If you're wondering, “what is a car solenoid?” it is a small metal component responsible for sending the signal from the ignition switch to the starter motor to get the engine running.
Our vehicles consist of many internal components that interact with each other to get us going every morning. Some of these components might be obvious, and we might hear about them frequently, like the engine, transmission, etc.
However, there are some components that we might not come across frequently, like the car solenoid, which is part of the starting system. Therefore, it is important for you as a driver to familiarize yourself with some of these components, especially those who are more susceptible to damages than others. This way, you are prepared to replace the components and eliminate some practices that could damage them prematurely.
This article provides you with an overview of what is a car solenoid. It highlights how this solenoid works and some of the symptoms indicating that the solenoid is going bad.
What is the car solenoid, and where does it sit?
The vehicle's solenoid, or what's referred to as the starter relays or the starter solenoid, is part of the starting system. It works together with several components to tell the vehicle went to start and when not to.
The starting process begins with turning the key in the ignition switch. Once that happens, the ignition switch sends a signal to the starter solenoid, asking it to close to certain metal points. After closing these points, the starter solenoid allows the electrical current to close the circuit and flow to the starter motor, so your vehicle's combustion process starts.
As you might notice, although the solenoid is a very small component, it plays a major role, and without a perfectly working starter solenoid, your vehicle cannot get started no matter what. While some workarounds get your vehicle started even if it doesn’t have a working starter solenoid, these workarounds require extra effort, including opening the hood and interacting with the battery.
The solenoid location differs depending on your vehicle type. For example, you might find it connected to the starter gear, starter control terminal, or starter motor. However, in some vehicles, the starter motor might be connected to additional components within the engine block somewhere between the ignition switch and the engine.
To get better guidance on where the solenoid sits, refer to your vehicle owner’s manual for accurate guidance.
How does the car solenoid work?
The solenoid works uniquely to immediately start the combustion process once you turn the key in the ignition switch. Here’s a step by step process on how does the car solenoid work:
- Once you turn the key in the ignition switch, it sends a small electrical current to the starter solenoid, indicating that you’re ready to start the combustion process.
- The starter immediately closes large metallic components to close the circuit and allow the electrical current to reach the starter motor.
- Before the electrical current reaches the starter motor, the solenoid enlarges it proportionally and makes it big enough to start the combustion system.
What are the symptoms of a bad solenoid?
The starter solenoid is not designed to last forever, and there will be a point of time where it breaks down, requiring replacement. Your vehicle will let you know that the starter solenoid is going bad before it even does by showing some of the following symptoms:
No response after turning the key
The first and most obvious symptom indicating an issue with the starting process is nothing happening after turning the key in the ignition.
Keep in mind that if nothing happens after turning the key in the ignition switch, the problem might be linked to any other component like the battery, the alternator, the starter motor, etc. Therefore, if you want to confirm that the solenoid is the culprit, you must consult a professional mechanic and perform a thorough inspection.
If you heard some clicking noise every time you turn the key in the ignition, the problem is most likely related to either the starter motor or the starter solenoid. However, a quick inspection by your mechanic can pinpoint the actual culprit.
One thing to note is that when the clicking noise occurs repeatedly, the problem is most likely related to the battery, not the starter.
Engine starting on its own
When the starter solenoid goes bad, your engine might start by itself without setting the vehicle to the start position. This is because the solenoid is not doing its job by preventing the electrical current from reaching the starter motor. Therefore, the circuit will be completed allowing the engine to run. Of course, if that happens, you must consult a professional mechanic immediately to prevent other dangerous situations.
Starter doesn't disengage
Typically, when you turn the key in the ignition switch on and off, the starter motor should respond by connecting and disconnecting immediately. However, if you realize that the starter motor does not respond to turning off the ignition switch, it is a high chance that the solar solenoid has a problem.
Finally, when the starter solenoid goes bad, you won't be able to start your vehicle. You might get the vehicle going one spot if you try again; the process won't work. Thus, you would want to check all components involved in the sorting process, including the starter solenoid.
How do you check a solenoid to see if it's good?
As you might notice, most symptoms indicating that the solenoid is not in good condition might be related to other problems. Therefore, it's hard to tell and confirm whether the problem is related to the solenoid unless you perform a detailed targeted inspection.
