CAR STARTER PROBLEM [WITH SOUND] CAUSES-SOLUTIONS

car-starter-problems-causes-symptoms-solutions

Car starter is one of the most important parts of the car.

It’s in charge of setting the engine in motion and without it, instead of simply turning the ignition key, you’d probably be outside, sleeves up and manually cranking the car.

If you encounter a car starter problem, this article should help you pinpoint the problem and perhaps solve it.

We’ve also put some sound effects in to the article in hope that it will additionally help (in the symptoms and solutions part, lower in the text).

Besides causes and solutions, you can find some more useful information regarding the car starter problem.


 

HOW DOES THE CAR STARTER WORK?

Before we start, it wouldn’t hurt to take a short glimpse at how the car starter actually works.

If you have the time, click here for a great explanation on Wikipedia.

In a nutshell, the car starter is a direct current electric motor, mounted on to the gearbox, which cranks the engine.

When you turn the ignition key, it sets the starter in to motion, a drive gear in the car starter engages the flywheel (which is connected to the crankshaft) then the engine turns over and starts.


 

MAIN CAUSES OF CAR STARTER PROBLEMS

  • Frequent long cranking of the engine

key-wont-turn-in-ignition-working-steering-wheel-around

Car starters are built-in such a way to produce one short burst of force, so to say. One turn of the ignition key lasting a couple of seconds maximum should start the engine.

Otherwise, long and heavy cranking causes overheating of the car starter, excessive wear of its parts and eventually it’s failure.

So, if you have engine problems like low cylinder compression, problems with the ignition system, fuel intake or else solve them as soon as possible.

Avoid “laying” on the ignition key if the car won’t start. If the engine hasn’t started as usual, in a few seconds notice, leave it be and try to find the problem.

Remember that every long crank can severely shorten the normal working life of the car starter as well as damage it.

  • Lack of maintenance

car-starter-maintenance

 

Lots of drivers are not aware that car starters have a maintenance interval of their own. They are meant to be replaced or refurbished in a certain interval.

Mechanics, garages or dealers will do this usually when another maintenance job is due (like a dual mass flywheel replacement for instance). They will either replace the old car starter with a new one or disassemble, clean, replace faulty parts and reassemble the new one.

This maintenance interval is lengthy as a car starter should last up to 200.000 kilometers if the engine cranks properly. Perhaps this long service interval is the main reason why drivers forget it.

So, if the car starter is causing problems, check the odometer or maintenance book for when you had it maintained or checked the last time.


 

WHAT SHOULD YOU CHECK BEFORE MAKING A STARTER REPAIR?

Before you “accuse” the car starter of causing problems and proceed repairing it, check out these other, common reasons for poor cranking:

  • Car battery condition

car-battery

The car battery must always be in good condition. The car starter is absolutely dependent on a proper power supply. It has to give the starter o good initial “kick” in order for it to do its job properly.

This goes double for winter conditions and low temperatures. So, if you get symptoms like weak and slow cranking or no power at all (at the turn of the ignition key there are no dashboard lights, no cabin light or else) first check if the car battery is OK.

If the car battery needs to be replaced, click here for a separate article on that topic.

  • Battery terminal connections

car-wont-start-tight-battery-terminals

Besides the car battery, check the battery terminal connections. Namely if they are loose, corroded and if the inner sides of the terminal clamps are clean.

If any of these are present, you’ll get weak and slow cranking or, in more severe cases complete lack of power supply (you turn the ignition key and nothing happens).

  • Bad connections to the car starter

 car-starter-contacts

Take a look at the wires that are connected to the starter. You’ll find a thick, usually red colored, cable (or two) and a smaller one (or two) connected to the solenoid (that’s the cylindrical smaller part on top of the starter).

The thicker cable(s) will be held in place by a nut and washer while the thinner cable(s) will usually have a connector with a plastic sleeve (clip-on system).

Due mostly to vibration and exposure, these connections can get loose or corroded. This goes double for the thinner cable with the connector (which provides power from the ignition key).

The symptoms are very similar to a faulty car starter so this can lead to taking the starter off for nothing.

If you see that this might be a cause, first take off the minus battery terminal clamp and make a check; if you see the cables are loose or corroded, clean them and tighten up.

  •  Alternator voltage

check-alternator-voltage

The alternator is the one in charge of supplying the car with electricity and recharging the battery while the car is running.

