Starter Problems-What Do You Hear When You Try to Start Your Car?

What if your engine is cranking as usual and still refuses to start.

You’re likely dealing with an ignition or fuel system issue, not a starter problem.

Funny sounds, or no sound, upon the turn of the key may indicate electrical or starter problems.

Some of the most common electrical problem:

  • bad neutral safety switch (automatic transmission)
  • bad clutch safety switch (manual transmission)
  • possible bad starter relay
  • or a bad starter solenoid
  • corroded electrical connections in the starting circuit
  • worn-out parts in the starter motor or some other system component
  • fuel pump
  • Crankshaft-Camshaft Position Sensor
Starter Problems
Starter Problems

Engine turning over slowly

If your lights are bright with the engine off, but they get really dim when you turn the engine over with the starter, and the engine turns over very slowly, you may have starter problems. If battery terminals get hot along with the battery cable (positive and negative) you probably have starter problems.

A starter doing this has worn out brushes, bushings, or shorted windings or commutator. It need a complete rebuild or replacement.

Nothing happens when you turn the key

You turn the key to start, and either nothing happens, or there is a very quiet single click . Sometimes if you keep trying it will start.

There could be a wiring problem, anything from the key switch to any number of safety interlocks and antitheft devices, but most of the time it’s the starter. On starters with the solenoid on top (GM, most others) the solenoid grounds through the starter brushes, so when the brushes make bad contact you get the “silent treatment” when you turn the key. The small wire going to the starter solenoid should get 12 volts or so when the key is turned to “start”. If 12 volts is there and there is no action, then the starter is probably bad.


Often you can tap on the rear of a starter and make it start one more time. Use a regular hammer, and tap lightly on the side of the starter towards the rear.while an assistant holds the key in the “start” position. Very often the starter will spin the engine over one more time. What happens is the brushes wear out in the starter, making a bad electric contact. Tapping on the back of the starter with a hammer jars the brushes back in place, where they’ll make contact one more time.

You get a single loud click, but no motor turning over

If you get a single fairly loud click when you turn the key to “start”, but the starter doesn’t “turn over”, you may have a bad starter solenoid. A solenoid is just a switch which is operated by electricity.

So cars use a solenoid, switching the large starter current with a small current from the ignition switch.

On some cars the solenoid is on the starter. Others (Fords, mostly) have an external solenoid , usually on the fender or radiator core support. On all cars the starter solenoid is at the other end of the large positive battery cable.

Diagnosing Starter problems: What Noise Does It Make?

  • “I hear a whirring sound.”
  • “It’s a buzzing sound.”
  • “I hear a loud click.”
  • “It’s more like a grinding noise.”
  • “I don’t hear anything!”
  • “My headlights don’t work.”
  • “Cranking the car makes my headlights dim or go out.”
  • “My headlights are fine, but my car still won’t start.”

“I Just Hear A Whirring Sound.”

Car Starter
Car Starter

Car starter motors use a small device called an overrunning clutch, or one-way clutch. When you turn the ignition key to the run position, the starter solenoid interlocks the starter’s pinion gear with the flywheel on the engine to rotate the engine at “cranking speed”. Once the engine starts and exceeds cranking speed, the overrunning clutch releases the pinion gear from the flywheel.

However, if the solenoid mechanism is too worn to engage the flywheel, all you’ll hear is a swishing sound as the armature in the starter spins all by itself, unable to crank the engine to a start. So this sound may indicate that the solenoid in the starter is worn out.

“I Hear a Buzzing Sound.”

Sometimes you just hear a buzzing sound. Electrical current is making it to the starter solenoid, but all it does is try unsuccessfully to activate the solenoid’s plunger to engage the pinion gear and flywheel. This is failure is usually caused by poor current flow due to low battery charge or poor electrical connections along the starting circuit, including corroded battery terminals.

“I Hear a Loud Click.”

On the other hand, if you can hear a single, solid click, the starter circuit may be getting enough current, but you may have a bad starting motor, bad solenoid, or even an engine mechanical problem.

“It’s More Like a Grinding Noise.”

If you hear a harsh or grinding noise as you try to crank up the engine, you may have a loose starter motor (mounting bolts), or a flywheel or pinion gear with broken or worn-out teeth. If the gears on the flywheel and pinion aren’t able to mesh properly, all you hear is the sound of metal teeth clashing loudly.

“I Don’t Hear Anything.”

When you try to start your car, you may hear no sound at all.

This silence may be due to electrical issues:

  • a discharged or failed battery
  • a failed system component (for example, relay or safety switch)
  • corroded electrical connections (including battery terminals) that prevent electrical current from reaching the starter motor.

If all is good and you need a Boost – How to Jumpstart your Car

Jump Start
Jump Start
  • Pull the other car close to your car and open both hoods
  • Turn off everything in both cars including radio and vents
  • Take the jumper cables and first connect the red clamp to the positive (+) battery terminal on the car that’s dead
  • Connect the red clamp to the positive (+) terminal on the car with the good battery
  • Make sure the clamps are touching the metal of each terminal. If the terminals are corroded, you may need to clean them with steel wool or other tool
  • Next, connect the black clamp to the negative (-) battery terminal on the good battery
  • Connect the last black clamp on an unpainted metal object such as a bolt away from the dead battery on the dead car. This will provide a ground
  • Start the car with the good battery and follow with the car with the dead battery
  • Let the cars sit idle for several minutes
  • Once your car is running smoothly, disconnect the jumper cables in reverse order that you connected them (black clamp on dead battery first, black clamp on good battery, etc.)
  • Drive your car for at least 15 minutes before shutting it off again

Starter problems Conclusion:

Starting system troubles may be caused by poor maintenance, or just wear and tear. Even with decent maintenance, the different system components get a lot of wear during their service life and are bound to start having problems eventually. Problems may show up as a no-crank or slow-cranking condition, caused by a worn-out component, a bad electrical connection, or an undercharged or failed battery.


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