Bad Starter Symptoms – How To Diagnose A Bad Starter Motor?

Bad Starter Symptoms – How To Diagnose A Bad Starter Motor?

August 9, 2021 0 By CarGuy

So, you have been experiencing some difficulties with starting your car? Something like clicking noise or no signal from the car after you gave it a good crank? You shouldn’t worry because you are probably experiencing some bad starter symptoms.

Imagine that you have to go somewhere and your car simply does not crank? This can be a frustrating thing to deal with. Especially if you need the car right away and you need to get to that specific location within minutes.

A bad starter can ruin your day, to be honest. It has ruined mine once. I just couldn’t start my car when I needed it the most. And since then, I replaced my starter with a new one and I have learned all the bad starter symptoms.

After repairing this issue, I have come to the realization that the bad starter symptoms were always there. I simply ignored them. And if you are smart you should learn from other people’s mistakes.

So, in this article, we are going to cover everything when it comes to bad starter. We will start from the basics and move on to more complex topics. Then we are going to learn the bad starter symptoms and how to notice when your starter is failing. We are also going to cover how you can test a bad starter with a multimeter. Then we are going to share a guide on how you can replace a bad starter. And lastly, we are going to cover the cost of replacing a bad starter. So, let’s dive into it.

What Is A Starter?

The starter motor or the starter is a simple electric motor that helps the internal combustion engine to crank. Which means it helps the engine to turn over until the engine starts to operate under its own power.

There are many types of starter motors. And these include electric, pneumatic and hydraulic. But in order to simplify this, we are going to stick to the electric starters because these types of starters are most commonly used in regular cars.

Bad Starter Symptoms

Starter Motor Pictured, Above the Motor is The Starter Solenoid, Free Stock Image By Pixabay

These starter motors are used for both gasoline and diesel engines. In the inside of the housing lies the electric motor that is doing all the magic and turns the engine over. On top of the starter is mounted the starter solenoid.

The starter solenoid is something like a relay. This relay is driving the electric current into the starter and turns it over. Similarly, to what the starter is to the engine. The solenoid is something like an electric motor for the starter. It can’t be explained simpler than this.

These starter solenoids are also prone to malfunction and know to fail every once in a while. And we are going to explain later how you can differentiate when a starter solenoid is bad and when you have a bad starter.

Bad Starter Symptoms

When a starter goes bad it usually dies off all of a sudden. Even though there are some symptoms that will help you out how to diagnose a bad starter problem on your car. These symptoms are pretty clear that you have some ignition issue with your ignition. Later in the next chapter, we are going to share how you can make a difference between a bad starter and things like a bad battery, bad solenoid, or corroded wires. So, let’s begin with the bad starter symptoms.

  1. Clicking Noise
  2. Lights On The Dash But Nothing Happens
  3. Grinding Noise
  4. Freewheeling
  5. Bad Starter Solenoid
  6. Engine Oil In The Starter

1. Clicking Noise

One of the first symptoms of a dead starter is the clicking noise when you turn on the ignition. You just put the key in, and you get a simple click only.

This click tells you a lot when you are experiencing this issue. It can be three things. A bad starter solenoid, a bad starter, or a bad battery.

In order to further investigate this issue, you will need to test the starter with a multimeter, and that’s something that we are going to cover later.

When you are having this issue. The easiest thing to do is to disconnect and reconnect the battery cable because and see if something changes. Or plug in a good battery to see if the new battery is not the problem.

2. Lights On The Dash But Nothing Happens

Another bad starter symptom. This symptom is also a symptom of a dead battery and you can easily confuse it with a bad starter or bad starter solenoid.

In order to test and see if the battery is the problem. Turn on the headlights and leave them for a while. If the headlights do not turn on or they turn off after some moments you have a battery issue.

If they are on and the car doesn’t react to the key in the ignition, it is very likely that you are having a bad starter or a bad starter solenoid issue on your car.

As we said you need to test the solenoid and the starter with a multimeter to see which is bad and needs replacement.

3. Grinding Noise

If you hear grinding noise when you are starting your car there are two options. Either the alternator brushes are broken or the brushes from the starter motor are done.

If the sound stops after few moments, it means that the starter motor brushes are broken and need to be replaced with new ones. If the grinding noise still persists then it’s probably the alternator that makes all these noises and needs replacement or refurbishment.

You can also try to hear from where this sound is coming from, in order to get a better understanding and locate the issue. Because these two components are usually not placed at the same position.

4. Starter Is Freewheeling

Freewheeling is a sound that the starter produces. This sound is caused because of the bendix drive that does not disengage completely and the starter drive is keeping the contact with the flywheel.

This drive has something that is called an overrunning clutch. And this overrunning clutch makes the starter freewheel if the drive does not disengage.

If you have a freewheeling starter that its bendix is sticking the best thing to do is to replace the starter with a new one. In some instances, you can replace only the bendix for cheap but this repair will not gonna last and soon the bendix will start sticking again and the starter will keep freewheeling. So, the best thing is to replace it.

5. Bad Starter Solenoid

Another symptom is a bad starter solenoid. If the starter solenoid is broken, your starter will not work and your car will not start.

This starter solenoid is an electromagnet that engages the starter motor. Then the starter motor turns on. The solenoid roles are to act as an actuating coil that connects the battery with the starter motor.

This starter solenoid knows to go bad and cause a clicking noise. When your car clicks and doesn’t start there can be three things. A bad battery, bad solenoid, or bad starter motor.

In order to troubleshoot you can try to start the car with a new battery. And if still doesn’t start, you have to test the starter with a multimeter.

