It is common to assume that a vehicle not starting is the direct result of a dead battery. In some instance that might be the case, however, sometimes the problem is the vehicle’s starter. How can you tell if the starter is the problem as opposed to another electrical component? Besides not being able to start your vehicle, here are some warning signs that your vehicle’s starter could be on the fritz.
When the starter drive gear is worn out or not engaging properly, they will often produce a grinding noise that is similar to the one that is heard if you start your engine and then accidentally hit the starter again. If the grinding symptom is ignored, it may also result in damage to the engine flywheel.
Freewheeling occurs when your crank the engine and simply hear a whining noise from the starter without the engine cranking. When this occurs, it means the starter gear is not engaging with the flywheel. This is a bad situation that could result in the need for a starter replacement. If this is occurring, service your vehicle as soon as possible.
Seeing smoke is cause for immediate concern, and can indicate a few different problems with the starter or starting circuit. Smoke usually indicates that too much power is being drawn through the electrical supply to a starter, either because the starter is shorted, has been operated too long without a rest or that there is a connection problem. Smoke might also be accompanied by a burning smell. If you see smoke, you should have your vehicle serviced by a professional as soon as possible. In this situation, we recommend calling for a tow.
The starter is often located around the bottom of the engine and is vulnerable to soaking from leaks from your engine oil or other drivetrain fluids. An oil-soaked starter likely has a short life remaining. Consider correcting the leak and replacing the starter before a malfunction occurs.
The solenoid transmits electrical current from the battery to the starter motor when you turn the key in your vehicle’s ignition and also pushes the starter drive into the flywheel to allow cranking. Without the solenoid, the starter will not work. If you turn the key to the crank position and nothing happens, try jiggling the transmission gear shift lever first. If the engine still will not crank, there might be something wrong with the solenoid.