Car Starter Problem - Here Are Some Signs Your Starter Is Going Bad!

There is nothing more frustrating than walking out to your car, attempting to start the ignition and the car does not respond. When your vehicle has a car starter problem, the exact cause for this issue can vary. Some vehicles develop starter issues when the owner fails to properly maintain the vehicle, but these issues can also be caused by everyday wear and tear. In fact, your car can have problems with the start even if the car is serviced on a regular basis.

A Car Starter

Before we begin to look at the different types of problems that can occur with a car starter, it is important to understand what a car starter is. The starter is simply a tiny motor that gets its power from the car’s battery.

The starter is responsible for helping the engine run once the car has started.

There is also a component between the starter motor and the battery known as the starter relay. This component transmits power. Without the starter motor and the starter relay working as they should, a car is not able to move forward or backward without being towed or having the battery jumped.

Once these parts begin to weaken due to the normal aging of the car or improper maintenance, they will eventually begin to cause problems. It is these problems that can translate into a starter issue. These problems can include:

  • Slow cranking
  • No cranking
  • Dead battery
  • Failing battery
  • Electrical connection issues

Any of these problems with the starter system can seemingly appear overnight, and can not only leave car owners stranded, but also leave them with an expensive repair bill.

Many car owners make the mistake of rushing to an auto supply store to buy and replace parts at the first sign of a car starter problem without fully knowing what is causing the issue. Without a proper diagnosis, chances are you will only waste money and time.

Fortunately, it is fairly easy to troubleshoot the issues you may be having with your car’s starter system when compared to other areas of the electrical system in a vehicle. One thing to keep in mind is that before the starter system in your car completely fails, there are some signs that you may notice.

With the right information about your car’s starter system, you may be able to properly diagnose the issue and make the repairs needed to get back on the road. So, what signs should you be on the lookout for?

Abnormal Sounds

The longer you drive your car, the more familiar you become with the sounds your car makes. Even though many sounds can just be attributed to age or wear and tear, there are some sounds that you should pay close attention to especially if you suspect problems with the starter.

If you hear a clicking sound when you press the start button or turn the ignition with a key, that is typically a tell-tale sign of a failing starter. However, it is important to keep in mind that the starter in a vehicle can also stop working without giving this type of warning.

Other common sounds that your car’s starter is near death is a grinding noise or a whirring noise when you start the car or while it is in motion.

The Engine Won’t Start

Is the motor failing to rev up even after the battery has had a jumpstart? If this is the case, the only option you will have at this point is to get a tow or call for roadside assistance if you are on the road.

In this situation, either the starter motor, the starter relay or both components have failed. A certified mechanic will be able to make the necessary repairs.

The Starter Is Soaked With Oil

Usually, a car’s starter is located on the left side of the engine and is positioned right below the cylinders. If a quick look underneath the hood reveals that the starter is covered in motor oil, not only may you have a starter issue, your car may also have an oil leak.

An oil leak is a problem that can start out very slowly with only a few drops of oil here and there. Unless the car is serviced regularly, an oil leak may be undetectable in the beginning. However, this problem can escalate and turn into a very expensive repair bill.


As previously mentioned, the starter system is a part of the vehicle’s overall electrical system. This means that this system is subject to short circuits and fuses that blow.

This also means that if you keep trying to start your car after numerous failed attempts, the starter can begin to overheat. As a result, any electrical problems may be further exacerbated and smoke is more likely to appear.

So, if you begin to smell or see smoke while trying to start your car, stop and have a reputable mechanic take a look at your car.

Undercharged Battery

It is important that the battery has enough power to run the starter motor. A weak battery will not produce enough power, and therefore, the starter motor will not turn over.

You can test the battery in your car by using a voltmeter. The range of the voltmeter needs to be more than the voltage of the battery.

Once the voltmeter is turned on, take the negative test lead and place it on the negative terminal, and then take the positive test lead and place it on the positive terminal.

After turning the headlights on, look at the number on the voltmeter. The battery should have a charge of at least 75% in order to run the starter motor. A 75% charge is equaled to 12.4V. If the battery has a lesser charge, charge the battery and then try to start the car again.

The Dashboard Lights Work, But The Car Won’t Start

Have you tried to start your car and the dashboard lights up but the engine does not start? This is also a classic sign that the starter is going bad or has failed.

What Are The Main Causes For Car Starter Problems?

This type of problem can be caused by a variety of issues. In addition to the ones discussed above, other reasons why your car may be experiencing problems with the starter include:

  • Corrosion on the battery
  • Electrical wiring that is too loose
  • Connections with accumulated dirt, grease and debris

Troubleshooting Starter Problems

Unless you are an experienced mechanic, it is best to leave starter repairs and replacements to the professionals. However, there are some actions that you can take to determine whether or not the issue that is causing your starter to not work properly is simply a minor adjustment such as a loose wire or something more complex.

At the first sign of a problem, take the time to inspect the cables that connect to the battery as well as the battery itself. Even if you are not a mechanic, you can check these parts to see if they are in working condition.

A battery that is weak, or battery cables that are faulty could be the main culprits that are causing you the problem, and not the starter.

You can also make adjustments with the transmission to see if your car starts in a different gear. For example, if your car has an automatic transmission and it is in ‘park’, try placing the car in the ‘neutral’ gear.

If the car starts in neutral but it won’t start in park, there may be another issue such as a bad neutral switch that is stopping the vehicle from starting when it is parked.

Another troubleshooting tip is to simply tap on the starter. Tap lightly on the starter two or three times. Do not pound on it. Sometimes a light tap can help to power the starter up.

By tapping on the starter, you will be hitting on electrical components that work together. As a result, the starter may temporarily power up.

This tactic is similar to the old tube televisions of yesteryear. Many times, they could be brought back to life if a person hit the back of the television with their fists. However, unlike those old televisions, once you are able to start your car, it is best to take it to a qualified mechanic who can fix the issue with your the car starter.

Finally, make sure there is enough fuel in your car. Even though that sounds obvious, many times when a car will not start, it is not an issue with the battery or the starter. The car is simply out of gas.

When you are dealing with a car starter problem, your first course of action should be to give the car a jumpstart if possible. This will allow you to either get the car off of the road, or drive it to a skilled mechanic who can check the problem out for you. If the issue is indeed with the starter, the mechanic will be able to fix what is wrong and get you back on the road as soon as possible.