6. Engine Oil In The Starter

If there is oil on the starter, it may also prevent it from doing its job properly. This oil sludge works in a way that it soaks all the components inside and makes them to stick.

Once the starter is soaked, it’s hard to clean it off and make it able to work again. The best thing in this situation is to get a new starter and solenoid and install it in your car.

Also, repair all the leaking spots from where the oil comes from. This will prevent future defects with the starter.

How To Diagnose A Bad Starter?

First thing first, you need to see the condition of your battery. If the battery terminals are full of rust you need to take a steel brush and clean them from the rust buildup that is on them. This is important if you want to have good contact and the solenoid to receive power.

If this doesn’t help then you will have to get a different battery and see if it’s holding power. Presuming that you don’t have another battery, the simple solution is to turn on your headlights or accessories and leave them working for some moments. If they function properly, it means that your battery is good if they shut off then your battery is probably dead.

And if your battery is still good. Then, you will need a multimeter to test the starter solenoid and the starter motor. Check and see if there is resistance on them.

First, check the starter solenoid because these solenoids tend to fail more often. If the solenoid is bad. Then you have to replace it. If the solenoid is good, then you are left only with your starter motor.

Test the starter motor and see if it’s any good. In order to see if the starter motor is good, you will have to remove it and test it on the bench. This is complex and also dangerous, so you shouldn’t do it if you are not experienced.

Basically, the motor is tested with a car battery to see if the motor will spin. If it doesn’t spin then the starter is bad.

Here is a video of how professionals are bench testing a starter motor

Similar Problems That Produce The Same Symptoms

There are also some other ignition problems that will make you think that you are having bad starter symptoms. Some of these problems are simple but some are more complex to diagnose and troubleshoot. But we are gonna go into detail and we will explain them to you. So, you don’t get confused if you are experiencing a car won’t start issue.

  1. Dead Battery
  2. Corroded Battery Terminals
  3. Anti Theft Immobilizer
  4. Neutral Safety Switch
  5. Blown Fuse

1. Dead Battery

A dead battery is one of the common reasons why our cars won’t start and can be easily confused as bad starter symptoms. It doesn’t mean that if your battery is failing that will still going to crank.

When batteries give up and they can do it all of a sudden. If you crank your engine and you hear only a click, or no sound at all, one of the possibilities is a bad battery.

In order to see if the battery is good or bad, you can try to troubleshoot the issue. Turn on your headlights and see if they work, also the radio, and if the cluster is lighting up. If it’s not working then it’s probably a dead battery. Replace the old battery with a new one and you are good to go.

2. Corroded Battery Terminals

Corroded battery terminals can also cause your car not to start. If there is a lot of rust buildup on them and they don’t have good contact with the clamps. Then the car will not going to receive good juice to turn over the engine.

Take an iron brush and brush off that rust buildup that is on them. Make sure that there is no rust left on the terminals. After you cleaned the terminals off, it should crank easily and the engine should start better.

If the terminals are very corroded or don’t make good contact, you should replace them with new ones. This will hopefully solve your problem and you will be able to start your car with ease.

3. Anti Theft Immobilizer

If you have a broken immobilizer, you probably won’t be able to start your car, you even won’t be able to hear a clicking noise. These immobilizers are designed for theft prevention and if they are active, you can’t start the vehicle.

Make sure that you turn off the immobilizer and try to start your car again and see if it will work. If it works then it’s probably the immobilizer that caused all these issues if the problem still persists. Move on to the next item in your troubleshooting list.

4. Neutral Safety Switch

This switch is designed to prevent your car from starting if your gear lever is not set in park. If the gear lever is set somewhere in between you probably won’t be able to start your car.

Make sure that your gear lever is set to park or P. If it’s not, you should move it to park and try starting the car. If the problem is because of the neutral safety switch you will be able to start the car if not move to the next item to troubleshoot.

5. Blown Fuse

Something simple as a blown fuse may also cause your car not to start and cause bad starter symptoms. Make sure that you check your fuse box and inspect the fuses that are for the ignition system.

Check them one by one, and if you find a fuse that is burnt. It means that there lies your issue. A blown fuse usually has some interruption in the middle and some burn marks. Replace this fuse with a new one and you are good to go.

Fuses cost relatively cheap and you can find a set of these for a few dollars at your local parts store.

Bad Starter Quick Fix

There is a small trick that you can use in order to start your car if your starter doesn’t work. Sometimes it happens for the Bendix to stick to the spring washer. If this is the case, there is a simple trick to make your car start.

You need to open your hood and locate the starter motor. Then give the starter motor a few gentle taps. This will help the Bendix to unstick and the motor should be able to turn.

After this process, try to start your car. If it works, excellent, you solved the issue. If it doesn’t work, then the starter motor is bad.

Can A Bad Starter Cause A Car To Shut Off While Driving?

A bad starter motor cannot cause the car to shut off while driving. This is the case because the starter motor is not engaged while you drive your car.

The starter motor only engages when you crank the car and then it turns off. So, you should not have to worry that your car will turn off while driving if you have a bad starter.


In this article, we have covered a lot when it comes to bad starter and bad starter symptoms. We learned all the bad starter symptoms and those were the clicking noise, no reaction from the starter at all, grinding noises when the brushes of the starter are worn out. And also, not to forget the starter freewheeling symptom.

And lastly, we also learned how to distinguish a bad starter from some other issues with the ignition such as a dead battery or bad starter solenoid. If you want to learn more about car servicing you can check out out article about tune up cost.

Also it is a good idea to know how to check your transmission fluid level. And If you have some play on your wheels you can check out out article on wheel bearing noise.