How to tell if a starter is bad.

How to tell if a starter is bad happens to be when you’re in a situation where your car just won’t start. In this guide, we will walk you through the telltale signs that indicate a bad starter.

A common sign of a faulty starter is when your car engine fails to start altogether. These indicators will equip you enough to diagnose the issue and take appropriate action.

You turn the key, but nothing happens – no revving sounds or car ignition. A clicking noise coming from under the hood when you attempt to start your vehicle is another indicator to look out for.

Furthermore, dimming headlights while starting the car could be an indication of a bad starter. A burning smell emanating from the starter area is also part of the list.

This can occur due to electrical issues or oil leaks near the starter motor. These signs are strong indications that your starter may need attention.

Bad starter symptoms: How to identify a failing starter.

Keep an ear out for strange noises like grinding or whining when starting your vehicle. Furthermore, pay attention if there are any burning smells coming from under the hood or exhaust area.

Understanding bad starter symptoms will play an essential role in preventing you from being stranded somewhere. If you suspect that your vehicle’s starter is failing, these are some of the things that will point you towards that direction.

1. Intermittent starting.

The starter may work on one occasion and fail in another. Causing you to jumpstart your car regularly within a short period of time.

Inconsistency from the intermittent starting points to a faulty starter. Additionally, it could point to a bad car battery or other electrical issues.

2. Smoke or sparks from the starter.

Keep an eye out for smoke or sparks coming from the starter while attempting to start your car. Electrical issues lead to smoke which you will smell after a few starting attempts.

Furthermore, an overheating starter motor produces a burning smell or electrical odor as you attempt to start your car engine.

3. Clicking sound.

This is common for cars which uses keys in the ignition process. A clicking sound comes from the attempts of turning the key without the results of engine turnover.

A starter motor that won’t engage produces this clicking sound. However, the starter solenoid could be fully functional during this encounter.

4. Grinding noises during startup.

Grinding, whirring, or high-pitched screeching noises from the engine area point to a failing starter. Additionally, worn-out gears engaging with the flywheel could be the cause of these noises.

Listen closely when starting your vehicle. If you don’t hear a smooth start, it is likely that your starter needs attention.

5. Lights dimming.

Turn on the lights before starting the engine. Dim Interior lights and headlights after you try to start the engine, indicate that the starter is drawing excess power in the process.

If this power drain will not result to engine cranking, then there is a problem with the starter. This observation calls for further investigation.

A dead car battery is one of the reasons for the car not starting. However, when lights turn on while the engine is off, the dead battery isn’t the reason why there is no engine turnover.

6. Damaged wiring or frayed cables.

Inspect the wiring and cables connected to the starter. This will involve opening the car hood and locating where the starter is placed. Look for any signs of damage, such as

Fraying or exposed wires are some of the signs of damage that you’ll be looking for. Replace any damaged wiring or cables to prevent further issues.

7. Slow or no cranking.

Immediate engine cranking is what the vehicle’s starting system design is meant to achieve. The starter motor is responsible for cranking the engine quickly.

However, delayed engine turnover, slow cranking and weak cranking results from a faulty starter. Additionally, a clicking sound during ignition will point you to a failing starter.

8. Loose or corroded connections.

Check for any loose or corroded connections in your starter system. Ensure that all wires and cables are securely attached. Tighten any loose connections and clean off any corrosion.

9. Dashboard warning lights.

On board computers in modern vehicles will usually have a diagnostic code that’s programmed in them to indicate a faulty starter or starting system.

An OBD-II scanner will read the code from the diagnostic systems and give you a precise conclusion. Additionally, a dashboard warning light will show up to alert you of the problem.

If your starter is experiencing problems following these steps can help you to easily land on a conclusion.

Checking for loose connections and damaged wiring, listening for grinding noises, and watching out for smoke or sparks. Time to repair or replace your failing starter will be determined by these issues.

How to test a starter.

The skill of testing a starter can be for all car owners and professional mechanics. Testing a starter can help you to diagnose and address potential problems.

Testing the car starter could be part of the car maintenance schedule. Furthermore, it is a cost-effective way of keeping your vehicle in a good condition.

There are several ways of testing a starter. The starter health will be determined by all of them. Therefore, pay close attention.

Starter terminals voltage measurement.

