Nothing stops the fun quicker than a broken starter. Your car won’t start which means you’re not going anywhere. The good news is that you came to the right place – we have a few tricks that might help you get your car started momentarily.
In this guide, we’ll explain what the starter is, what it does, and how to diagnose a broken starter. From there, we’ll give you 6 tips to quickly fix a starter, some extra troubleshooting help, then step-by-step instructions to replace your starter with a brand-new one.
What is a Starter and What Does It Do?
An engine keeps running thanks to the inertial power of the pistons firing. The engine needs a little boost to get started, and that’s where the starter comes in.
It’s also called a self-starter, starter motor, or cranking motor. It gives an initial crank that allows the engine to begin firing and continue going under its own power.
The starter is powered by your battery. This means that you should ensure your battery is working before trying to fix a broken starter (which might not even be broken!).
Symptoms of a Bad or Broken Starter
This section will help you troubleshoot your starter a little and make sure you’re fixing the right part. If you’re already positive that your starter is broken, skip to the section titled “6 ways to fix a broken starter”.
A Weird Clicking Noise
When a starter is on its death bed, it will start making some funky noises. This will only happen when you first turn the key, so pay close attention.
The most common noise is a strange clicking noise as you turn the key. You might also hear whirring or grinding which means the end is closer than you think.
At the same time, a starter can die with no warning at all.
Car Won’t Rev or Start
Even after a jumpstart, is your car refusing to rev, let alone start? It could be your starter. Remember, this is the little mechanism that revs your car to a start.
Oil is All Over Your Starter
After finding the starter, look for signs of oil. When your car leaks oil, a lot of things can get ruined in the wake. Troubleshooting your car’s oil leak might indicate other problems beyond just a faulty starter.
Your Car is Smoking
Smoking might be a bad habit for humans, but it’s a death sentence for cars. If your car overheats, you might be experiencing some electrical issues like a blown fuse. That smoke could be a response from you trying to start your car too desperately.
Finding the Starter
The starter is connected to the transmission. Exactly where the starter is, depends on what kind of vehicle you have. This is another case of auto designers putting a piece wherever it fits. Often times it can be on the driver-side and have an audible clicking noise when trying to start the car.
If you can spot your transmission, you’re off to a good start. The starter will be on either the left, right, or front side of the engine and transmission. You can spot it if you look for some wires running to the starter and a number of bolts used to fasten it.
You might have to remove an engine cover or airboxes to spot the starter.
6 Quick Ways to Start a Car With a Broken Starter
Now that you located and confirmed that your starter is broken, it’s time to fix it. We use the term “fix” here loosely because none of these ways involve going to a mechanic and installing a brand-new starter. If this is what you want, we’ll show you exactly how to do that later in this guide.
If anything, these are methods that will get your car started so you can drive it to a mechanic or get yourself home.
#1: Clean Off the Corrosion & Rust
If your starter has a lot of corrosion on it, then a simple cleaning might get you up and running. This rust could stop the electrical current that’s trying to get into your starter. Without this current, your starter won’t fire.
The best way to do this is to remove your starter and use fine-grit sandpaper to knock off any corrosion, debris, oil, or dust. If the corrosion doesn’t seem to go away, mix together water and soda and apply it on a rag. Be careful not to damage the connections during this process.
#2: Tap with a Hammer or Wrench
If your wipers and headlights are working but your car won’t start, you can use the hammer method. Your starter might have a stuck gear within, or something mechanically jammed on something else.
Grab a hammer or wrench and gently tap the starter a few times. Before doing so, make sure it’s definitely the starter that you’re hitting and not another engine component. Try to turn on your car again and see if it worked. If not, you can try tapping a few more times a little harder before calling it quits.
#3: Push Your Car
If your car is a manual, you’re in luck. This method is a new take on the term “push to start”. Throw your car in first and keep the clutch pushed in. Have a buddy or two get behind your car and start pushing you forward.
When you hit 5 or 10 mph, pop the clutch and give it some gas. This should bring your car to life. Now you just have to avoid stalling because you’ll have to redo the whole process.
#4: Test the Starter Solenoid
The starter solenoid is the part that takes an electrical signal from your battery and transfers it into the starter. If your solenoid isn’t firing, your starter won’t do anything.
A quick way to test your starter solenoid is to bypass the relay. Don’t worry, it’s a lot easier than you think. Grab a screwdriver and use it to bridge the gap between the positive terminal of your battery and the solenoid terminal.
This allows the current to flow through your screwdriver instead of through the solenoid relay. Make sure the screwdriver is metal and you’re not touching any part of it.
Hold the screwdriver there while someone else attempts to start your car. If it starts, then you simply need to replace your solenoid relays.
