rebuilt it’s important to consult an experienced and skilled technician who tests all the electrical parts under different load conditions to ensure that the rebuilt starter can start your vehicle.
The only downside to rebuilding a bad starter is that all the parts don’t have the same state of wear and tear. Therefore, at any point, the older components can fail which can compromise the function of your starter. That’s why most people prefer to replace a bad starter with a new one. When you install a new starter you can be sure that all of its parts are in good condition. You’ll be able to drive in confidence knowing that the starter won’t fail you at any moment.
Common Questions Related To Bad Starter Systems
Q: How much does it cost to install a new starter?
The average price of installing a new starter is between $495-$526. The part itself can cost up to $386 while labor costs are approximately $110-$138 depending on where you have your vehicle serviced.
In front-wheel vehicles with large engines such as Cadillacs, BMWs, and Toyotas with V8 engines, the intake manifold, and other parts have to be removed to access the starter. This can increase the starter replacement costs. A rebuilt starter can cost anywhere between $65-$150.
Q: How do you know if you have a bad starter or if the problem is the alternator?
Whenever you have starting problems, if you have a good battery the culprit is often the alternator or the starter. If you hear a whining sound that gets fuzzy when you step on the gas it’s likely the alternator. On the other hand, if your car doesn’t start but all the lights are on and you hear a click sound when you attempt to crank the engine then the problem is the starter.
Q: Can I get my starter tested?
If your car has been hesitant to start it's a good idea to have the starter tested. You can use jumper cables to test the starter. When you do this you should make sure the car is off and the transmission is in park.
Connect the red or the positive cable to the positive terminal on the battery and the other end of the red cable to the positive terminal on the starter. The starter should start to spin or crank the engine. If it does there is a problem with the connections to the battery or the relay. You can also have the starter tested with the alternator and battery at your local Autozone.
Q: Is a starter replacement DIY friendly?
The ease of replacing a starter can vary depending on the car. Installing a new starter on cars with mounted engines is a bit more complex since several components will have to be removed to even access the starter. However, on cars where the starter is located within proximity of the battery, if you have some mechanical knowledge you should be able to easily replace the starter yourself.
Here at Cash Car Buyers, we purchase cars in all kinds of conditions. If you have a car with a bad starter and you’re not interested in pouring any more of your money into repairs it makes sense to sell the vehicle to Cash Car Buyers. Contact us today and speak with one of our agents to see how much cash we can offer you for your old vehicle.