Improper voltage will eventually drain the car battery and if you don’t notice, it will cause similar symptoms of a faulty car starter.

If you’re interested how to check the alternator voltage output, click here for a separate article on that topic or watch it on our You Tube channel.

  • Ground connections

car-wont-start-ground-connection-problems-bad-minus-battery-connection

Proper flow of electricity in the installation is vital for the car starter. No good ground connection, no good flow.

If there is a loose, damaged or filthy ground connection you’ll get weak and slow cranking. Many people have replaced and fixed the car starter for nothing only to come to the conclusion that a simple ground connection was the problem.

For the car starter, I recommend to check the main connection from the minus terminal of the car battery to the car body and from the car body to the engine or gearbox.

Make sure that they are clean and tightened.

  • Ignition switch

problems-with-ignition-switch

The ignition switch is the main switch for the starter. It sets it in to motion.

You can only imagine how many times it’s turned in the “life” of a car; thousands upon thousands of times so it’s no surprise when it fails. Material fatigue is the main cause, in most cases.

As with other problems, this one can also imitate starter problems. A faulty ignition switch will cause poor and weak cranking, the “click” sound with absence of cranking or no cranking at all (the lights on the dashboard just go a bit dim).

If you conclude the ignition switch is faulty, you can replace it. Usually it’s a pretty complicated procedure and shouldn’t be done if you have no previous experience around cars.

  • Additional relays

car-relays

Some cars may have additional relays for the car starter. This is mostly for better protection of the ignition switch from prematurely burning out because of high currents.

This is a rare problem and is mostly noticed by a weak power supply to the starter.

If it happens, it’s a simple replacement, just as long as you can properly diagnose the problem and find the relay.


 

SYMPTOMS AND SOLUTIONS TO A CAR STARTER PROBLEM

Finally, we’ll show you the symptoms and possible solutions to a car starter problem. As mentioned, you’ll also find sound effects to perhaps make things easier.

The lower mentioned symptoms and solutions mostly apply if you decide to take off the car starter and repair it (refurbish it). Nevertheless, if you decide to completely replace the car starter, take a look, you may find some useful information.

You can find more information about should you completely replace or refurbish the car starter lower in the article.

So, here we go:

1. Clicking sound when you turn the ignition key to crank

 

If you turn the key and you hear a “click” sound and the lights on the dashboard have a normal glow, then you should check these:

  • weak or corroded connection to the car starter (check the thinner cable coming from the ignition switch first, then the thicker power cable).
  • starter brushes (if they are depleted)
  • starter rotor
  • commutator on the rotor
  • solenoid (located on the starter)
  • shift fork-part of the starter that pushes the drive gear in to the flywheel (this fault is really, really rare)
  • weak or corroded ground connection
  • ignition switch

 

2. “Bzzzzzzzz” sound appears when you turn the ignition key but no cranking actually happens

 

One part of the car starter is the drive gear. Its main function is to engage the flywheel and crank the engine.

Overtime it wears out and starts to “slip” (it engages the flywheel but is unable to turn it). So once the faulty drive gear engages the flywheel, instead of cranking and producing the well-known cranking sound, it slips and produces the “bzzzzzzzzzzzz” sound.

The solution is taking off the car starter and replacing the drive gear.

3. Weak cranking

 

Weak cranking means the car starter is not achieving the proper turnover speed.

In the beginning the car may start but the problem eventually gets worse. In the end, the starter will fail completely.

Most common causes for this (if the car battery is OK) will be:

  • weak or corroded connection to the car starter (main power cable or the connection from the ignition switch)
  • depleted starter brushes
  • faulty rotor or stator (mostly this happens if the starter has been overheated with extensive cranking)
  • damaged rotor commutator
  • worn out bearings (front or rear)
  • starter solenoid
  • weak or corroded ground connection
  • ignition switch

 

  4. No cranking at all but when you turn the ignition key the dash lights go a bit dim.

When you turn the ignition key to crank and nothing happens except the dash lights go a bit dim (they don’t cut out completely) then you should check:

  • weak or corroded connection to the car starter (main power cable or the connection from the ignition switch)
  • starter brushes (if they are depleted)
  • commutator on the rotor
  • rotor
  • ignition switch
5. When you turn the ignition key there is no cranking and the power completely cuts out

If the electric power completely cuts out  when you turn the ignition then check:

  • car battery connection (check terminals and clamps if they are clean and tightened)

SHOULD YOU COMPLETELY REPLACE OR REPAIR THE CAR STARTER?

car-starter-repair-replace

Once you’ve concluded that you have a car starter problem there are two main ways of solving this:

  • Complete replacement (you buy a brand new car starter and you or a mechanic replace it)

This is the easier path to a car starter repair, especially if the mechanic is going to do the job.

