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Starter Motor Problems, Symptoms

Starter Motor Problems, Symptoms

Starter motor problems motor happen in different ways. It can be a motor that won’t turn or issues with the engagement mechanism. The starter motor is the component that turns the engine to start it. When it fails, your car experiences starting issues. This chapter looks at the most common starter problems, their causes, and the steps to take when they occur. You will also be learning about the starter motor failure symptoms to look out for and what they mean.

an example of bad starter motor with corroded parts

What Causes a Starter to go bad?

There are many reasons why you have a bad starter motor. Some are caused by other parts of the starting system failing, while others have to do with the starter itself. Here, we will mostly concern ourselves with what happens in the starter assembly to cause it to fail. Common causes of starter motor problems include the following.

  • Water in the starter motor assembly
  • Oil leaking from the engine and into the starter motor
  • Dirt inside the starter motor assembly parts and electrical contacts
  • Burnt out starter motor field coil, armature coil, or starter solenoid coil
  • Worn starter motor gear, brushes, clutch,
  • Welded starter motor solenoid contacts and corroded terminals
  • The starter motor coming off loose in its mounting bolts

Causes of starter motor problems that involve other parts than the starter assembly include those listed below:

  • Faulty starter system components such as starter relay switch or circuit
  • Burnt of worn starter motor wire connections
  • Bad starter relay and other electronic parts that control the starting system
  • Weak or dead battery
a starter goes bad when connections corrode or accumulate dirt

Bad Starter Motor Symptoms

How do you know if you have a bad starter? A weak or broken starter motor will show specific signs. The engine may be slow to crank, fail to crank at the first attempt, or not crank at all. You may also notice unusual sounds when starting your car. If you know what these signs are and what they mean, you can easily diagnose the starter when it develops problems. The most common symptoms of a bad starter motor are:

Starter Motor Noise

One of the earliest signs of starter motor failure includes odd sounds whenever the starter comes on. The sounds are specific, with each indicating problem with a particular part. The sounds to watch out for include the following.

  • Grinding noise– the pinion drive gear is likely worn or broken. A tooth could also be missing on the flywheel ring gear, causing unusual noise when the two interlock. These two parts (flywheel and pinion) are replaceable if worn or damaged.

  • Buzzing noise– a buzzing sound often means insufficient power reaching the motor. Causes include dirty or corroded terminals and connectors or faulty electrical parts of a starter motor. This problem is usually corrected by checking the electrical connections and wires and replacing them if necessary.

  • Clicking sound- a starter motor clicking indicates bad electrical connections. Contacts in the starter motor or solenoid assembly are likely corroded or worn and not passing enough current to operate the starting system.

Slow Cranking Starter Motor

The starter motor rpm is too low to turn the engine and you cannot bring your car to start. Causes include a faulty wiring system or connections that deprive the motor of power. The reason could also be a weak battery. Remedies include checking the starter motor circuit for bad connections and cables and replacing the bad parts. You also need to determine if it’s the starter motor or battery that is causing cranking problems.

Starter Motor Not Engaging Sometimes

You have the engine failing to start at times. The problem could be a bad starter relay and its circuit, or connection problems. When the wires and connectors do not make reliable connections, the starter cranks the engine intermittently. Check all the wires and any other parts of the starting system such as relays and switches. Check the solenoid circuit too for power problems.

Starter Motor Not Working

The starter does not turn neither does it make any noise. A silent starter motor or the starter motor not spinning can mean several things. It could be a faulty circuit or burnt out parts of the motor. It could also be the battery that’s too weak to produce any useful turning force in the motor.

This problem is usually corrected by checking all the electrical circuits of the starting system for voltage, from the starter switch to the motor solenoid. Test the starter motor, too, to see if it’s working or burnt out. A silent starting system is one of the symptoms of a burn out starter motor and that needs replacing.

Starter Motor Freewheeling

This problem is common in most starter motors today. The motor freewheels and does not engage the flywheel or flex plate. The starter produces a winning sound to show the motor is working but the pinion does not turn the engine. The problem is most likely a faulty solenoid. The starter solenoid is supposed to push the pinion to mesh with the flywheel. When it fails, it may not do so.

Starter Motor Not Stopping

The motor does not stop even when the engine starts. Most often, the problem is a bad solenoid. The contacts of the starter solenoid could have welding, causing them to fail to separate when you release the ignition key. It could also be that one of the parts that control the starter system has gone bad. Check the starter motor circuit for damage as well motor itself. If the solenoid is faulty, replace it.

Dimming Car Lights

The interior lights of your car dim out whenever you start the engine. That means the motor is drawing more current than normal. Reasons include shorting in the starter motor circuit, increased resistance due to dirt accumulating on the electrical contacts, and jamming due to a stuck gear. Checking the circuit and cleaning electrical connections helps. If it’s a case of the starter motor sticking or seizing, unstuck the jammed part.

Smoke or Burning Smell from the Starter

There’s smoke coming out when you attempt to start the car, or the smell of something burning. When that happens, you know the motor is overheating. The smoke and smell are as a result of the heat burning something, most often the starter motor lubricant. Overheating results from an increased current draw or allowing a jammed starter motor to run for longer than a few seconds. Inspecting and testing the starter circuit can help pick out problem so you can replace or clean the affected parts.

proper starter motor maintenance helps prevent early damage

Starter Motor Maintenance Tips

While you cannot entirely prevent starter motor problems, there are things you can do to make it last longer. Starter motors are supposed to last a vehicles lifetime. However, that does not always happen. Use these tips to increase your car’s starter motor lifespan.

  • Keep the mounting bolts properly tightening. The starter motor tends to come off loose over time. When that happens, the motor does not engage smoothly. It’s e on of the reasons for starter motor grinding noise and rapid wearing of the pinion and flywheel gears.

  • Maintain the solenoid by keeping it clean. The starter solenoid contains wire connections and other components that convey current among other functions. When these connections corrode or get covered by dirt, the solenoid may start to malfunction.

  • Keep the wire connections clean. Corrosion or grime on the connectors causes the starter motor resistance to increase. This causes the motor to require heavier current and wear out too quickly.

  • Keep the battery terminals clean. Doing so ensures the starter is getting sufficient power at all times.

  • Avoid keeping the motor running for longer than necessary by releasing the ignition key as soon as the engine cranks.

  • Do not attempt to start the engine at shirt intervals. The starter motor amp draw is quite high and causes the motor to heat up quickly. Consecutive starts could lead to overheating and damage the motor.


Starter motor problems occur in many ways. Generally, they show up as starting problems, as explained in this chapter. When your starter fails, you can choose to take the car to a repair facility. That will cost you some money. If you’re a DIY enthusiast or like rebuilding car parts, move on to the next section of the guide. The coming chapter explains the process to fix a failing starter motor assembly.

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