Diagnosing Starter Problems – How To Check, Test And Replace

Diagnosing Starter Problems - How To Check, Test And Replace
Diagnosing Starter Problems - How To Check, Test And Replace

Diagnosing starter problems, begins with knowing the basics, of how an engine actually starts.

So, before any engine will start, the first thing that has to happen is, it must be cranked over.

However, if that does not happen, this is where diagnosing begins. Above all, the battery is always the first thing to check.

When diagnosing starter problems, any number of things, can prevent an engine from cranking or starting. Many things have to happen, and in the correct order.

Consequently, cranking the engine over, draws air and fuel into the cylinders and compresses the mixture. Furthermore, cranking the engine, generates the ignition and crankshaft position sensor signals. So, if a starter fails to crank the engine or turns too slowly, the engine will not start.

Diagnosing Starter Problems
Common Starter Parts

Diagnosing Starter Problems, What To Check

The first thing to inspect is the battery, to make sure it has enough voltage, to operate the starter. A discharged battery may not be capable, of producing enough voltage or amps, to start the engine.

Testing Car Battery
Testing Car Battery

Unfortunately, starting problems are not always simple to diagnose. Sometimes the starter is incorrectly blamed, for a hard starting or no-start condition. As a result, some starters, are replaced unnecessarily.

One way to avoid such predicaments is to, bench test the starter first. After removing your old starter, you can take it to an auto parts store. Most stores can test the starters, current draw and cranking speed.

Diagnosing Starter Problems
Old Starter Removed

Any number of things, can prevent an engine from cranking or starting. An engine needs the right combination of air, fuel, compression and ignition to start. Consequently, if any of these things are lacking, the engine may crank normally. But, be hard to start or not start at all.

When The Ignition Switch Is Turn On, And, Nothing Happens:

  • It may mean, the starter has failed.
  • There may be an open circuit, in the ignition switch or starter circuit wiring.
  • A failed neutral safety switch, on the transmission linkage.

Vehicles with manual transmissions have a safety switch, on the clutch pedal. Consequently, preventing the starter from cranking, unless the clutch pedal is depressed.

Other causes of no cranking may include:

  • A bad solenoid.
  • Loose or corroded battery cables.
  • A low or dead battery.

Diagnosing Starter Problems, Testing The Starter

Using a jumper to bypass the solenoid, is a trick that will show, if the starter spins or not. If the starter works when bypassing the solenoid, the problem is, in the solenoid or ignition circuit.

If an engine cranks at normal speed, but refuses to start, it is probably not the starter. It is possible the starter is pulling too many amps from the battery. As a result, there is not enough voltage left, to power the ignition system and fuel injectors.

Normal Starter Amperage Draw:

  • A good starter will normally draw 125 to 150 amps, when cranking a four cylinder engine.
  • And, 150 to 175 amps, when cranking a V6 engine.
  • But, as much as 200 to 225 amps, when cranking a large V8 engine.

The current draw depends on, the type of starter and the application. So, look up the test specs for your vehicle, to see if the starter is drawing too much current.

Bad Starter Solenoid

A bad solenoid, can also be a source of starter problems. The solenoid acts like a relay, to route power directly to the starter from the battery.

Diagnosing Starter Problems
Starter Solenoid

Corrosion, poor ground at the solenoid mount, or poor battery cable connections, will prevent the solenoid from working. So, replacement is necessary, if the solenoid is defective or stuck open or closed.

How The Starter Actually Works

The starter itself, is a high torque direct current electric motor. Inside is a rotating armature, four brushes and a pair of field coils or permanent magnets (on new models). The starter uses the opposing magnetic forces of the armature and field coils, to convert electrical energy into mechanical energy.

Diagnosing Starter Problems
Starter And Related Parts

So, when the ignition switch is turned on, what happens:

  • Voltage is routed, through a solenoid or relay to the starter.
  • As the starter begins to spin, the drive gear extends and engages the teeth, on the flywheel ring gear.
  • When the engine starts, the drive gear retracts and the starter stops spinning.
  • An overrunning clutch in the starter drive, prevents the starter from being, over-revved and being damaged.

Cranking an engine is hard work and pulls a lot of amps, out of the battery. The cranking load is even greater, during cold weather. Because, low temperatures thicken the viscosity of the oil in the crankcase and increase drag. At the same time, the battery has, less amps available. Because, cold temperature slows down the chemical processes, inside the battery that release stored electrical power. This helps when, diagnosing starter problems.

Other Starter Issues

Continuous and prolonged cranking, is very hard on a starter. Because, it generates excessive heat. Fuel injection has reduced the strain on starters. Because, it takes fewer cranks for the engine to start. Consequently, starter sales for newer vehicles with fuel injection, are much lower than those for older vehicles.

Starter Drive And Flywheel Problems ( ring gear )

Watch out for damaged teeth on the flywheel. If the starter can’t engage with the flywheel, it can’t crank the engine.

Damaged Ring Gear
Damaged Ring Gear

If the starter cranks the engine normally, but you hear a grinding noise after the engine starts. Then, the starter drive may be hanging up. As a result, preventing the starter drive gear, from retracting away from the flywheel. This can damage both the starter drive gear, the starter and the teeth on the flywheel. This helps when, diagnosing starter problems.

Starter Replacement Tips:


When you need a starter, the replacement should have, the same or higher cranking capacity as the original.

Starter Solenoid

One item you should also replace along with the starter, is the solenoid. (if not included with the replacement starter). Solenoids wear too, so replacing this component, will help assure reliable starting.

Battery Cables

If the cables are damaged or corroded, replace them. It is important to make sure the replacement cables are, heavy enough to handle the amp load.

Ground Straps

Also, be sure to check the engines ground straps. These straps ground the engine to the chassis. Corroded or loose ground straps, create a poor electrical connection and can cause, slow cranking speeds. The smaller the diameter of the wire, the fewer the amps it can carry. New ground straps may also be needed, if the original straps are missing or damaged. This helps when, diagnosing starter problems

Upgraded Battery Power For Cold Weather Starting

Lastly, try a more powerful battery, with a higher cold cranking amps (CCA) rating. Consequently, it may provide some added kick, for reliable cold-weather starting.

Battery - Provides The Power To Run The Starter, Lights, Accessories
Battery – Provides The Power To Run The Starter, Lights, Accessories

The average battery, only last about four years. So, if the original battery is more than four years old, replace it.

Charging System

If the vehicle also has, any weaknesses in the charging system, it needs to be fixed. A weak alternator may not be capable of, keeping a battery fully charged. So, without a full charge, reliable starting, may not be possible during cold weather. This helps when, diagnosing starter problems.

Charging System
Charging System

Replacing the alternator and drive belt, may also be recommended if this is the case.

Starter Shims On Older GM Applications

On certain older GM applications, the starter has to be shimmed. So, the starter drive and flywheel line up properly. Reusing the old shims, is no guarantee the alignment will be correct. The installer should measure the drive gear to flywheel clearance, to determine the correct shims to use.

In addition, many starters have a heat shield over them. To protect it against heat, from a nearby exhaust pipe. So, don’t forget to replace it. Failure to do so, may cause the motor to fail prematurely, or lead to hot starting problems.


So, once you’ve finished diagnosing starter problems, then you can start to remedy it. Finally, for all issues, the initial troubleshooting is the same. You always, start with the battery.

Thank You !