#5: Double Check the Connections
Remember, your starter needs an electrical signal and needs a mechanical output in order to work. If any parts aren’t connected properly, the starter won’t work. Often, it’s easier to do this technique before any of the others. Tapping a starter with a hammer won’t do you any good if the starter isn’t plugged in.
Even if everything looks good, tighten the connections to make sure.
#6: Give It a Jump
Even if your battery is healthy, a jump start might bring your starter back to life. We know, it doesn’t make sense – but that’s the world of auto repair. Sometimes the added juice is enough to give the starter what it needs to turn on your car.
Keeping a portable battery jump kit is a great idea if your starter is finicky. You won’t have to rely on a second vehicle with this kit.
Other Things to Check
If your car still isn’t starting, don’t lose hope. There are a few other things to check before throwing in the towel. These aren’t necessarily related to the starter, but they can present the same symptoms and might trick you into thinking it’s due to the starter.
Is Your Battery Dead?
A dead battery won’t let you start your car. Test the life of your battery to make sure that isn’t the real culprit. You can do this with a multimeter or a specialized battery testing tool. Basically, you just want to confirm that it really is your starter failing, not a faulty battery.
Make Sure Your Battery is Grounded
Another hiccup that can occur thanks to the battery is a missing ground. The starter itself isn’t grounded – it relies on the battery. If your car’s battery has an improper ground connection, make sure you identify it and reconnect it.
If you want to test the ground, add a wire or leader from the negative terminal of your battery to an exposed piece of metal on your car.
Check Your Fuel Gauge
If you’re out of gas, your car isn’t going to start. The first way to check is to look at your fuel gauge when you turn your key to the “RUN” position in the ignition. If you need a little top-off, you can always fill up a jerry can and bring it back home.
Replace Your Fuel Pump or Filter
The filter and pump in your fuel system could also be to blame. Test to see if these are the culprits and replace them if they are. If you need to, you can get the mechanic involved here.
Try Starting from Neutral
If you have an automatic transmission, there’s a quick cheat that might work for you. Try starting the car from neutral instead of ‘PARK.’ Sometimes there’s an internal glitch with the starter and something as easy as this will get your car running.
If it works, don’t assume that your starter is fixed. Still plan on replacing the starter or doing some extra troubleshooting to see what’s going on. Sometimes a starter that operates only in neutral is the sign that it’s on the fritz.
Pop the Hood
Another general piece of advice is to take a close look under the hood. Do you notice any disconnected pieces, damage, oil spills, or anything notable? These might be signs of a bigger problem. Your car not starting might not have anything to do with a faulty starter, after all.
How to Replace a Broken Starter?
What happens if you did some troubleshooting and your starter refuses to work? If you narrowed it down and you’re sure the starter is the culprit, it’s time for some wrench-turning. This section will highlight step-by-step instructions for replacing a broken starter on your own.
Be aware, you’ll need some car knowledge before getting started. In addition, you’ll need a few hours to burn.
Step #1: Disconnect the Battery
You don’t want to shock yourself during this process – safety first!
Step #2: Jack it Up
If you have an FWD car, you can disregard this step because the starter will probably be accessible simply by popping the hood.
Step #3: Remove the Bolts
There will be a few bolts connecting the starter to your car. Remove those bolts and make sure you put them somewhere and remember where.
One of the bolts should be easy to get to, and the other is typically a pain in the neck. You might need an extension or crowfoot wrench to get to it.
If the car is jacked up, the starter will want to drop on your head. To avoid needless pain, make sure you’re supporting the starter and try to position yourself out of the way. You might be surprised how heavy these guys are.
Step #4: Remove the Wires
Now it’s time to disconnect the wires. One of the wires will be pretty beefy, but the rest are pretty small. They might be secured with a metal or plastic nut.
Step #5: Remove the Starter
Double-check that everything is disconnected and the starter is free to remove. The last thing you want to do is pull a connected wire – especially if you don’t know where the other end goes.
You might need to twist and turn the starter to get it out of its mounting area.
Step #6: Clean the Area and Install the New Starter
Clean off the exposed eyelets on the wires. Make sure there’s no debris in the connection points or mounting holes for the starter.
Put the new starter in and re-connect the wires then install the bolts. If any shims were removed from the original starter, make sure they find their way back on this new starter.
Ensure all the bolts are tightened and the wire connections are firm.
Step #7: Reconnect the Battery and Cross Your Fingers
Anyone who has worked on cars knows that this is the most stressful part. After reconnecting the battery, the new starter should bring your car back to life.
Cross your fingers before jumping in the driver’s seat and turning the key. If it fires up, shut off and start the car 4 or 5 times. This ensures that everything is connected correctly and the starter is good to go.
You should have a better idea of how to fix a broken starter now. We reviewed what the starter is, how to find it, some quick ways to fix it, and some other troubleshooting steps to help. For more troubleshooting and interesting reads about cars, check out the rest of our blog. Make sure you have the right tools and accessories for your vehicle.