Symptoms of A bad Starter Motor and Starter Solenoid

How many times have you sat down wondering why your car won’t start? There are very few things that can be more frustrating than a vehicle that won’t start in the morning, and you parked it fine the last time you used it. The most likely problems with a dead car are a bad alternator, a dead battery, or a malfunctioning starter. These car parts all work together to provide the vehicle with the electrical power necessary for igniting the car, running it, and operating electrical features like sound systems, wipers, and power windows.

Therefore, you need to learn the symptoms of a bad starter to distinguish and diagnose your car with a starter problem accurately. Here, we will explore the signs that mean a car starter is going bad, the possible causes of damage to a starter, and how to fix a car with an already spoilt starter.

symptoms of a bad starter motor

What is a Starter Motor?

To adequately explore vehicle starter problems, you need to understand what a starter Motor is and what its functions are in a car’s operation. A starter is the car part responsible for converting electrical energy from the battery into mechanical energy by rotating the crank of an internal combustion engine to initiate engine function and start it from rest. How does the starter work?

As you turn on the car’s ignition, the starter solenoid receives energy from the car battery. The solenoid relays this battery power to the starter motor. While powering the starter motor, the starter solenoid also moves the starter gear to align it with the flex plate. Having received power, the starter motor cranks the engine, and it mixes fuel and oxygen proportionally to allow combustion, and thus, the vehicle starts running.

Therefore, the starter plays a massive role in enabling the car to move.

What are the Common Bad Starter Symptoms?

Starter solenoids and motors rarely fail suddenly. They fail gradually and display several signals along the way, and if you are observant, you can take action soon enough before they fail. Therefore regularly watch out for the following bad starter symptoms that can help you identify the underlying cause of your starter problems before they completely die off.

bad starter sound

Strange Noise When Starting the Car

The first symptom of a bad starter is unusual sounds when you turn the key or push the start button to start your car. In earlier days, you may notice strange clicking sounds. However, some starters can skip the clicking sounds and go straight to the more alarming whirring and grinding noises that mean they are already badly damaged.

The sounds start when the starter drive gear does not engage well because it is old and worn out. The whirling or grinding sound resembles the sound made when you turn the ignition a second time after you have already switched the car on.


Freewheeling is when you turn the ignition on and hear a whining noise, but the car doesn’t power up. Sometimes, you may even jumpstart your vehicle, but it refuses to pick up. This unfortunate occurrence happens because the starter cannot engage with the flywheel. This is a critical situation that could mean you have to replace the whole component. Whenever you encounter freewheeling problems, don’t only replace the starter; take your vehicle for inspection to find out the underlying problems that destroyed the starter.

The car started after several ignition attempts.

A well-functioning vehicle is supposed to start at the first attempt you turn the ignition. Making several attempts at turning the ignition before the vehicle powers is how you tell if the starter relay is bad. A starter relay is not designed to send partial current. It either sends sufficient energy, or it doesn’t send anything at all. Damaged relays take several attempts for them to send the current required to power the car.

Occasionally, this problem can be a worn-out starter motor brush symptom. These brushes conduct electricity from the stationary to the rotating parts of the vehicle starter. Therefore, damaged or worn-out brushes that don’t efficiently transmit adequate power can affect the starter relay process of the vehicle.

The starter remains on after igniting the vehicle.

After starting and releasing the key or the start button of your car, the starter motor automatically closes and disengages. If this doesn’t happen and the starter motor remains on after the vehicle engine has already started, it is a symptom of a bad starter Bendix or that the main contacts of the solenoid are stuck together in the closed position. You need to contact a mechanic with expertise in how to unstick a starter motor because it could have damaging effects on your car parts.

Smoke Emission after Starting Attempts

Because the car starting process significantly depends on electrical procedures, the system is prone to short-circuit, blown fuses, and other electrical malfunctions. When one part of the electrical system is supplied with more power than it can take, it will blow a fuse or overheat.

This can be due to connection problems or prolonged vehicle use without resting it. You will probably sell smoke and then see it coming from under the engine location. Overheating and some emissions are dangerous signs in a vehicle because gasoline is volatile and can explode with slight ignition. You should get out of your car and contact your auto mechanic as soon as you experience this symptom.

