5 Signs Your Starter is Going Bad

There are a few common culprits that contribute to starting problems with cars. The offending part can often be determined by diagnosing the symptoms. Subtle differences in sounds and reactions can lead you to the right conclusion. A bad starter is sometimes confused for a failing battery. Close attention to details can help you tell the difference. Pay attention to these warning signs to learn of your cars ailment.

The Function

The starter of the vehicle is usually located under the car and is easily accessible. The main components of the starter are the solenoid, motor, and a small rotating gear. The starter is simply a catalyst to the combustion of the engine. The starter accomplishes this by assisting in rotation of the engine. The flywheel on the engine is an important part of this process and moves very quickly. This part is where noise originates with a bad starter. An electrical signal is sent when the key is turned in the ignition. A part of the starter called the solenoid is activated by this, and in turn makes the part start. The tiny, toothed gear then begins its function by working with the flywheel. These parts simply become worn over time by repeated friction. This is the main complication with a starter, however, other issues are possible.


A starter that is failing often responds with a loud screeching or grinding sound. This sound can be heard when the key is turned in the ignition. The loud and annoying nature of this noise makes it difficult to ignore. This sound is not limited to the immediate demise of the starter. The noise may begin several weeks prior to a complete failure of this part. This sound offers a good warning that your care is in need of repair.

Delayed Start

A delay when starting your engine may be noticed when the starter is at risk. This is indicated by having to hold the key in starting position longer than normal. For some vehicles this can accompany the abnormal sound for several weeks. This symptom may also be intermittent and more apparent during the first start of the day or after the car has been unused for several days. Subsequent use throughout the day can return to normal, giving individuals false security. Eventually the ignition completely refuses to turn over. Any indication of a delayed start should motivate you to have the starter tested.

Clicking Sound

Once the starter has completely failed, a clicking sound may be heard when the key is turned in the ignition.  This is the point where many individuals suspect a dead battery. Pay attention to the faint clicking noise to help determine the origin of the problem. This sound will be very faint. Turn the key and listen closely.


In some cases, smoke may be present when attempting to start a car with a bad starter. Caution should be exercised in this matter. This symptom is not as common as the previously mentioned ailments, however. Remove all passengers from the vehicle and seek help, should this occur.

Neutral Start

Few people are aware of this alternate starting method. A vehicle unable start in the traditional way due to starter issues may turn over when in neutral. To accomplish this, simply put the car in neutral and turn the key. If the car starts easily with this method, the starter is in need of replacement. This simple tactic can help stranded motorists reach their home or mechanic in case of starter failure.

When a car refuses to start there is often a simple explanation. The battery and starter are both easy to replace and incur minimal expense. The starter, like the battery, can be removed and taken in for testing. This can help decide the course of action prior to spending money on new parts. Listen carefully to the warning signs from your car for clues, as well. Look out for screeching and clicking sounds, as well as a delayed start. Smoke may be present in some cases. A clear sign is the ability to start the vehicle after placing it in neutral. Learning the warning signs of specific vehicle part failures saves time and money.

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5 Signs Your Starter is Going Bad

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