Signs of a bad starter. How to Identify a Failing car Starter

When the starter works intermittently or does not work, depending on the cause, it may be long or impossible to start the engine. The main symptom of poor starter operation is a clicking sound without a subsequent engine start, or cranking the starter with a clicking or buzzing sound, but there are also a number of other signs of failure.

Each cause of failure is determined by characteristic symptoms or by inspection.

If yesterday the starter was cranking and was able to start the engine, but today when you turn the ignition key nothing happens, the problem may not be the starter, but a dead battery. Therefore, to determine why the starter does not turn or cranks barely, or buzzes, but does not start the engine, you can only after some checks.

What are the symptoms of a bad starter?

The following symptoms are indicative of an imminent failure:

How to Diagnose a Bad Starter: video

  • The starter starts spinning only after several attempts to turn on the key. This symptom indicates burned contacts on the retractor.
  • After starting the starter began to come out of the grip with a delay. There was wear on the teeth in the bendix pinion or flywheel crown.
  • Starter began to rotate with great difficulty, although the battery is charged. This triggering most likely indicates that the brushes are worn or the bearing is worn out.

Faulty starter can manifest itself as follows:

  1. turning the key, the starter armature turns, but the crankshaft does not turn;
  2. during start-up a loud squeal or repeated clicking sounds are heard;
  3. at repeated attempts to start, starter «grunts», whistles and may even crunch;
  4. starter does not work or just clicks and a distinct smell of burning is heard (burned winding);
  5. there is a single click but the starter does not crank;
  6. there is a buzzing sound but the starter does not start (if the intake relay is defective);
  7. lights in the cabin or main lights dim while trying to start (a sign of a short circuit in the wiring);
  8. does not turn on after the car is started.

Causes of Failing Starter

1. Starter retractor relay. 2. Collector. 3. Brushes. 4. Bendix. 5. Overrunning clutch lever:
click to enlarge

The starter works in tandem with other vehicle systems in a common starting and charging circuit (battery-starting control-mechanism-starter). Therefore, there can be both mechanical and electrical failures.

The main failures of the starter:

  1. brushes loose on the manifold;
  2. the traction relay fails;
  3. bushings wear out;
  4. the freewheel clutch slips;
  5. armature collector is worn.

The traction relay

Brush assembly

Manifold for anchor

If the starter works, but the engine does not start, then you can talk about the presence of a mechanical problem with the starter. Parts to be checked:

Starter overrunning clutch

  • overrunning clutch lever,
  • clutch ring,
  • buffer spring
  • flywheel ring;
  • bendix.

When the starter is cranking, the engine may not start if:

  • the clutch is slipping;
  • the release lever is out of order or has come off the axle;
  • the clutch drive ring is worn or the buffer spring is not doing its job.

When you hear grinding noise when starting, these symptoms may indicate that the flywheel teeth are worn. If this is the case, you should check the adjustment of the pinion stroke and the condition of the buffer spring.

How Does A Starter Going Bad Sound: video

If you heard an atypical noise when the starter works, it is worth checking it from the pit and under the hood, as it is possible that one of these mechanical starter malfunctions occurred:

  • bearing bushings are worn, as well as the journals on the armature shaft;
  • the fastening bolts of the starter are loose;
  • teeth are damaged;
  • inside the starter pole mount has come loose, causing the armature to start to hit it.

Heavy rotation of the starter may indicate wear of the bushings. When checking, you will see traces of the armature hitting the stator winding (there will be a distinct spot of contact). If the bushings are not replaced in time, the starter will start to warm up, which will eventually lead to an inter-twist, then short circuit and burn the winding.

Electrical causes of starter failure relate to a discharged battery, wiring problems, poorly fixed or oxidized terminals, but there are some others. When the starter does not crank the engine, or cranks slowly, with insufficient power to start, the first thing to check is the electrical circuit, starting from the battery:

How to tell if your Starter is bad: video

  1. The battery must be well charged.
  2. The «ground» contacts are secure and well fastened.
  3. The wire from the relay terminal is intact and has a good contact.
  4. The wire at the battery starter terminal is intact and has good contact.
  5. The ignition switch contact group is functioning properly.

These faults are worth paying attention to when the key is turned in the ignition switch, but the retractor does not work, the armature does not rotate. If there is a breakage in the winding of the traction relay, as well as a short circuit between the coils or shorted to the mass.

When there are no visible causes, it is worth dismantling the part for inspection, because it is possible that the collector is burnt or its plates are shorted. Although, from the possible causes, the main one remains — the brushes are worn out or hang down.

