A car’s starter is what converts electrical energy into mechanical energy and brings the car’s engine to life. When your car’s starter goes bad, the car’s engine stops working. And without an engine, there is nothing to get the car moving.
Now the thing about a car’s starter is that is stops working exactly when you need it the most, for example, when you are rushing to a meeting. You could call a tow truck, but that takes time to organize and even more time to arrive. Your mechanic doesn’t always work as close as you wish he did, and your day’s schedule just does not understand that your delay was because of your car and not you.
So what do you do when your car doesn’t start? Moreover, what do you do when you don’t even know the components of your car?
This article was written to help people like you out. By the end of it, you are sure to know the important parts of your car, and more importantly, how to save yourself if your car ever lets you down!
Weird Sounds & Other Warning Signs of a Bad Car Starter
A properly functioning starter would require positive current from the battery, a ground, and a positive current trigger.
The good news is all three things can be worked manually or temporarily substituted when your car doesn’t start.
However, I advise you to either replace your starter or have your mechanic take a look at it if your car shows any of the following signs:
• A whirring sound
This is also called “freewheeling.” When your starter is worn out and isn’t working properly, it makes a whirring sound as if it is working separately from the flywheel (which is an important source of energy for your car).
• A clicking sound
If, when you turn on your car, you hear a clicking sound, that could mean that your starter isn’t working. But it could also mean your battery has a problem. Turn on your car’s headlights — if they light up properly, it means the problem is with your starter.
• Dimming interior lights
If, when you start your car, your interior lights dim down, that could indicate a short circuit in your starter’s internal wiring. This causes the starter to consume more current, leaving less for the other parts of the vehicle.
• Smoke or a burning smell
Clearly, something is really wrong inside your car. Smoke or burning are signs that the electrical components in your car are in trouble. Such a situation requires immediate attention.
• An oil-soaked starter
Since the starter is located at the very bottom and in a place that gets heated easily, engine fluids can leak into your starter’s motor. This is a sure sign that your starter is going bad.
(Pro tip — you might want to start saving up for a new starter)
• Starting speed
If your car takes a while to start, check your battery’s charge using a voltmeter. If there is enough charge, this too means your starter is going bad.
• Your vehicle just won’t start
This is the situation I am here to help you out with.
Let’s face it – the problem isn’t always that we didn’t know something was wrong with the starter. Sometimes, we choose to ignore all the signs until a day comes when we are stranded and would give anything to make the car start.
9 Tips for Starting a Car with a Bad Starter
1. Use a Voltmeter to Check the Battery
Before you do anything with your car’s cables, use a voltmeter. This will measure how much voltage is in your battery.
How to use a voltmeter:
- Set the scale of your voltmeter to one that is higher than the battery’s – 20V, for example.
- Turn on the meter.
- Connect the negative leads to the negative (-) post on the battery and the positive leads to the positive (+) post.
- Turn on your car’s headlights.
- Read the display on the meter. If your battery has between 12.4V to 12.6V, it has enough charge. If it is less than 12.4V, charge your battery. This could be the reason your engine isn’t starting.
2. Hit It (Shake the Starter into Motion)
Now, I didn’t say break it. Tap it 4 or 5 times with a hammer or an iron object, preferably a tool. In case something is stuck inside your starter, this will work as a temporary solution because it can shock the starter into motion. Still, if your engine is transversal, then this may not be a solution for you. This is because transversal engines are located too far from arm’s reach.
Once again, I would recommend that you take your vehicle to a mechanic as soon as possible. This will save you from having to opt for more expensive solutions in the future.
3. Check the Wires and Tighten the Connectors
It’s all about the electricity. If there is a loose connection between the starter and the battery, this could reduce the number of amps your starter is receiving, which will obviously hinder your starter’s performance.
What to do if there is a loose connection:
- Tighten the battery terminal connectors using a ratchet (take note – always carry a ratchet in your car).
- If they are tight enough, then follow the positive wire (it will have a positive sign on it) that goes from your battery to your starter and shake it. This should help you detect a loose connection between the starter and the battery.
4. Jump-Starting a Car with a Bad Starter
Your starter is your battery’s source of electric current. If it isn’t working, you can give your battery current from another car – this is called a jump start.