If you’re going to do it yourself, all you’ll have to do is take off the old one and install the new.

Only complication on this part is accessibility to the car starter itself. Some manufacturers put them in relatively easy-to-access places while some pose a difficulty (tight places, you need to take off other parts like mountings, coverings or else.)

This solution is perhaps the best as it offers quality and longevity of repair (new is new after all) as well as a better DIY possibility (especially if you have some experience around cars).

There is also the option of buying a used car starter. It will cost you significantly less money then a new one.

Do this only if you know what you’re buying (best a refurbished one, possibly with a guarantee) and from a trusted source. Otherwise you might end up buying just a piece of car garbage.

  • Repair the one that’s on your car (take it off, disassemble, clean, replace faulty parts, assemble and mount back on to the car)

Car starter, by its build, is meant to be refurbished. It can be taken apart, cleaned, parts replaced and successfully assembled.

This was common practice in the past and buying a completely new car starter was seen as throwing away money and a car part that could be fixed.

Unless you’re going to let a mechanic do it, you’ll need some serious knowledge on this topic. Although the car starter is a pretty simple machine, if you haven’t done it before, best seek some help (someone with previous experience, tutorials or else).

This is a good solution if you have the time and experience and you’ll save a good sum of money (since you’re doing the whole job yourself)

To conclude on this part:

  • No experience around car repairs: best let a good and trustworthy mechanic do the job. The price tag on this solution is the highest but without any experience it is the best one, trust me.
  • Medium experience around car repairs: you can buy a new or used car starter and replace it yourself (without repairing it). The job is pretty simple; essentially you’ll have to take of a few nuts and screws, remove the old car starter, put in the new one and tighten it in to place. Take care of the cables and make sure to connect them properly. Biggest problem here may be the accessibility to the car starter.
  • Higher experience level: means that you can probably do the whole job yourself from the beginning to the end (taking off the starter, repairing it and returning it on to the car). This option is good for saving money and time as well as gaining some new knowledge.

The choice is yours; do what suits you best as long as you know what your limitations are.


 

HOW MUCH DOES A REPAIR COST?

cost-car-repair

The lower mentioned estimates highly depend on the country you live in as well as your car market (popularity of a brand) and accessibility of parts.

Based on the most common situation:

  • Car starter is replaced with a brand new one and a mechanic does the job

As mentioned, this option carries the most expensive price tag. The starter itself costs about 100 to 200 Euros, depending on the car model. This can even be more.

Labor is about 50 to 100 Euros for the complete replacement. If the accessibility is poor and demands a lot of disassembly, this price goes up.

The end sum estimate: 150 Euros to 300 Euros (or even more).

  • You decide to buy a new one and replace it yourself

Logically, just subtract the labor cost from the previous estimate; so you’ll just buy  the car starter which means 100 to 200 Euros.

  • You’ll do everything yourself (taking off, repair and putting back on to the car)

Here you’ll just have the price of spare parts. As mentioned, the car starter is meant to be refurbished so all of the parts can be bought separately (drive gears, brushes, bearings and else).

If the maintenance is regular (just bearings, brushes, cleaning and lubricating), then the price tag shouldn’t exceed 20 Euros.

A damaged solenoid or drive gear will lift that price for about 40 Euros more.

But if the rotor or stator is damaged then best buy a new one as the price of all of the parts will probably exceed that for a new one.

On this part the end estimate (if the car starter isn’t totally damaged) is up to 50 Euros.


 

HOW TO AVOID A CAR STARTER PROBLEM IN THE FIRST PLACE?

For the end of this article, one saying: prevention is the best protection.

The car starter will serve you well for years if you just remember the fact that it needs maintenance as every other part of the car. Follow the maintenance interval and there should be no problems.

Also have in mind that a lot of cranking is not the solution for a car that won’t start.

Remember this every time you get the urge to crank a bit longer thinking that this just might be the moment it will start.

All of this will ensure both that the car will always crank properly and someday save you a nice sum of money. 

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