That the brushes are worn can be on the main sign — the starter does not work at the first attempt (you can hear the clicks, and the starter does not rotate, but after 5-10 attempts, it still can crank).

To start the engine in this case, you can try several times to tap on the body of the starter with a crowbar, but not always allowed, since if there are magnets inside instead of the field winding, they can break off.

Sometimes, the retractor relay on the starter can burn out. There are 3 reasons why this happens:

  • Breakdown of the relay materials;
  • Burning of the contact plates;
  • The winding burns out.

Often such problems occur when water gets into the housing. Therefore, you will have to disassemble the retractor and check the condition of the contact plates and subsequently the winding. However, most often the problem with the relay is solved by replacing it.

Burned plates are a typical reason why you can not start the car in the morning. Since quite often if the pads are burned, the starter does not start when the engine is cold. If you take it off and check individually the retractor relay, everything can work, but after installing it in place continues to click and does not work. To fix such a problem you need to:

Burnt pins

  • unsolder the contacts of the retractor;
  • use a screwdriver to flatten and open the housing;
  • clean the pins;
  • turn the wide plate on the rod and install it backward.

If the starter cranks in a time — the cause may be in the relay (you can hear the clicks). Check this option by shorting the starter directly.

Started to crank — the problem is in the relay or in the wiring that goes to it or in the ignition switch. Also, the starter can crank and not crank, if the brushes are worn.

If the starter turns, but after the engine starts, it continues to run, it also indicates its failure. There are 4 reasons why the starter motor may not crank after starting:

  1. A jammed drive lever or actuator on the armature shaft.
  2. Jammed traction relay.
  3. The contacts on the traction relay are stuck.
  4. The ignition switch return spring or freewheel clutch spring is worn.
In this case, quickly disconnect the starter terminal or the starter relay terminal and begin troubleshooting the starter.

How to determine the cause of starter failure?

You can quickly determine the malfunction by characteristic symptoms. The table below shows the most basic of them, indicates the possible causes of failure, and will tell you how to fix starter motor problems.

Starter cranks but does not startPlanetary gear failedWater got inside and washed out the grease. As a result, the bushings and teeth of the planetary gear are worn out. Incorrect adjustment of the diesel engine fuel system may lead to backfiring of the crown gear on the bendix drive pinion
Bendix failedBendix springs are sagging
Starter clicksMass is missing on the bodyOxidation or breakage of mass cable
Not enough starting current to operate the starterBattery is discharged or short-circuited
Brushes are worn outNatural mechanical wear, brushes need to be replaced
Retractor relay failedWinding or contact plates burned out
Armature failedWorn out rotor laminae, short circuit to armature ground
Starter hardly cranksRotor bushings are worn outWater ingress, grease leaking out
Brush knot shorted to the common groundWater ingress, brush assembly worn
Stator winding shorted to groundWater ingress, stator winding insulation failure
Armature winding shortedWater ingress, armature winding insulation destroyed
Metal squeal is heard when the starter is startedBendix sleeve wear outWater ingress, resulting in grease washout or natural wear
Flywheel crown scoring
Bushing on the free wheel shaft is worn out
Starter when cold, but when hot it clicksIntake relay failureCore of the retractor relay has stuck
Springs in brush assembly are saggingThe springs of the springs have warmed up due to excessive use and overheating of the starter
Bushings are worn outThe grease has washed out
Contact area of the plates (pads) decreasedBurning of the pins
Negative minus on the brush unit is missingContacts oxidized and no current flows to them when heated

The service life of the starter is about 45-125 thousand miles and in order to make it serve your car as long as possible, you should periodically carry out some preventive maintenance.


  • What does a bad starter sound like?

    A distinctive sign of a bad starter is a clicking or crunching noise when starting. There may be several, of varying intensity, or there may be a single one, without any follow-up action.

  • How do you tell if its your starter or your battery?

    If you hear only a clicking sound when you turn the key in the ignition and try to start the engine, then you have a starter problem.

  • What happens when a starter fails?

    A worn starter drive pinion has poor engagement with the engine flywheel and often makes a grinding sound when cranking. It sounds like you started the engine and then accidentally turned the ignition back on. Ignoring such a problem can damage the flywheel crown. If there is a problem with the starter bushings, the starter will hum and spin hard when starting. If the starter motor fails, it won't spin at all.

  • Will a bad starter drain your battery?

    If the starter is very hard to crank, it puts a lot of strain on the battery, which causes the battery to drain much faster. Rapid discharge can also occur if you try many times in a row without success to start the engine with a bad starter.

Is the article useful?
See also
Loading comments