Car Makes Clicking Noise When Trying to Start: Causes & Repair

Unfortunately, we all know that gut-wrenching feeling when your car won’t start. You’re late for work on a cold Monday morning and your car has decided to give up on you at the worst time possible. And then, it also starts acting strange, making all sorts of clicking noises.

As annoying as this situation may be for you, you should keep a straight head and act quickly. That being said, in this article, I’ll try and teach you how to diagnose and repair your car when it’s making a clicking noise.

In some cases, you might be able to solve the issue and hit the road in a matter of minutes. However, the clicking noise is usually a sign of a much bigger issue. If that’s the case, you’ll surely have your work cut out for you. Even if you know what you’re doing, the repairs will most likely set you back both time and money-wise.

Car making cliking sound when trying to start.

On the other hand, if you aren’t 100% sure of your auto mechanic skills, go to the mechanic immediately. Don’t try and tinker with the car. You can easily mess something up, or worse — get electrocuted!

1. Dead Battery

If your car makes rapid clicking sounds when you turn the key, the battery may be low in voltage or dead.

That usually occurs when you:

  • forget to turn off the interior light or the headlights
  • leave a device charging on the DC port for too long
  • don’t change your battery on time and it gets too old
  • live in a cold environment

If the problem isn’t low voltage, but high resistance, then you’re most likely dealing with corrosion.

How to Fix It

First of all, to check the voltage of your battery, you’ll need a multimeter or voltmeter. Then, you need to remove the battery cover, connect the multimeter and choose the right setting. It should read between 12.4 and 12.7 volts.

If it reads anything below that, you’ll have to either charge, jump start or completely replace your battery.

On the other hand, if the issue is corrosion, you’ll probably need a new battery. But first, you must check the cables and the terminals to see how badly they’ve been affected. It’s best to simply call the mechanic and ask them to take a look.

2. Faulty Alternator

An issue with the alternator can easily be mistaken for a battery issue. You see, a faulty alternator doesn’t charge the battery as you’re driving, like it’s supposed to. Consequently, the battery doesn’t have enough power to start your car the next day. And even though you’ve charged or replaced your battery altogether, the car still fails to start.

If so, you can be almost certain that your alternator is causing the issue.

You might notice your headlights dimming or your stereo system not working properly. In addition, a worn-out alternator belt can produce a screeching sound and a smell similar to burning rubber. If you notice any of the aforementioned symptoms, I advise you to visit your mechanic before your alternator dies completely.

How to Fix It

Unfortunately, you probably won’t be able to fix your alternator by yourself. However, you shouldn’t wait for it to die before going to the mechanic. You should act as soon as you notice the first warning signs of a bad alternator (headlights, screeching sound, etc.).

3. Faulty Starter Motor

If your battery has enough charge, but you hear a single click when trying to start, you should take a look at your starter motor. In most cases, a single click means that the battery tried to send power to the starter motor, but it didn’t manage to start the engine.

In addition, most cars from the 2000s onward display a fault code when the starter motor malfunctions. Depending on the issue, you might only need to change the solenoid or the relay switch. However, you might also need to replace the starter motor assembly altogether.

How to Fix It

Even though you probably won’t manage to fix the starter motor by yourself, you might be able to diagnose the issue. If you have a multimeter, you can check the wiring between the battery and the starter motor and see if there are any loose connections. If so, rewiring them should do the trick.

However, be careful — if you accidentally touch a live connection, it’s bad news for you. Current strong enough to start a car engine will have no trouble stopping your heart. So, I sincerely advise all non-experts not to touch anything. Tow your car to the mechanic instead.

4. Engine Knock

Sometimes, your car will start when you turn the key, but then produce a loud knocking or clicking noise. In that case, you’re probably dealing with engine knock. Depending on the nature of the issue, you might also hear a pinging noise instead of clicking or even a combination of the two.

If you notice your engine knocking when you start your car, that means that the air-fuel mixture isn’t burning up properly in the cylinder. In addition, it’s most likely caused by one of the following issues:

Fuel Problems

If you just bought a new car, especially if it’s turbocharged, you also might have put the wrong fuel in it. Modern gasoline engines have a high compression ratio, so they require a higher-octane fuel. In case your gas station doesn’t carry high-octane gasoline, you can buy an octane booster at any auto parts store and pour it in every time you fuel up.

On the other hand, your engine might be running with a lean air-fuel mixture. If so, you might want to take a look at your air-fuel sensor.

Bad Spark Plugs

A common issue with older and more obscure cars is the lack of proper spark plugs. If your engine starts knocking after a spark plug repair, you should notify your mechanic as soon as you can.

Carbon Deposits on the Valve Head

All high-mileage engines will accumulate some carbon deposits on the valves or in the injectors. In most cases, it shouldn’t cause problems. But, if these deposits build up and jam the valves, engine knock can occur.

How to Fix It

Keep in mind that engine knock can easily wreak havoc in your engine, so I highly recommend going to the mechanic as soon as you hear a clicking or knocking sound. In some cases oil additives can solve the problem. However, if the knocking still doesn’t stop, then don’t run a knocking engine for too long or you might cause even more damage.

5. Frozen Engine

When it’s winter and the temperature significantly drops, your car’s engine might get locked up. If that’s the case, the car will produce a repetitive clicking sound when you try to turn it on.

However, the battery should work and the instrument panel should light up. In the case of a frozen engine, you’ll probably see the engine heater light up on the panel, usually in the shape of a coil or a spiral. In addition, if there’s not enough coolant, most cars will show a coolant warning as well.

How to Fix It

Keep in mind that the worst thing you can do to a frozen engine is keep trying to start it. Even if you manage to get it going somehow, running a cold engine can lead to significant damage.

To do it properly, turn the ignition on first and let the heater warm the engine up. If you have an engine heater light on your instrument panel, wait for it to turn off before starting the engine.

Also, check your coolant level before each winter and fill the tank if necessary. Of course, you shouldn’t just dump the entire bottle into it recklessly. For one, you probably have to dilute the coolant you bought with distilled water.

In addition, you shouldn’t top up the coolant tank. Instead, leave some space for the coolant to expand when it gets hot.

Finally, please don’t touch the coolant tank for at least a few hours after driving your car or you’ll likely end up with some nasty burns.

Final Thoughts on Car Clicking

As you can see, there are many reasons why a car would make a clicking sound. However, there are also many different types of clicking noises. For instance, if your car won’t start at all and produces a fast clicking noise, the issue probably lies with the battery. On the other hand, if the car starts and then produces a hard clicking sound, you’re most likely dealing with engine knock.

Whatever the case may be, I suggest that you pay a visit to the mechanic as soon as possible to prevent further issues from developing.




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