The good news is that you can perform the inspection yourself without needing a professional mechanic. Here is all that you need to do to check a solenoid to see if it's in good condition:
Find the solenoid
The first step requires locating your vehicle solenoid. As we indicated before, solenoids might be in a variety of locations, and therefore, it's helpful to refer to your vehicle's owner’s manual to get accurate guidance.
Perform a click test
The common convention for testing a starter solenoid is to perform what's known as the click test. What you can do in this test is to have one of your family members or friends start the vehicle while you're sitting next to the solenoid monitoring its behavior. Again, it's important to keep a distance between the engine and yourself to prevent any risks.
Once your friend starts the car, monitor the behavior of the solenoid and listen for any clicking noises. If the clicking noise is loud, it indicates that the solenoid received the necessary amount of power from the battery, and it should be working as normal. However, when the clicking noise is not as loud, and it behaves repetitively, it indicates that the solenoid cannot receive the full charge from the battery, which could be a sign of a faulty battery. However, if you didn't hear any clicking noise from the solenoid side, it indicates that the solenoid is not working, and it should be replaced.
Use a multimeter
Another accurate method for testing the starter solenoid is using a multimeter. The multimeter is a small device that can measure any voltage in any electrical component.
To use the multimeter, you need to connect properly to the starter motor. You want to make sure that the positive terminal, which is usually red, is connected to the positive wire of the multimeter wildly negative terminal of the starter solenoid connected to the multimeter's negative wire.
Keep in mind that the process should be done while wearing protective glasses and keeping a distance between yourself and the vehicle.
After connecting the starter solenoid properly to the multimeter, you can ask one of your family members or friends to get the vehicle started. Immediately, you should see a drop in the voltage, starting with 12 volts going all the way to 0.5 volts. However, if the drop was not the same or saw more drop than what it should, it indicates a problem with the starter solenoid. Therefore, you must replace it immediately to keep your vehicle operating normally.
Can you fix a starter solenoid?
While the starter solenoid is a small component, you don't necessarily have to replace it when it goes bad. If you have the right level of mechanical skill sets, I can fix the solenoid and replace any faulty internal parts.
However, if you're not comfortable doing that appears yourself, it's recommended that you leave it to the professionals to prevent causing major issues to the searchers solvent itself to form the starting system in the vehicle.
DIY's do not work the first time, and if you have a modern car that is relatively expensive, we never advise you to experience them in your vehicle unless you are 100% sure that you can do the job.
Can I drive with a bad solenoid?
The answer depends on your situation. For example, if you are already driving the vehicle and the solenoid goes bad, you will continue driving the car until you get to a certain stop.
However, if you're planning to start the vehicle in the morning without a working solenoid, you won't be able to do so, and your vehicle will not respond to turning the key in the ignition switch. So unless there you follow certain workarounds to skip the starter solenoid, you won't be able to drive the car.
Keep in mind that the starter solenoid is part of the starting process, which means that it's only involved to get your vehicle going first thing once the vehicle is running; the starter solenoid doesn't have anything to do. If it goes bad, that is not a problem.
Obviously, when you confirm that you have a problem with the starter solenoid, you must get it repaired or replaced immediately to prevent getting stuck in places where you can't ask for help to get your vehicle running.
What causes the starter solenoid to go bad?
Although the starter solenoid is one of the most durable components in your vehicle, it fails sometimes. Understanding what causes the starter solenoid to go bad is essential to prevent damaging the starter solenoid as much as possible.
Usually, the starter solenoid goes bad because of an issue related to the battery. Here are some of the common causes that could damage the starter solenoid:
- When your battery doesn't have the required amount of power.
- When the battery terminals are rusted and have built-up corrosion preventing the electrical current from reaching the different electrical components
- When you have a problem with the red cables that are connected to your battery
Your vehicle is filled with internal components that you might not be familiar with. However, it is recommended for you as a driver to familiarize yourself with some of these components over time.
The starter solenoid is a small component within your starting system. It is responsible for receiving the small electrical current from the ignition switch and sending it to the starter motor, so it gets your engine started.
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