Starter Soaked with Oil

Whenever you experience any of the symptoms above, and you suspect that you have a starter, bad battery, or alternator problem, our first instinct will be to pop the hood and find out what is wrong. When you inspect and find your starter soaked in oil, don’t attempt to start the vehicle again. You probably have a burst pipe or hose that leaked the oil that caused your starter to malfunction. Find out the source of the leak and solve it before taking any other steps.

Symptoms of a Bad Starter Solenoid

We have already established that a starter solenoid is a vital part of the vehicle ignition and starting system. We went further to explain that the starter solenoid has two primary functions:

  • Delivering a high current from the battery and, therefore, acting as an on-and-off switch for the starter motor.
  • Mechanically driving the pinion and engaging it to the engine’s flywheel rear gear by using the force generated electromagnetically.

Therefore, the symptoms that you have a failing starter solenoid will revolve around the starter failing because the starter solenoid isn’t able to operate as required.

bad starter solenoid symptoms

Successive Clicks and Grinds When you turn the Ignition Key

Starter motor problems clicking or grinding during cranking indicate that the starter solenoid is holding back because it isn’t receiving or giving out enough power. The most probable cause for this could be welded or worn-out contacts at the solenoid. Furthermore, loose connections or electrical malfunctions are also possible causes for insufficient power transmission at the starter solenoid.

Insufficient power leads to the dissipation of low mechanical force required to crank and drive the mechanical parts of the vehicle. Hence, the vehicle makes strange noises when you try to start it.

Read Also: How to Start a Car with a Bad Ignition Switch [Symptoms and How to Fix it]

The Starter keeps Rotating after Disengaging the Ignition Key or Button

This is a symptom of burnt-out contact. It results from the contacts being exposed to high currents and heat over time, causing the surfaces to melt and fuse. If left unattended, it can lead to more damage to the whole starter system by subjecting it to unceasing and dangerously high currents.

When the solenoid is exposed to progressive heat because of the high current it transmits, its surfaces melt and mesh together. Therefore, the solenoid’s return spring doesn’t have enough elasticity to disengage the motor from the engine.

The starter solenoid makes a clicking sound, but the starter does not rotate.

When the starter clicks when you turn the ignition, the vehicle does nothing. It may mean you have a broken or defective starter motor-solenoid connection. It can also be due to solenoid corrosion, dirt, or electrical breakages in your starter solenoid.

Read Also: Types of Car Key: How to Start a Car Without Key?

What Causes Premature Starter Solenoid Problems?

The reasons for a starter solenoid to spoil prematurely may vary. However, there are commonly known factors that speed up their wear and tear. Here are a few reasons why your starter solenoid may go bad.

Bad Wiring: Hurried and poor wiring is a likely cause of starter solenoid malfunction. Bad wiring causes inadequate electrical transmission within the vehicle engine, which can cause eddy currents or electric shorts. A simple example of a bad wiring instance is when you loosely or wrongly connect the terminals of your vehicle’s engine parts.

Excessive Heat Production: As previously mentioned, excessive heat produced by electric transmission at the solenoid is what causes a starter to burn out. The heat causes the brushes and the starter Bendix to melt and fuse, which creates a problem when the starter attempts to connect to the engine for power transmission.

Moisture: When moisture enters your hood and gets to your starter solenoid, it affects the electric contacts by causing corrosion. Continual corrosion of the contacts reduces starter conductivity and, thus, the efficiency of the starting mechanism of your car. Eventually, you will hear clicking when you turn our ignition on, but the vehicle won’t start because of insufficient power transmission.

Tightened Bolts: Most people over-tighten bolts and nuts, forgetting that most of the vehicle parts depend on rotation for them to function. Most of the time, you damage the external and the inside parts of the starter when you toughly tighten it using tools with high torque. That makes the starter parts rigid and can either lead to shorting or mechanical failure when the starter attempts to connect the starter motor to the engine.

How do You Fix a Bad Starter Motor?

In the instance where you identify that your starter only malfunctioned due to a minor issue, you can get your tools box and fasten the loose connections of your vehicle. However, more serious damages may require total replacement or the help of a professional mechanic to diagnose and fix your car.

When you establish that it is not your battery or your alternator but your starter that is at fault, you will need to test the extent of its damage before buying a replacement for it.

