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7 Symptoms Of A Bad Or Failing Starter

7 Symptoms Of A Bad Or Failing Starter
16 March, 2022

When the starter in your car goes bad, you are “dead in the water,” so to speak. You can’t go anywhere when the starter no longer works. It can seem like it happened all of a sudden and without any warning. But, guess what? There are symptoms that can indicate you have a bad starter or one that is failing. If you are aware of these signs, you can possibly avoid being stranded.


A starting system problem can be caused by either poor maintenance or normal wear and tear. As you can suppose, a starter gets a lot of wear during its service life, so issues are common eventually. The recent Stop/Start technology in automobiles puts a greater strain on starter motors and batteries.


Most of the time, a starter motor and relay don’t just fail with no signs beforehand. However, that can happen too. Still, look for these seven symptoms that your starter is going bad.

#1: Engine Won’t Turn Over

The most common indicator that there is a problem with your starter is that nothing happens when you turn the key or push Start. The probable cause is that the starter relay or motor has burned out, or that there is an electrical problem. However, note that the problem may be caused by a dead battery as well. If you experience this symptom, you need to contact an experienced mechanic to inspect the starter, the ignition system, and other electrical components because it can be a sign of multiple issues.

#2: Noise – Clicking, Grinding, or Whirring

If you begin to hear a noise that you haven’t heard before when turning the key or pushing Start, you should pay attention. Any clicking, grinding, or whirring noise can indicate impending death for

the starter. When the starter components are worn out or are not engaging properly, it often produces a grinding noise similar to the one you hear if you accidentally engage the ignition switch again after starting the engine. If you ignore the grinding symptom, it can also result in damage to the engine flywheel.

#3: Intermittent Issues Starting the Vehicle

If you try starting your car and the engine doesn’t ignite instantly, then you try again and it works fine, you more than likely have a problem with the starter relay. The starter relay either sends full electrical current or sends nothing to the starter. It’s an all or nothing function. Sometimes a damaged relay can cause the starter to make a clicking sound when you turn the ignition.  So, if you experience both of these–intermittent starting and a clicking sound–take your vehicle to an experienced mechanic.

#4: Starter Stays On After Starting

The starting circuit should close after starting the engine and then either releasing the key or letting go of the Start button. If you hear a continuous grinding noise coming from under the vehicle after the engine is up and running, it may be that the starter relay has become stuck. When this happens, the relay will continue to run as though you are trying to start the car. The starter relay sticks when it has become welded together. You need to address this problem immediately. If the issue persists, the relay will be stuck in the ‘on’ position, which ultimately causes serious damage to the entire starter system and the transmission flywheel.

#5: Smoke

The starter is mechanical and is powered by electricity. If your car doesn’t start and you continue to try to start it, you can cause the system to overheat. When the starter overheats due to continued power being supplied, you will see or smell smoke coming from underneath the engine. Possible causes could be a short circuit, a blown fuse, or a problem with the ignition switch. Regardless, you should contact a certified mechanic as soon as you notice this situation.

#6: Starter Engages but Motor Won’t Start

You may turn the ignition switch or push Start and hear the starter activate, but the motor doesn’t crank over. Sometimes the issue with the starter is mechanical. In this case, a gear that is connected to the flywheel has stripped or become dislodged against the flywheel. Either way, the engine won’t turn over. When this happens, you will need to have the starter replaced by a certified mechanic.

#7: Battery

You may have lights on your dashboard and your headlights are working, so you think you have power to the starting system, but the engine isn’t turning over. This actually can be an issue with your battery because a lot of power is required to crank your engine. Try starting it with a jumper or starter pack. If it starts, this indicates a weak battery is the source of the problem. Many times, especially during the winter months, starting problems are related to the battery.


A variety of problems can lead to a bad starter, including:

  • Loose wiring to and from the starter
  • Dirty or corroded connections at the starter
  • Battery corrosion
  • Damaged or worn-out parts in the starter system
  • Oil leaks
  • Bad relay or fuse


The following tips can help you get a few more hundreds or even thousands of miles out of your starter motor:

  1. Keep the connectors, terminals and solenoid clean – ensuring that the motor receives enough power to fully rotate the engine. Dirty, corroded or worn connections can reduce the current available to the motor, making it work harder, which leads to increased fatigue.


  1. Ensure the mounting bolts are tight – to preserve the connection between the motor and the flywheel. Both parts are under a lot of pressure, and a bad connection can cause them to wear out quickly.


  1. Inspect the flywheel – over time the flywheel can become cracked, worn or even lose its teeth, impacting efficient engagement with the pinion gear on the starter motor. If you continue to force the starter motor to work with a broken flywheel, it will quickly diminish the lifespan of the part.


Cars undergo tremendous stress on the road, and it’s a testament to modern engineering that ride quality is of such a high standard and engine noise is so low. It’s almost easy to forget that cars wear out over time – and your starter motor is no exception.

Fortunately, replacing your starter motor is a job that most mechanically minded individuals with a reasonable degree of skill can take on. Allowing you to keep your car running smoothly, without having to deal with expensive workshop bills.

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