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Is My Starter Bad?

The starter of your vehicle is one part that helps gets your car started. The starter is turned on by the ignition key which then turns the engine at the same speed to suck fuel and air into the cylinders for compression. When working properly, your starter will “turn over” your engine. This means that it will make the noise that it normally makes when you start up your car. If your car is making this noise but not starting, then the problem is not with your starter but with some other component. The only job a starter does is turn over the engine but there are many other parts and systems that all must work together and play a vital part in the function of your vehicle.

The symptoms of a bad starter can reveal themselves in various ways. The following symptoms are the most common issues.

Starter Slowly Turning the Engine Over

Sometimes a bad starter results in the engine slowly turning over. This is noticeable by the sound of your engine along with the lights on your dash getting very dim while trying to start the vehicle. Your battery terminals will get hot, along with the entire battery cable. You may also notice that bright lights get very dim when you try to start the vehicle and it doesn’t start up right away. This could all point to a problem with your starter. If your battery terminals are clean and still get hot, along with the battery cable then it is a good indication that the problem is with your starter. Typically this means that it will need a complete rebuild or replacement due to worn out bushings, brushes, or shorted commutator or windings.

Starter Making a Click Noise

If you attempt to start your vehicle and hear a click instead of the engine turning over this could indicate a bad solenoid. The starter itself requires a large electric current. It is not possible for any ordinary switch to turn it on. The solenoid itself is just a switch operated by electricity. The solenoid is a small switch that turns on an electromagnet which completes the circuit. This allows the switch to be turned on and off quickly which prevents dangerous sparking. For many vehicles, the solenoid is actually on the starter. However, Fords and a few others have an external solenoid.

Occasionally, if you keep trying to start the vehicle, it will work, but chances are your starter is worn out and it will not last much longer. This can be due to a wiring issue from the key switch to safety interlocks or antitheft devices, but it is most often the starter that is not working properly. With GM vehicles and many others that have starters with the solenoid on top, the solenoid may have bad contact when grounding through the starter brushes resulting in the silence when you attempt to start your vehicle. When you turn the key in your ignition to “start” then the solenoid should be getting around 12 volts. If the voltage is there but the engine is still not turning over then the problem is with the starter.

Temporarily Fixing Your Starter

One trick that could be a temporary fix for starting your vehicle is tapping on the rear of the starter. If you turn the key and the engine does not try to turn over and instead is silent, you can sometimes make it start one more time by taking a regular hammer and gently tapping on the side of the starter towards the rear, while someone else is holding the key in the “start” position. This can help it turn over the engine one more time. It is important to remember that this is in no way a permanent fix and you will still need to have the work done to get the part rebuilt or replaced. This works because the brushes wear out which results in an inadequate electrical contact. By gently tapping on the back of the starter with the hammer, the brushes are knocked back into place so they can make contact one more time. Even if you are able to start your car more than once by using this method, it is important that you seek repair or replacement quickly as this method will not work for an indefinite amount of time. It is best to use this opportunity to get your vehicle to a location in which it can be repaired.

Starters in Fords

If your vehicle is a Ford, it is important to note that many Ford vehicles use an external starter solenoid which is usually mounted on the fender or firewall. If you make an attempt to start your vehicle and get only silence in return, this could mean that the solenoid is actually the problem. Many Ford solenoids are grounded through the bolts that are holding them to the body of your vehicle, so it is important to make sure that the bolts are clean and tight for a good ground. A bad ground at the battery can also make the solenoid malfunction.

A Ford starter solenoid can also fail because it will sometimes weld the contacts together. If this is the case, it will keep turning the engine over even after you release your ignition switch from the “start” position. When this happens, sometimes the only way to stop it is to remove one of the battery terminals to cut the power. This is usually more common with inexpensive brands of solenoids. It is important to get a name brand solenoid to ensure that it has been properly crafted with high quality materials.

Starter Drive Failure

It is also possible for a starter to fail in the starter drive. When this happens, your vehicle’s engine will start to turn over but then will suddenly make a higher pitched noise. The engine will stop turning over but the starter motor will keep going. Usually when the starter drive fails, the brushes and other components are about gone as well. Rather than attempt to repair just the starter drive since the other components are more than likely worn out, it is beneficial to either rebuild the entire starter or just purchase a new or rebuilt unit.

Issues Commonly Mistaken for Starter Problems

There are many things that can result in your vehicle not starting and a bad starter is just one of many. One of the first things you can do when your vehicle isn’t starting properly is to check for loose or dirty battery terminals or connections. You may need to clean the terminals and tighten the connections to make sure there is good contact. Multiple rapid clicks when starting your vehicle can also mean that your vehicle’s battery is dead or that you may have a bad battery terminal or a bad connection. When in doubt, it is always best to speak with your mechanic about the issues you are experiencing with your vehicle. An experienced mechanic will be able to quickly diagnose the problem and help repair any issues your vehicle may be having.

If you have any questions about starters or your vehicle not starting properly, please call us at Lorentz Automotive.


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