First, you have to make sure of two things:
- All electronic devices inside the vehicle are turned off
- Neither of the cars’ batteries has a leak or damage of any sort
Once you are sure, then you can connect your car’s battery to the working car’s battery.
The red cables go on the positive terminals, and the black cables on the negative terminals. Once you have done this, you should double-check to make sure you have connected the positive terminal of the working car with your car’s positive terminal, and the same with the negative terminal.
If you make a mistake, you might end up causing serious damage to both cars. And damage control can be very costly!
Then, you can start the working car — but make sure you don’t race it. While your battery is charging, the starter borrows energy from it. So maintain an uninterrupted connection between the two cars, and your car should be ready to go in a few minutes.
The final and most important step is to thank whoever was willing to help you out!
PS: Always carry gloves along with jumping cables in your car’s trunk. Gloves can prevent an electric shock when handling all that current.
The problem with jump-starting your car is that this method requires another working vehicle. Not everyone will be willing to give you that many minutes of their day.
Furthermore, sometimes you may be stranded on a street with no other vehicles in the vicinity. On such occasions, the JumpStart Device can be a lifesaver. It is rechargeable, compact and acts as a perfect substitute.
5. Clean the Corrosion Around the Cables
If you are lucky and your starter fails when you are still at home, check for corrosion on the cables. Cleaning out the corrosion should smoothen the energy transmission to your starter.
The first step is to disconnect the battery – safety first! Then, you can use sandpaper to wipe off the rust. If it isn’t coming off, use vinegar or water and caustic soda (a 50/50 combination) – you will thank me for this!
6. Use a screwdriver and bypass your starter relay
The starter relay is a circuit completer between the car’s battery and the starter. Place a screwdriver that is big enough so that it touches both the positive and the solenoid terminal. This should bypass the starter relay and send sufficient current to the starter’s solenoid, which will, in turn, start your car.
And what is solenoid? Basically, it is what transmits electric current from your battery to the starter.
7. Push-Starting a Car with a Bad Starter
Of course, this only works if you own a manual car. (WARNING! If you try this with your automatic car, you will break it.)
How to push-start a car:
- Put the manual transmission in second gear
- Switch the ignition on
- Depress the clutch
- Push the vehicle until it is at a speed of 5-10 mph or more
- Then, you release the clutch and depress it so that it does not stall.
Once your car starts this way, don’t stall it until you’ve reached your destination, which should be your mechanic’s shop. If you do stop the car, you’ll have to push-start it all over again. Ladies, I hope you have backup shoes in your trunk!
8. Release the gear
Since not everyone is an automobile expert, sometimes you just want a simple solution that works. This is it for you – push down your car’s handbrake level while it is in top gear. This could jerk your car and loosen the jammed gear in the process.
9. Call a mechanic
As we’ve seen, you can get your car to start despite the bad starter. However, meddling with electric cables can be dangerous without the right precautions. So, calling a mechanic might be the safest solution to the problem.
Starting an Automatic Car with a Bad Starter
Do these tips work for automatic cars? Absolutely, except push-starting your car. All the other steps should work on both automatic and manual cars. The only difference between an automatic and a manual car lies in the method the car uses to shift gears. In automatic, the car decides when to change gears, and in manual, that decision is up to you.
More on Dealing with a Broken Car Starter
Just because you know all of this, it doesn’t mean you are a qualified mechanic now. Electric problems need to be dealt with professionally, and all these alternatives are temporary.
No damage has ever been able to fix itself. The longer you leave your malfunctioning starter without expert attention, the more severe the damage is going to become. In the end, you’ll be left paying double the price to get something fixed when you could have paid much less had you paid attention to it early on.
If your car’s starter isn’t working and one of these methods helped you, you are lucky. But you still need to get that car checked!
Be Prepared – A List of Must-Haves
- Jumping cables
- A hammer
- Your mechanic’s phone number!
- A big screwdriver
- Pedal Commander Review
- How to Reduce Engine Noise in a Car Cabin
- Best Oil for High-Mileage Engines
- Clicking Noise When Trying to Start the Car