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Signs Of A Bad Starter – What Happens When A Starter Goes Out?

signs of a bad starter

What are the signs of a bad starter? Does a starter make sounds before it goes bad?

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What happens when a starter goes out?

This post will answer those questions and more!

Your starter is an important part of your vehicle.

There are certainly symptoms of a bad starter that car owners need to be aware of.

This post will help you navigate though signs of a bad starter as well as how to rectify it and get the assistance you need!

What is a car starter?

A car starter is an electric motor that powerfully cranks your engine that will start your vehicle. Your vehicle’s starting system consists of the motor itself as well as an attached solenoid. The solenoid takes battery power and then transports it to the starter motor.

The solenoid also pushes the starter gear forward. And this allows it to mesh with the gear teeth of the flywheel of the engine.

The importance of the starter

In order to make an engine start, that engine must be turned at a speed that allows it to suck fuel and air into the cylinders and then compress it.

Your powerful starter motor will do the turning. Your shaft carries a small gear wheel that will engage with a large ring around the rim of the engine flywheel. The starter is mounted low down near the back of the engine, in a front-engine layout.

Once the starter receives a huge electric current, it will draw through thick wires from the battery.

signs of a bad starter
New Starter For Kia Sorento Amanti 3.5L 3.8L Hyundai Veracruz Entourage 08-12, Credit: Ebay

Signs of a bad starter – Can you jump start a car with a bad starter?

When you are facing a bad starter, you are facing one of the most common problems that mechanics see. So, what can you do if your starter decides to stop working before a crucial car trip? How can you get your car to start so you can drive safely to the repair shop and get it repaired? First, you have to understand what a starter needs in order to do its job. Generally, a starter needs three things to run. These three things are:

  1. A ground
  2. A current that is positive, coming from the car battery
  3. Positive current trigger to the solenoid that comes from the starter relay.

You can bypass this entire trio manually to get your engine to run, to start your car when you have a car problem.

Next Steps…

Check Connections

First, be sure to check the electrical connections of your car. If your vehicle battery connection is loose, you will not get enough power to the electrical motor. Then, be sure to check the positive wire going from the battery to the starter. And then make sure that you look to see if you have a tight fit or not. If it appears OK, you will be able to bypass it and use a jumper cable while turning the key to start the car ensuring all is well. You also must check all other wires for rust, acid, dirt, acid too. Be sure that all is safely as well as tightly connected.

Look for Corrosion

If you see signs of corrosion, you must clean that corrosion off. So, to do this, you must first disconnect the car battery. Next make a mixture of mixture of 50 percent water and 50 percent sodium bicarbonate. Then pour the mixture over the battery and allow it to soak for a few minutes. Then, rinse with hot water.

signs of a bad starter
Soda pop such as Coca- Cola can eat away at corrosion. Credit: Pixabay.com

Also, if you have a can or bottle of Pepsi or Coca-Cola, you can pour it over the corrosion to eat away at it and allow it to dissolve.

Tap the Starter with a Hammer

It may sound crazy to do, but you have to tap your starter with a screw driver or even hammer, to bypass your bad starter. sounds crazy, right? There is a good chance that any old-school mechanic you deal with was taught this technique. Your electrical motor may not be working because it has hit a dead spot. So, if you tap the outer frame with a heavy object such as that hammer or that screw driver, it will force it back into functioning.

In lots of modern cars, you may find that you have to tap by going behind the engine. You may find that you don’t have enough space to tap. So, you may have to take a long pry bar to reach and tap.

Bypass the Relay

Another old school trick to start your car is to take a screwdriver and create an electrical connection. Allow the screwdriver to touch both the positive starter terminal as well as the starter solenoid terminal. This will bypass the starter relay and can sometimes start the vehicle.

Jump Start the Car

For this technique, you need another car. So, you may have to ask a friend or your auto club to assist. You will need jumper cables to connect the two positives from the battery. You will also need the two negatives on the batteries on both cars. You should now have enough power to start your vehicle, even with a faulty ignition system.

Push Start the Car

If all else fails, you may have to push the car to start. You should only do this, if you have a manual transmission car. You can cause damage to automatic cars.

signs of a bad starter
Mini Starter for Chevrolet Chevy 153 168 Tooth 4HP SBC BBC Black High Torque, Credit: Ebay

What sound does a bad starter make?

Check out some sounds related to a starter problem that could also be caused by a dead battery or loose battery terminals:

  1. Once you turn the ignition key and you hear a single loud click, then you see that all of your power in the car goes off, then you don’t have a starter problem. You instead may have a loose, dirty or corroded battery terminals.
  2. For those rapid clicks one after another, you don’t have a bad starter, but you may have a weak battery or loose battery terminals.
  3. Maybe you have a loose key and you hear the starter motor cranking. And you can’t hear that engine start… that may not be a bad starter. But you may have bad spark plugs, a bad fuel pump, or not enough oil pressure inside the engine. Your problem could also stem from bad or dirty or fuel injectors. A dirty throttle body could also be the issue too.

“So what does a bad starter sound like?”

A bad starter will usually make an array of sounds. You may also smell smoke as you attempt to start the motor. Some of the most common sounds a bad starter makes include:

  1. High-pitches sounds and screeching
  2. Whirring sounds that are erratic
  3. Clicking sounds that are loud
  4. Grinding sounds or churning sounds

There are times that you may not even hear a sound at all and nothing happens. This is a sign onto itself that you have a starter problem.

Signs of a bad starter – How do you know if it's the battery or the starter?

It’s easy to go into panic and assume the worst when your car won’t start. But before you hit the panic button, see if you have a faulty battery, a bad alternator or if it is in fact the starter. Let’s examine all three as these components all work closely together:

Signs the Battery is dead:

  • When you try to start the car, and you hear a low whining sound.
  • If you jump start the car and your engine starts and runs, but the car will not start again once you turn the vehicle off, may be a battery problem.

Signs you have a bad alternator:

  • You hear a growling sound just before the alternator conks out.
  • That burning rubber smell or even hot wires may be coming from your alternator and is a sign that it is overheating.
  • You see flickering dash lights or headlights. You may even see them get extra dim or bright. Your gauges may be going crazy or look as if they are “possessed”.
  • If you jump start your car and it starts, but your car’s engine dies right after the jump, then you most likely have an alternator issue. In this case, please DO NOT test the alternator by removing the negative battery cable with the engine running. You run the risk of damaging your vehicle’s electrical systems.

Signs the Starter is a goner:

  • You hear a clicking sound when you turn the key.
  • The vehicle will fail to start, but the dash lights are on.
  • When you jump start your car and the engine doesn’t turn over at all.
signs of a bad starter
New Starter for 13B226JD299 MTD R1000 14 951-12207, Credit: Ebay

Signs of a Bad Starter – How do you test a starter?

A vehicle starter operates off of the battery as its main source of power. The purpose of a starter is to start the engine of your car. So, if there is something wrong with the starter, the starter solenoid, or the battery, your engine will not run properly. Let’s troubleshoot this.

How to Locate the Starter Solenoid


Now it’s time to listen to see if the solenoid clicks when you turn the key in the ignition. For no clicking sound, then know that the starter solenoid is faulty.

You will need a friend as well as multi-meter to complete these steps.

  1. This is the time you need friend to start your car, while you listen for the solenoid.
  2. Make sure you are at a safe distance from the engine too, while it ignites.
  3. Next, listen for a clicking noise. And if it is strong or loud, then you can assume that your solenoid has enough power and is working properly.
  4. But if you hear a faint clicking noise, then you have a problem. If you hear no sound at all or the car doesn’t start, then you have a faulty solenoid.

Gather your multi-meter to check voltage on your solenoid.

    1. Don’t forget to make sure that you are at a safe distance from the engine and wearing some kind of protective glasses and gloves.
    2. Next, attach the positive wire which is usually red, from the multi-meter to the positive terminal on the solenoid.
    3. This is the terminal that goes to the starter.
    4. Then, place the negative wire… generally the black one, from the multi meter onto the terminal which comes from the battery.
    5. You should have your multi-meter on with all now.
    6. Moving on, ask your assistant or friend attempt to start the vehicle again. When the ignition turns on, there should be a drop in voltage, with the target range for a drop of voltage around 0.5V.
    7. For a drop that is more or less thank that 0.5V, you need to replace your solenoid.
    8. Always remember that your target voltage range for a battery is around 12V. So, if your multi- meter has a reading far from this number, then the issue is with your battery and not the solenoid.

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