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My Car Makes A Grinding Noise During Start Up

How to Know If Your Car's Exhaust System Is Failing?

Do you hear grinding noises when you start up your car? If you dread starting your car in the morning because instead of the rumbling sound of the engine you’re greeted with a prolonged grinding noise it’s time to seek help. No doubt, noise coming from your car can be alarming. However, it’s usually a sign of trouble. This problem needs to be resolved before you end up in a situation where your car won’t start at all.

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 In order to accurately diagnose the problem, it’s important to analyze what happens during startup. At the loud and intrusive grinding noise does the engine turnover? Do you have to turn the key in the ignition several times before it roars to life? Worst case scenario the engine doesn’t start at all. 


The most skilled automotive technicians are able to diagnose mechanical issues by differentiating between the sounds. 


What The Grinding Noise Isn’t…

When it comes to auto repair, diagnosing the issue or even having a general idea of what the problem is can help you save a lot of money on mechanical repairs. There is nothing worse than spending several hundreds of dollars on parts that weren’t even broken in the first place. 


Grinding noises are very distinct, especially when compared to other noises that can emit from under the hood. For example, a high-pitched whining noise like a pig squealing from underneath your car hood can indicate a worn or damaged accessory belt. Belts are responsible for turning a myriad of components at once such as the water pump and the alternator. When they fail the car can completely lose all power. If you’re hearing a recurring grinding noise you can be sure that it’s not one of the belts.


Clicking noises are common. If you put your key in the ignition and you hear a series of clicking sounds like a clock ticking this typically indicates a problem with the battery. Perhaps the battery needs to be jumped, replaced or there may be a loose battery terminal. If you hear a whirring sound when you insert the key in the ignition this is usually the sound of the starter engaging. So you don’t have a starter problem. It could be a faulty fuel pump or fouled spark plugs. 


Top Problems Behind Grinding Noise….

Now that we’ve used the process of elimination it's time to discuss what the problem could be. If you’re getting a recurring grinding noise when starting your car it can be contributed to the starter. The starter is a small motor, powered by your car’s battery. The starter is responsible for getting the engine running and once the engine is running it takes a backseat. A starter relay is situated between the battery and the starter motor transmitting power. A failing starter will start up the car after turning the key in the ignition several times. When it’s done you won’t be able to start the car at all. 


The actual grinding noise can be caused by:

  • Faulty starter solenoid
  • Dead battery
  • Bendix Clutch Contamination


Faulty Starter Solenoid 

A faulty starter solenoid is one of the top reasons why the starter motor fails. Along with the grinding noise, a bad starter solenoid is also accompanied by the following symptoms:


A click or grinding sound coming from the engine compartment. 

This is likely a sign that the starter solenoid is attempting to engage but its internal components are stuck and unable to function properly. 


In rare cases, the engine might even start on its own before the key is even turned to start up the car. 

Instead of not starting the engine, the starter solenoid can cause the engine to start on its own even when the key isn’t turned to the “on” position. This can be dangerous and the problem should be addressed right away. 


The starter may disengage when you let go of the key. 

Sometimes the starter engages when you hold the key firmly into the ignition but disengages when you let go of the key. This is a sign that the starter has endured significant damage. 


Sometimes your car starts and sometimes it doesn’t. 

Intermittent starting issues are another common sign of starter failure. 


There are other issues that could also present the same symptoms as a bad starter solenoid. These symptoms include:


  • A blown fuse in the starter circuit could be causing the engine to not turn. 
  • Fouled or damaged wires from the battery to the starter solenoid could be the culprit. Even loose wires can keep sufficient power from reaching the battery. 


Can The Starter Solenoid Be Repaired?

Oftentimes, people replace the entire starter unit. Replacing the starter can cost anywhere between $300-$500. Depending on the extent of the solenoid damage you can have the part repaired just like any other component. 

Dead Battery and Grinding Noise

As you probably know the battery is the car’s power source. When the battery is towards the end of its useful life you’ll experience some starting issues. If you listen closely and hear the sound rapid clicks rather than grinding sounds like metal on metal rubbing against each other it could be that the battery is completely dead. 


 If the grinding noise is also accompanied with:

  • The headlights are dim. When the battery is bad it won’t be able to fully power all of your vehicle’s accessories including the interior and exterior lights. 
  • You might experience general electric problems as well. The radio, dashboard lights, windshield wipers, and window controls might be out of whack. For instance, the windshield wipers might be moving slowly or the radio might turn on and off. 
  • The battery and the terminals might be corroded. One of the main reasons why the battery fails is because of the corrosion that tends to accumulate in these areas. Corrosion significantly affects the performance and the life of the battery.
  • The average lifespan of a battery is three to five years. If you’ve had your battery for four years or more then it just might be time to replace it. 


