Symptoms of a Bad Starter: What to Do When Your Car Isn’t Starting?

Imagine having to attend an important meeting, and your car refuses to start even after many attempts. Then, without thinking, you suddenly check the battery as part of your troubleshooting, not knowing your starter had developed some severe faults.

Suppose your lights are on; it is not the battery but your starter. A bad starter problem is a frustrating situation that determines your mood for the rest of the day. As you read on, you will know the bad starter symptoms to look out for periodically and how to solve them when caught up in such situations.

What Is a Starter?

What Is a Starter

Any starter has two main parts; the solenoid (relay) and the primary motor, with each one having different responsibilities in starting your car engine. The direct motor turns the crankshaft and the relay engages the drive gear while closing the motor’s electrical contact simultaneously.

The starter is connected to and powered by the battery so a bad battery will be proportional to a bad starter. Without the starter, the car’s engine will not turn over because the crankshaft receives no initiating power to start the vehicle. Hence, the car will need a jumpstart to initiate the engine.

What Causes a Starter to Go Bad?

the starter

It is a fact that wear and tear are as natural to mechanical components as breathing is to humans, and this applies to the starter because it is subject to more significant strain all through its life. Most starter problems are caused by normal wear or poor maintenance by the car owner.

Either way, your starter will eventually go bad after some time. However, this does not happen without prior apparent signs. Although, this is not always the case.

Signs of a Bad Starter

Look for these bad starter symptoms to ascertain the health of your car starter.

1: Engine Won’t Turn Over

The apparent symptoms (among others) of a bad starter are that the engine will not start running after multiple attempts. In this case, either your starter has an electrical problem, or the primary motor has burned out.

Sometimes, your engine will not turn over because you have a battery problem. If you ever experience this as a DIY car owner, then you should troubleshoot the problem or visit your mechanic workshop for an accurate diagnosis of your car.

2: Noise – Clicking, Grinding, or Whirring

Noise is an indicator of various kinds of problems with your car. Noise can result from a bad differential, bad starter, lack of oil, and many other issues. However, the difference here is that the noise generated from a bad starter is a clicking noise.

A grinding noise is generated if the starter components are not adequately engaged. The grinding noise is similar to what you hear when you accidentally turn on the ignition again after starting the car. Ignoring this noise can lead to more significant damage to other mechanical components (like the flywheel) in your car’s engine.

3: Intermittent Issues Starting the Vehicle

You will need an experienced mechanic to check your car when it does not start at once. Sometimes, the starter relay has developed a fault, sending either total electrical current or nothing to the starter.

A clicking sound is heard if the relay is damaged anytime you turn on the ignition. The clicking sound and the intermittent starting will need your mechanic’s attention.

4: Starter Stays on After Starting

a healthy starter

When the starter stays on after starting your car, it’s a sign of a failing starter. Either the start button is released, or the starting circuit is shut, in the case of a healthy starter. The relay is likely stuck under your car when the grinding noise is heard even after starting the vehicle.

It would be best if you listened to ensure that the relay is not running alongside your car engine. Your relay should never be stuck in the ON position; else, it causes more severe damage to your starter and, eventually, your transmission flywheel.

5: Smoke

Continuous attempts to start your car when the starter is bad can lead to overheating your starter. If overheating occurs, smoke will be seen under the engine, which is quite different from the exhaust smoke.

Other causes of smoke could be a blown fuse, ignition switch problems, and possibly a short circuit. In any case, you should contact your mechanic about the situation because smoke could pose more significant harm to your car engine.

6: Starter Engages, But Motor Won’t Start

Your starter is engaged, but the motor will not crank over after turning the ignition switch. This could result from a stripped or dislodged gear from the flywheel. It is often beyond what a DIY car owner can do, hence an experienced mechanic.

7: Battery Issue

Your light could be on, and yet it’s a battery problem. The battery issue is also a strong indicator of a bad starter because you need sufficient power to crank the engine. Either you replace the battery or use a jumpstart in the meantime to get the day’s business done. Weak battery problems are expected during the winter season.

How do you troubleshoot starter problems?

Try either or all of the following after jumpstarting the car, and the problem persists.

1. Check the fuel gauge.

It is not impossible to have an empty fuel tank due to the busyness of the previous day. Do well to check your fuel gauge as the first step to troubleshooting.

2. Check the battery

Another close one is your battery power; check the cables to see that it has proper contact with the battery. A faulty battery could also hinder your car from starting.

3. Tap the starter

A light tap of your starter can give you a temporary fix to the problem before your next visit to the mechanic.

4. Adjust the transmission

You could also adjust the car transmission from the “park” setting to

“neutral.” If it starts, it’s most likely a technical glitch like a faulty safety switch. Although, this is not a sure way to fix a starter problem.

What Happens if You Don’t Repair A Failing Starter?

Failure to repair a bad starter could lead to more expensive repairs and missed opportunities. In addition, components like the engine’s flywheel could be affected, and the grinding noise it generates is enough offense.


Can you drive with a failed starter?

It is possible to drive a manual transmission car with a bad starter by freewheeling and jumpstarting it. However, an automatic transmission car will not move except with a jumpstart.

Can a bad starter leave you stranded?

Yes, a bad car starter can leave you stranded, especially if you are distant from a mechanic.

Can my starter fail without any obvious signs?

Yes, any mechanical component in your car can fail without obvious signs due to normal wear and tear.

Wrapping Up

You can have a bad day if you refuse to pay attention to bad starter symptoms of your vehicle. To avoid this, read our guide on the signs of a bad starter and what causes it. Then, anytime you notice a starter problem with your car, start troubleshooting the problem before calling your mechanic to save cost.

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