A multi-meter will be used in this test. Firstly, you will have to set the multimeter voltage measurement function.

Secondly, connect the positive (red) probe of the multi-meter to the positive terminal of the starter motor. Attach the negative (black) probe of the multi-meter to a good ground on the vehicle.

This good ground is usually a metallic part of the car body around the engine area. Turn on your vehicle’s ignition and attempt to start it.

Afterwards, observe the voltage reading on the multi-meter. If it shows a voltage close to battery voltage (around 12 volts), this indicates that power is reaching the starter motor.

Starter circuit voltage drop test.

Firstly, set your multi-meter measurement to measure voltage drop. There are different measurement options on a multi-meter consists.

The multi-meter should connect to the positive terminal of your battery on one end. However, the starter motor cable should connect to the other end of the multi-meter lead.

Attach another multi-meter lead from where you connect your first lead. Connect that one to another point in that same circuit, such as a connection point or terminal.

Start your vehicle’s engine while monitoring for any significant voltage drop across these connections. A substantial drop in voltage, may indicate an issue with high resistance in that particular section of the starter circuit.

Amperage draw test on the starter motor.

The solenoid delivers electric current to the starter motor. Ensure that you take safety precautions before proceeding with this test.

This test will be done using an ammeter device. Connect an ammeter in series with one of these disconnected cables or terminals connected directly to your starter motor.

Attempt to start your vehicle while keeping an eye on ammeter readings. Compare these readings with manufacturer specifications or consult professional for guidance if they’re available.

Because different vehicles may have varying acceptable ranges. If the measurements are off, you should seek further assistance.

Testing the solenoid power.

Locate and identify your starter solenoid. Solenoid supplies power to the starter motor during ignition. The solenoid is usually attached near or integrated into your starter motor assembly.

Firstly, you can check the solenoid by listening to it. This process will require two people. Whereby, one of them will work the starter switch, while the other person listens to how the solenoid sounds.

A working solenoid produces a clicking sound as the contacts close. However, if this isn’t the case, the issue could be arising from;

  • Faulty ignition switch.
  • Bad wiring.
  • Faulty ignition terminals.

Remember, starters can also experience other issues like broken teeth on their gears or electrical problems within their circuits.

A bad battery or a faulty starter motor could be causing these symptoms. Therefore, consult with a qualified mechanic who can diagnose and fix your car’s starting system problems efficiently.

What causes a starter to go bad.

Promptly address the symptoms above with your car’s starting system. Ignoring bad starter symptoms can lead to further damage or leave you stranded unexpectedly.

Wear and tear.

Vehicle’s ignition system cannot function without essential components like starters. Starters may experience issues, over time, that prevent them from functioning properly.

Starter wear and tear is one common cause for starters going bad. As with any mechanical part, constant use can lead to deterioration over time.

Excessive load.

A starter experiences excessive load when you attempt to start the vehicle while there is a severely discharged or failing battery.

If this continues for a long time, it causes excess strain on the starter motor. Hence causing it to overheat and eventually leading to irreversible damage.

Electrical problems.

Secondly, electrical problems are another factor that can contribute to a faulty starter. Short circuits or faulty relays within the electrical system can disrupt the flow of power needed for the starter motor to engage.

These issues often require professional diagnosis and repair. Because ignoring this will lead to further damage which will increase repair costs.

Bad starting procedure.

There are people who do not allow the starter to complete the full starting cycle. This is known as bumping. Repeated bumping is harmful to your starter and will cause irreversible damage.

Additionally, continuous engine cranking without giving resting space also leads to a problematic starter. Give the starter a chance to rest in between each ignition attempt.

Excessive heat damage.

Excessive heat within the engine bay can also be detrimental to starters. The intense temperatures generated by the engine can cause heat damage, leading to malfunctions or complete failure of the starter.

It is important to ensure proper cooling mechanisms are in place and regularly maintained. Furthermore, the process with which ignition takes place also generates heat which may lead to damage from overheating.

Manufacturing defects.

When they’re released from the factory, different standards are observed to ensure that the starter is fully functional. However, due to the varying number of manufacturers, the starter may have some defects.

These will be the first reason why the starter fails. Such defects can only be detected when the starter is in use. Therefore, source your starter from trusted manufacturers with a truck record of delivering quality.