The simplest starter solenoid test is tested using a multimeter. While wearing protective gloves, do prevent burns during your inspection, locate the starter, and connect the positive multimeter terminal to the corresponding starter terminal. Similarly, connect the black negative terminal from the multimeter to the negative starter terminal. Have someone start the vehicle and check if the multimeter reading is within 0.4V and 0.6V.

If the multimeter reading displays anything that is not within this range, then your starter solenoid is faulty. Furthermore, if your reading is way above the battery’s 12 V, it means your battery is also faulty.

You also shouldn’t worry if you don’t have a multimeter because you can simply test the starter solenoid using a screwdriver. You can do this by connecting the two terminal posts of the starter solenoid using the screwdriver and watching if it rotates. If the starter rotates normally, then the solenoid contacts have malfunctioned and can no longer act as a switch for the starter.

Establishing that you have a bad starter is the daunting part of fixing your starter problem. If you wish, you can replace the faulty part independently. However, it is good practice to replace the whole starter altogether. It will save you the trouble of dealing with recurring problems in the future.

You can purchase a starter online or from your nearest auto dealer and replace the starter in a few minutes.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)

Bad starter problems are not only common for new car owners but for everyone. Here are a few answers to the questions that you may have if you suspect you have a starter problem.

What happens to a car when the starter goes out?

After a series of malfunctioning symptoms like clicking or grinding, the starter will eventually shut down. When the starter goes out, it won’t be able to transmit any power to light up your engine. Therefore, your car won’t start. Using a jumper starter to power the batter also will not help you power up the car. You can only start a car that has a failed starter solenoid but a working starter motor. You can do so by connecting the anodes of the battery and the starter temporarily using lead wire. Start the car and rush to the nearest car repair shop to have your starter fixed.

How to tell if it’s Your Starter or Your Battery with a Problem

You can diagnose your vehicle starter problem by trying to jumpstart the vehicle. A car with a faulty battery will turn on during a jump start. However, the car will need another jump start to power when it switches off. Jumpstarting a car with a faulty starter won’t power it on. That is because the engine needs to crank and the fuel to combust for it to have the energy to drive off. A car can only crank through the use of a starter motor.

Will the Engine turn over if The Starter is bad?

The starter has to transmit electrical energy from the battery to convert it into electromagnetic energy with mechanical power to initiate turning the engine. Therefore, a car with a faulty starter cannot turn the engine to allow fuel combustion.

What does a dead starter sound like?

A dead starter produces a clicking sound when you turn or press the ignition button. The clicking sound resembles the sound you hear when you have a dead battery or loose terminals. The clicks are meant to signify insufficient power transmission from the battery to the engine through the starter.

How much does it cost to fix a starter?

Just like other parts of your vehicle, the cost to repair a starter can cost as little as $200 to as high as $1000, depending on your vehicle model. You need to factor in the cost of the starter part and the mechanical labor charge of your mechanic. A new starter ranges from $100 to $450, while your mechanic can charge you anything from $80 to $300.

Can AutoZone test a starter?

Yes. According to their website, if you are willing to go to their shop, AutoZone can test your starter without any charges. AutoZone is a renowned automotive part retailer in America that allows customers to purchase their products physically or remotely through their website.

Final Words

We have discussed what a starter is, its functionality, symptoms, and causes for it to malfunction, together with the way to test and fix your car if you have a bad starter. However, let me provide you with a simple summary if you were in a rush to go through the whole article.

A starter transmits the electrical energy required to turn the engine and initiate combustion for the car to start running. When your car starter malfunctions, the car won’t start, but it will produce clicking sounds. When it’s on its way to failing, it may crank the engine with some trouble, thus producing a grinding sound when you start the car. You should inspect and fix your starter problem as soon as you notice the listed symptoms to avoid further expenses in the future.

Read More:

Osuagwu Solomon

Osuagwu Solomon is a certified mechanic with over a decade of experience in the mechanic garage, and he has over five years of experience in the writing industry. He started writing automotive articles to share his garage experience with car enthusiasts and armature mechanics. If he is not in the garage fixing challenging mechanical problems, he is writing automotive repair guides, buyer’s guides, and car and tools comparisons.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts