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How to Start a Car With a Bad Starter?

By Arthur Dubois | Published on 02 Sep 2023

    If you’re having trouble starting your car, don’t panic. A bad starter doesn’t mean the end of the road for your vehicle. With a little knowledge and some handy tips, you can likely get back on the road without breaking the bank. 

    In this article, we’ll explore the role of a car starter and how to identify a bad one. Next, we’ll share some temporary fixes, long-term solutions and preventive measures to avoid starter problems. So, let’s dive in!

    Understanding the Role of a Car Starter

    Before we jump into troubleshooting, let’s take a moment to understand the humble car starter and how it works. This electric motor turns the engine over, allowing it to start. It draws electrical power from the battery and converts it into mechanical energy to crank the engine. Now that we know the basics, let’s dig deeper!

    What is a Car Starter?

    A car starter is a compact but powerful electric motor located near the engine. It connects to the flywheel or flexplate, which engages the engine’s crankshaft. Cars with a manual transmission typically have a flywheel while you’ll find a flexplate in vehicles with an automatic transmission. Either way, when you turn the ignition key, the starter motor spins, cranking the engine so it starts running.

    How Does a Car Starter Work?

    The car starter operates on a simple principle: electromagnetism. It consists of a heavy-duty wire coil, a small gear known as the pinion gear and an electric switch called the solenoid. When you turn the ignition key, an electrical current flows through the coil. In turn, it generates a magnetic field that pulls the pinion gear into contact with the engine’s flywheel or flexplate. This connection allows the starter to engage and turn the engine over.

    Now, let’s take a closer look at each component of the car starter. The wire coil is made of a thick copper wire that winds into a tight spiral. This design allows the coil to generate a strong magnetic field when an electrical current passes through it. 

    The pinion gear, on the other hand, attaches to the end of the starter motor shaft. It has teeth that mesh with those on the engine’s flywheel or flexplate, turning the engine over.

    Meanwhile, the solenoid acts as an electric switch that controls the flow of current to the starter. When you turn the ignition key, the solenoid receives an electrical signal, sending the current through the coil and creating the magnetic field. At the same time, the solenoid also pushes the pinion gear forward, engaging it with the flywheel or flexplate.

    Once the pinion gear connects with the flywheel or flexplate, the starter motor begins to spin rapidly. This motion generates torque, which then gets transferred to the engine’s crankshaft. As a result, the engine turns over and the combustion process begins. Once the engine begins running smoothly, the starter motor disengages from the flywheel or flexplate, as the engine operates independently.

    Naturally, the car starter system requires a sufficient amount of electrical power to function properly. However, a weak battery or faulty electrical connections can limit the power needed for the starter to turn the engine over. In such cases, troubleshooting the electrical system becomes necessary to identify and resolve the issue.

    In conclusion, the car starter plays a crucial role in the starting process of an engine. It converts electrical power into mechanical energy, allowing the engine to crank and start running. Understanding how the car starter works and its various components can help when addressing any potential issues that may arise.

    Identifying a Bad Starter

    Now that we understand the basics of a car starter, let’s explore how to recognize when it doesn’t work. A faulty starter can exhibit various symptoms, so identifying them early avoids further damage to your vehicle. Let’s take a look at some common indicators of a bad starter.

    First, you’ll only hear a clicking noise when you turn the ignition key. This sound indicates that the starter motor does not engage properly with the engine. You can become quite frustrated to hear that repetitive metronome sound as you desperately try to start your car. This clicking arises from a worn-out solenoid. When it fails to make a proper connection, it makes this sound.

    Additionally, if you notice dim lights on the dashboard when attempting to start your car, it could point towards a malfunctioning starter. The starter draws a significant amount of power from the battery to crank the engine. If the starter falters, it may draw excessive power, dimming the lights on the dashboard. 

    Further, listen for grinding noises, the engine turning over slowly or no response at all when you turn the key. The grinding noise occurs when the starter gear does not properly engage with the flywheel. This can happen due to worn-out gears or a damaged flywheel. When you hear this grinding noise, address the issue promptly to prevent further damage to the starter and flywheel.

    Diagnosing a bad starter can get a bit tricky, as the symptoms can occur due to other malfunctions. If you suspect a bad starter, perform a few simple tests before jumping to conclusions. 

    First, check the battery voltage using a multimeter. A low battery voltage can cause similar symptoms to a bad starter. If the battery voltage reads low, it may indicate that the starter does not receive enough power to function properly. In this case, charging or replacing the battery may solve the problem.

    Next, inspect the starter connections. Over time, the electrical connections can become loose or develop corrosion, preventing the starter from receiving the necessary power. If this happens, clean them thoroughly and tighten the connections. This simple fix may solve the starter issue without the need for a replacement.