Contamination is yet another potential culprit behind a bad starter. Oil leaks or water damage near the starter motor can introduce foreign substances into its internal components.

Hence impairing its ability to function effectively. When contamination comes from oil, its an indication that there is an underlying problem.

Therefore, further investigation into the issue of contamination is highly recommended. Otherwise, replacing the starter will only work temporarily.

Poor maintenance.

Changing the starter is amongst the maintenance activities at 100,000 miles. Therefore, ignoring this will lead to problems in the future.

However, before hitting this mileage, there are other regular activities that you can choose to undertake. For example; cleaning and tightening electrical connections.

These will ensure a longer car starter lifespan. Furthermore, take immediate action about issues that may arise over time.

Solutions for a bad starter.

The solution for a bad starter will depend on what is causing the problem. Therefore, there is a tailor made solution for each problem.

There are permanent fixes and temporary workarounds that get your starter to work. Avoiding replacement and repair costs depends on what you choose in relation to these solutions.

Inspect electrical components.

Examine wiring connections for loose or damaged wires. Ensure all electrical connections are secure and free from corrosion.

This will ensure that power transfer through out the ignition system is uninterrupted. Tighten any loose connections and restore current flow.

Starter rebuilding.

This is something a proffessional can do. Since they’re equipped with the necessary knowledge about the component parts and the skill for rebuilding.

The mechanic will take the starter apart [disassemble] and assess the component parts. After determining which parts are faulty, he/she will replace them.

Afterwards, he/she will reassemble the starter into its original form. This will lengthen the starter’s lifespan since the new parts will last for a long time.

Clean the connections.

Disconnect the battery cables from the starter terminals. There is a set procedure for disconnecting the car battery that you must follow. Otherwise you’re risking everything.

Dirty battery terminals lead to heavy power discharge during ignition. Therefore leading to damage of the starter motor in the long run.

Use a wire brush to remove any corrosion or debris and reconnect the cables tightly afterwards.

Starter tapping method.

This solution involves two participants. Whereby one of them uses a tool like a hummer or wrench to tap gently on the starter.

While the other one attempts to start the engine. The purpose of tapping on the starter is to free a stuck starter gear or solenoid. This will allow engagement which will start the vehicle.

Replace solenoid.

The ignition system solenoid is responsible for current transfer to the starter motor. Hence facilitating engine turnover during ignition.

Therefore, if the car battery life is healthy and you notice that the car refuses to start, the issue could be a faulty solenoid.

A multi-meter test will allow you to check if the solenoid is faulty. If the solenoid is defective, replace it with a new one.

Engine jump-starting.

This temporary solution to a vehicle starting problem is effective when the problem doesn’t come from the starter. It requires another vehicle whose battery is functional and some jumper cables.

A weak car battery discharge can sometimes cause the car engine not to start. The best temporary solution is to jumpstart the vehicle and you’ll be on your way in no time.

Seek professional help.

If you’re unsure about diagnosing or fixing starter issues, consult a mechanic. They have expertise in identifying problems and can provide appropriate solutions.

Importance of regular maintenance.

combustion engine starter

Regular maintenance plays a crucial role in preventing starter problems. You can reduce the likelihood of encountering starter issues by keeping up with maintenance tasks.

For example, checking battery health, inspecting electrical components, and cleaning connections. Neglecting regular maintenance can lead to more severe problems down the line, potentially resulting in costly repairs.

Remember that starters are essential components of your vehicle’s ignition system. Address starter problems promptly and efficiently requires an awareness of common symptoms and possible solutions.

You can ensure smooth engine starts and avoid being stranded due to a faulty starter by taking appropriate action at the first signs of trouble.

Symptoms of a bad starter relay.

A bad starter relay exhibits similar symptoms to a failing starter motor. Therefore, further inspection is necessary in order to differentiate between the two causes of problems.

The starter relay is also known as a starter solenoid. It plays the role of controlling the electric current flow from the car battery to the starter motor during ignition.

After current reaches the starter motor, it facilitates engine turn over. So that the vehicle can move from one location to the next.

We are going to provide a simplified list of the symptoms of a bad starter relay.

  • Rapid clicking noise when attempting to start.
  • No response when turning ignition key.
  • Difficulty starting even with fully charged battery.

