Blog Car Care Advice 5 Bad Starter Symptoms (+ How You Can Diagnose Them)
Car Care Advice

5 Bad Starter Symptoms (+ How You Can Diagnose Them)

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Picture this: It’s a beautiful morning, and you’re feeling pumped for the day ahead. 

But it all comes crashing down when you twist your ignition key, and your car goes, “nah, not today, buddy” — and refuses to start

Quite a bummer, isn’t it? So why does this happen?
Well, your car may not start due to bad starter motor problems. 
Hint: A starter motor (as its name suggests) is responsible for starting your engine.

In this article, we’ll explore some bad starter symptoms and how a starter motor works. We’ll also cover how you can diagnose those starter issues

This Article Contains:

Let’s get started.

5 Bad Starter Symptoms

From unusual noises to oil leaks — anything can point to faulty starter problems. 
Here are some bad starter symptoms that can help clue you into the problem:

1. Engine Won’t Start

An obvious sign of a bad starter is that your car won’t crank or start.

Yes, many issues, like a faulty alternator, a bad car battery, or a malfunctioning ignition switch, may prevent the engine from cranking. But they’re often accompanied by other signs like rapid clicking for a bad battery.

For a bad starter, you may most likely hear a single click. This may be because your solenoid (inside the starter motor) is trying to engage, but the internal components are stuck and unable to work properly.

2. Grinding Noise When You Start the Engine

There are three possible reasons why you hear a grinding noise related to starter problems:

3. Freewheeling When You Start the Engine

Freewheeling is when you try to crank the engine, and all you get from the starter is a whining sound.

So why does this happen?
It’s usually because a bad car starter doesn’t engage with the flywheel. This is a serious issue, and you may have to replace the entire starter or engine if you’re too late. 

4. Smoke is Coming From Your Car

Your starter is a part of the car’s electrical system and is susceptible to shorts and reliant on fuses

For example, a likely electrical issue behind the alarming smoke under your hood can be a shorted car starter. One way this could happen is when you try to start your car multiple times. This overheats the starter motor, leading to electrical system issues, plus the smoke. 

5. Oil Has Soaked the Engine

Sometimes, unexpected leaks in the engine oil system can soak the starter completely, causing your car starter to malfunction. 

In such cases, you may not only have to replace your failing starter but also fix the oil leaks to prevent any further damage to the starter. 

Next, let’s find out how a starter motor functions.

How Does a Starter Work?

But first, some important components of the starter are:

Here’s what goes down when you start your car:
The ignition switch alone doesn’t have enough power to start the car. So it sends a small current to the starter solenoid or the starter relay, which is then used to open and close an electric circuit between the starter and the car battery. 

At the same time, the starter solenoid pushes the pinion gear out to help engage with the flywheel. Now if you’re an automatic car owner, the flywheel will be a flexplate. 

Note: Some cars have either a solenoid or a starter relay. In cars that use both, the starter relay (located inside the engine compartment) usually triggers the solenoid. 

The starter motor will then rotate the pinion gear — spinning the flywheel to crank the engine. 
As a result, the engine starts spinning, sucking in air and fuel. Meanwhile, electricity travels to spark plugs and ignites the fuel in the combustion chamber. 

And Voila! Your car comes to life!

So how do you troubleshoot a starter problem?
Let’s find out.

How Do You Diagnose Bad Starter Symptoms?

Here’s how you can find out what causes a bad starter motor:

1. Test the Car Battery

Batteries fail more often than starters. It’s possible that your starter troubles could be caused by a weak or dead battery or faulty battery wires. 

So ensure that the battery terminal is clean and the cables are in good condition before you diagnose other problems. 

Also, test your battery to make sure it isn’t a weak battery or out of charge. A sufficiently charged battery should register at least 12.6 V. If it’s low, charge your battery and test again.

2. Tap the Starter

You can try and wake up the starter by gently tapping on it.

That’s because gentle tapping brings each electrical component in the starter in contact with each other and may help power up the bad car starter. 

However, this is just a temporary fix — so make sure you get to your mechanic in time. 

3. Adjust the Transmission

Is your automatic transmission car not starting in the park gear? 
Before you start worrying, try starting the car in neutral gear

If it starts in neutral gear, it means your car may be facing a technical problem that’s preventing it from starting in the parking gear, for example, a faulty neutral safety switch.

4. Check that Power is Getting to the Starter Solenoid

Since the starter solenoid is the one that connects the car battery to the starter motor, you need to test if the solenoid is getting any power at all. 

Here’s what you should do:

Once you diagnose the starter problem, it’s best to fix it ASAP before it cascades into an expensive repair.

Wrapping Up

Whether you hear a grinding noise or your car freewheels, starter motor problems can be a real pain for a car owner. And it needs to be dealt with fast. 

However, bad starter problems can be caused by a range of issues, like a bad starter solenoid, cooling system issues, or a dead battery — so it’s hard to diagnose on your own. 

And that’s where AutoNation Mobile Service comes in!

AutoNation Mobile Service is a mobile car repair and maintenance solution, available seven days a week. We offer upfront pricing, convenient online booking, and a 12-Month, 12,000-Mile warranty on all your repairs.

So why wait?
Get in touch with AutoNation Mobile Service and get your bad starter fixed in no time — right in your own driveway.