Battery Replacement

The solution to a bad battery causing a recurring grinding noise is to install a new battery. How much does it cost to have a new battery installed in your vehicle? Replacing the battery in your car will usually cost between $118-$215. The cost can vary depending on the vehicle and the type of battery you have installed. Used or refurbished batteries are generally much cheaper. Yet, some people prefer to purchase new because it comes with a two or three-year warranty. 


Bendix Clutch Dust Contamination and Grinding Noise

You’ve probably never heard of “Bendix Clutch Dust Contamination”. If you drive a car with a manual transmission and you recently had the clutch repaired or replaced it's possible that dust from the old clutch contaminated the gear on the starter. As a result, this causes dry operation and the starter will start making a loud noise when the starter is engaged. However, you can rest assured that this is usually a short-lived problem.


If the problem persists you should have the mechanic who completed the clutch replacement inspect the area and clean it. If that doesn’t solve the grinding noise you hear when you start the car there might be another problem with your vehicle. 


Failing Water Pump and Grinding Noise

A bad water pump can create a grinding noise when the engine is started. The water pump is the component on a car that pushes coolant from the radiator all the way through the coolant system, to the engine, and right back to the radiator. The water pump is an essential component because without it the coolant just sits there. 


When the bearings on the water pump fail it emits a grinding noise. This noise is the shaft bearings trying to lock up in the water pump’s housing. Typically, the bear sustains damage from the timing or serpentine belt. A faulty bearing can also make a distinct screeching or squealing sound. 


Water Pump Bearing Replacement

It’s quite normal for the water pump bearing to fail over time with regular use. In order to replace the bearings, the water pump will have to be disassembled by an experienced technician. A worn and noisy water pump bearing needs to be replaced as soon as possible because it can cause damage to other components in the water pump.


The average cost of a new water pump is about $500. However, it can cost anywhere between $70-$225 to install the new bearings instead. Depending on the extent of the damage you might have to replace the entire water pump component. 


Alternator And Grinding Noise

The alternator converts mechanical energy to electrical energy. It continually charges the battery while the car is in operation. It also helps supply and regulate the power administered to various components within the vehicle. Yes, the alternator is a vital part of your vehicle’s charging system. 


If your car is making a grinding noise while the engine is starting it can also be a worn alternator that’s on its last legs. The alternators used in vehicles today are equipped with a decoupler pulley system that’s designed to help save fuel. When the alternator is starting to wear down it will produce a grinding noise. A failing alternator should be replaced as soon as possible.  


Besides the grinding noise, the most common signs of a failing alternator are:

Service Battery Light Might Flash On

When the alternator is failing it won’t be able to sufficiently charge the battery. Therefore, the Check Battery or Service Battery light might flash on the dashboard of your vehicle. 


The smell of Burning Rubber

Do you smell a foul odor under your car or when the engine is running? The alternator is equipped with a drive belt that’s regularly subjected to friction and tension due to its close proximity to the heated engine. As a result, it produces a pungent burning rubber smell. If the alternator is being overworked the wires will become frayed which produces a burning odor.


Malfunctioning Accessories

The alternator also powers the electronic accessories in your car. When the alternator is failing the accessories such as the power windows might go in slow motion or take longer to go back up when you push the control button. The seat warmers might feel a bit off and the speedometer might start going haywire.


Alternator Replacement

If you suspect your alternator is done you can bring your car into AutoZone to have the alternator tested. An alternator replacement can cost anywhere between $100-$350 depending on the make and model of the vehicle you’re driving. 



You’ll need to have a mechanic inspect your vehicle to see if the diagnosis is accurate or determine the source of the grinding noise. It’s important to take care of the problem sooner rather than later. 


Common Questions

Q: How do you tell if it’s the starter or the battery?

If a jumpstart can get the car started it’s most likely the battery. However, if your car doesn’t start even after a jump start you can have a faulty starter. In addition to a low grinding noise, the starter also makes a clicking noise. Also, if you have a bad starter it won’t even attempt to turn the engine over. 


Q: Is it the starter or the ignition switch?

Usually, a faulty ignition switch won’t make a grinding noise. The ignition switch consists of electrical contacts that activate the starter. You may have to have the starter itself tested by an experienced technician. 

Q: Can you fix a car that won’t start?

There are some things you can do to try and get your car started. If you have a faulty battery you can try jumpstarting the battery or readjusting the battery terminals to give the battery a spark. You can also try smacking the starter to help it turn the battery over. Smacking the fuel tank can help get things moving in the fuel pump in older cars. 

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