Troubleshooting techniques: Tapping the starter.

Tapping lightly on the starter can sometimes temporarily fix connection issues. It will allow the starter to function properly.

Tapping the starter will dislodge a stuck solenoid or brushes. However, this method is not a permanent solution for starter problems.

Starter tapping is a diagnostic method of determining if the starter is indeed the culprit. Here are some steps to follow when troubleshooting your car’s starting issue.

Tapping the starter should be done with caution and safety precautions in mind. Remember that tapping is just one troubleshooting technique among many others available for diagnosing starters problems.

  • Ensure that your car is parked in a safe location and turned off.
  • Open the hood and locate the starter motor, typically found near the engine block.
  • Examine the battery terminals for any signs of corrosion or loose connections.
  • Grab a small tool like a wrench or hammer.
  • Gently tap on different parts of the starter, including the solenoid and brushes.
  • Pay attention to any changes in sound or behaviour while attempting to start your car.
  • If tapping causes your car to crank or start normally, it indicates that there might be an issue with the starter.

It’s important to note that tapping should only serve as a temporary measure. Afterwards, make arrangements for proper repairs by a qualified mechanic or technician at an auto repair shop.

Ignoring underlying issues could lead to further damage or more expensive repairs down the line.

If you’re experiencing other symptoms such as clicking noises, grinding sounds, or difficulty shifting gears in addition to trouble starting your vehicle, it’s advisable to have a professional inspect your battery, fuses, ignition switch, transmission, and other related components.

Consequences of ignoring a bad starter.

Inconvenient situations and costly repairs are among the undesirable consequences of ignoring a bad starter. Being aware of these potential outcomes motivates you to address any starter issues promptly.

Furthermore, these consequences show the importance of identifying whether your starter is functioning properly or not.

Regular maintenance and inspections are crucial for avoiding these potential problems associated with a bad starter.

Remember, if you notice any signs indicating that your starter might be failing, it’s essential to have it checked by a qualified mechanic as soon as possible.

For example, grinding noises when starting or intermittent starting issues.

Higher repair costs if left unaddressed.

If you ignore a bad starter and continue using your vehicle, it can cause additional damage over time. What could have been a simple fix might turn into a more complex repair job involving multiple components.

You can save yourself from unnecessary expenses by addressing the issue early on. The original starter issue could involve a single component part.

However, ignoring that could lead to the replacement of the starter. As well as other components of the ignition system. Which is much more costly.

Increased risk of accidents due to sudden breakdowns.

A bad starter can unexpectedly fail while you’re driving, causing your vehicle to break down suddenly. This sudden breakdown increases the risk of accidents.

Because it may catch other drivers off guard and potentially lead to collisions or dangerous situations on the road.

Damage to engine component parts.

A faulty starter can put additional strain on other engine components. For example, it interferes with the combustion process which involves other parts.

Additionally, when the starter fails, it might cause excessive current flow. Hence leading to damage in the vehicle’s electrical system.

Furthermore, this is bad for the battery. Neglecting this issue could result in further damage. After which there will be more expensive repairs down the line.


A bad starter can leave you stranded in the most inconvenient places since it interferes with the combustion process which leads to engine stalling.

For example, the vehicle may stall on busy intersections or in remote areas. Imagine being stuck without any means of starting your vehicle.

This will cause you to rely on assistance from other drivers or waiting for a tow truck. Such an inconvenience can be avoided if you address a bad starter early enough.

How to start a car with a bad starter

How do you start your car with a bad starter after identifying a failing starter and recognizing the symptoms of a bad starter. Here are a few tricks you can try even though it may seem like an impossible task.

One method is to tap on the starter gently with a hammer or wrench while someone else turns the ignition key. The starter will be back into action temporarily.

Another technique is to push-start your car if it has a manual transmission. High transmission maintenance is essential for this to work.

Get the vehicle moving by pushing it and then quickly release the clutch pedal to engage the engine. You’ll need some assistance for this one too.

Dealing with a bad starter can be frustrating, but it doesn’t mean you’re stranded without options. Follow the steps outlined in this blog post and try out some of the suggested techniques.

Get your car running again without having to immediately replace the entire starter system. However, address the underlying issue and have your starter repaired or replaced as soon as possible.

Because these methods work temporarily or only intermittently.

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