    If everything appears in order after these steps, move on to the temporary fixes. There are a few tricks you can try to get your car started temporarily until you can replace the faulty starter. 

    Temporary Fixes for a Bad Starter

    When you find yourself in a bind and need to start your car quickly, try these few tricks. Although they might not be permanent, they can help you get your car running in an emergency situation. Let’s explore some temporary fixes for a bad starter.

    Using a Hammer to Tap the Starter

    This unconventional method can get your car started when you really need it. Gently tap the starter motor with a hammer while someone turns the ignition key. This method can temporarily dislodge any stuck components inside the starter, jolting it into action. Using this method with caution, as excessive force can cause damage to the starter or other engine components.

    If you damage your car during a DIY repair of any type, it can impact your car insurance. For example, an adjuster may diminish or deny your claim if they deduce that an amateur repair caused any damage.

    Jump-Starting the Car

    If the battery seems fully charged, but the starter doesn’t work, you can try jump-starting your car. Use jumper cables to connect your car’s battery to a functioning vehicle’s battery. Once connected, start the functioning vehicle and let it run for a few minutes before attempting to start your car. This method uses the power from the functioning vehicle’s battery to turn over the engine in your car.

    Push Starting the Car

    Push starting, also known as bump starting, works for manual transmission vehicles. With the ignition on, put the car in second gear and have someone push it from behind. Let the clutch out quickly while applying slight pressure to the accelerator. If everything goes smoothly, the engine should start running and you can get back on the road. Remember, this method won’t work with automatic transmissions.

    In all these cases, you will likely run into the same problem if you shut your car off. Therefore, drive it to a place where you can get it fixed for good.

    Long-Term Solutions for a Bad Starter

    While temporary fixes might do the trick for the moment, you’ll want to find a long-term solution to avoid future breakdowns. At this point, try these options:

    Repairing the Starter

    If you’re skilled with automotive repairs, you can attempt to repair the starter yourself. Start by removing it from the car and carefully disassembling it to identify the faulty components. Common issues include worn-out brushes, a bad solenoid or a faulty armature. Replace the faulty parts and reassemble the starter. 

    A new starter can cost $50 to $350, depending on your vehicle’s make and model. However, once you get in under the hood, you may find other problems, like a cracked crankshaft, you’ll have more expenses ahead. 

    Also, some car manufacturers make it easy to reach starters, while others tuck them in under other components. If you need help, consult a professional mechanic. They may advise you to replace the starter rather than invest expensive shop time into resuscitating a worn-out one.

    Replacing the Starter

    If your starter is beyond repair, it’s best to invest in a new one. Consult your vehicle’s manufacturer or a trusted mechanic to ensure you purchase the correct starter for your make and model. Once you have a replacement, follow the manufacturer’s instructions or seek professional help to install it correctly.

    If you hire a mechanic to do this work, expect to pay $150 to $1,000. For the average car, the total bill for the part and labor should come in around $500. The number of hours may vary due to the complexity of finding and removing the old starter. 

    Sometimes, you may not have enough cash to cover this expense. If so, you can tap into a car repair loan to tide you over and get you back on the road.

    Preventive Measures to Avoid Starter Problems

    Finally, let’s discuss preventive measures to avoid starter problems in the future. By taking good care of your starter and following these tips, you can potentially extend its lifespan:

    Regular Maintenance and Inspection

    Performing regular maintenance on your vehicle, including the starter, can identify and address issues before they become major problems. Inspect the starter connections, cables and terminals for any signs of wear, corrosion or damage. Additionally, keep the battery terminals clean and tight to ensure optimal electrical flow.

    Proper Use of the Starter

    Avoid unnecessary strain on your starter by using it properly. Before starting the engine, ensure all electrical accessories – such as lights, radio and air conditioning – are turned off. This reduces the load on the starter and prolongs its lifespan. Additionally, avoid repeatedly starting the engine in quick succession, as this can overheat the starter and cause premature failure.

    By understanding the role of a car starter and identifying signs of a bad one, you can navigate through a bad starter situation with confidence. Further, trying temporary fixes, exploring long-term solutions and implementing preventive measures will bring you peace of mind. 

    Remember, if you’re unfamiliar with automotive repairs or unsure about any troubleshooting steps, it’s always best to consult a qualified professional. Stay safe and happy driving!

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    Arthur Dubois is a personal finance writer at Hardbacon. Since relocating to Canada, he has successfully built his credit score from scratch and begun investing in the stock market. In addition to his work at Hardbacon, Arthur has contributed to Metro newspaper and several other publications