Are you wondering why your car won’t start? Issues with the starter system are more common than you think, but drivers often confuse them with other car troubles. Read up on bad starter symptoms and learn how to tell them apart from other problems.
What is a starter?
The starter is a small motor, powered by the battery. It gets the engine of your car running. A starter relay sits between the battery and the starter motor, transmitting power. Without a properly working starter relay and motor, you won’t be able to start your vehicle and may need a tow.
What are common bad starter symptoms?
1. Something sounds off.
One of the symptoms of a bad starter is a clicking noise when you turn the key or push the start button. However, a starter can die without making any sound at all, or it may announce its impending death with whirring and grinding noise—so listen up!
2. You’ve got lights but no action.
If you try to start the engine only to find that the dashboard lights up, but the engine doesn’t power up, you might have a problem with the starter.
3. Your engine won't crank.
Is your engine not revving up, even after attempting a jumpstart? At this point, it’s time to call roadside assistance and get your car to the nearest Firestone Complete Auto Care. If a jumpstart won’t fire up your engine, nothing other than a certified technician will!
4. Smoke is coming from your car.
The starter is part of your car’s electrical system and subject to blown fuses and short circuits. When you’ve been desperately attempting to start your car, the starter can overheat making electrical issues—and the accompanying smoke—more likely. If you see or smell smoke, call for help rather than turning the key harder, again!
5. Oil has soaked the starter.
Your starter can usually be found on the passenger's side (if RWD) of the engine, just below the exhaust manifold. Or if it is FWD, check on the drivers side above the transmission or under the exhaust manifold. They can also be located just under the intake manifold on some vehicles. If you pop the hood only to find that your starter is drenched in engine oil, your bad starter might be a symptom of another problem—an oil leak. Unfortunately, what starts out as a few drops of oil can slowly and sometimes unnoticeably turn into an expensive problem, so keep an eye out for oil leaks to avoid starter issues of this nature.
What causes starter problems?
A variety of problems can lead to a bad starter, including:
- Loose wiring to and from the starter
- Dirty or corroded connections at the starter
- Battery corrosion
- Damaged or worn-out parts in the starter system
- Oil leaks
- Bad relay or fuse
How do you troubleshoot starter problems?
Assuming you’ve already tried to start and jumpstart your car, try one of the following troubleshooting tips.
1. Look under the hood.
Check the battery and battery cables to see whether everything’s in working order. A weak or dead battery, or even faulty battery cables, could be causing the problems with your car, not the starter.
2. Tap the starter.
Try lightly tapping the starter a few times with a hard object, making sure not to pound it. In some cases, this gentle tapping can help power it back up, since you’ll be tapping the electrical components back in contact with each other. Know how you can sometimes bang on the side of an old TV to bring the picture back into focus? It's kind of like that. But like your wonky television, your car may only react to this fix temporarily—just long enough to get you to your nearest service center.
3. Adjust the transmission.
Let’s say your car’s automatic transmission is in the “park” setting but the car won’t start. If that’s the case, try starting the car in “neutral.” If it starts in "neutral," there may be a technical glitch that’s preventing the car from starting in "park," like a faulty neutral safety switch.
4. Check the fuel gauge.
We know it seems silly but...is your gas tank empty? That’s a sure reason why your car isn’t starting!
Many times, the quick fix for a bad starter is tapping it. Jumpstarting your car can get it on the road, at least temporarily, but then you'll want to get the problem checked out by a qualified technician. If a jumpstart or tap doesn’t do the trick, you’ll most likely need to get the car towed and have the starter repaired or replaced. We can help with that.
When you suspect a starter problem, start with your local Firestone Complete Auto Care. We'll provide you with a free inspection—no strings attached. If your starter is bad, our experienced technicians can get your car fixed right, at the right price, right on time.