Nothing can bring on a feeling of dread quite like a starter problem with your car.
You hop into your vehicle expecting to go to work. Or you fall in after a long day of playing, ready to head home for the night. You turn the key or press the button and … nothing. The car won’t start.
How a starter works
When you turn the key in your car’s ignition, the engine turns over. This may seem like an easy, instantaneous process, but it actually relies on several actions to take place.
When you turn the ignition, it engages the engine and allows it to suck in air and fuel.
On the engine itself is a flywheel with a ring gear at the edge. It’s fitted onto a crankshaft. A pinion on the starter is designed to fit within the grooves of this ring gear.
When you turn the ignition, an electromagnet inside the compartment engages and pushes a rod with the pinion attached. The pinion connects with the flywheel and the starter motor engages. This spins to turn the engine, sucking in both air and fuel.
Once the engine is operating, the starter motor disengages, the electromagnet stops, and the rod retracts. This prevents damage from occurring to the starter system.
Over a period of time, any part of this system can begin to wear down. The two most common parts to tail include:
- The solenoid – this sends an electrical signal to the starter to activate the action
- The starter motor itself
When either of these occur, the starter will no longer engage, meaning your car won’t start. Until repair or replacement, you’ll be stuck.
Luckily, these parts rarely cease without warning. When the starter begins to wear down, it will give off signals alerting you to potential problems.
Warning signs your starter is wearing out
Like any other mechanical device on your car, the starter won’t stop working without warning signs appearing first. Here are a few indicators you can watch for to help you determine if you have a problem with your starter.
The engine won’t turn over
One of the most common indicators of a potential problem with your starter is when you turn the key in the ignition and nothing happens. This can be caused by the solenoid or motor burning out. It may also be a problem with your battery; one of our mechanics can test the system and see where your problem lies.
Starter engages but the motor doesn’t spin
There are times when you turn the key in the ignition, and you hear a clicking sound as the starter tries to activate. No matter how many times you turn the key, the motor won’t turn over. This is usually caused by a problem with the gears on the flywheel. The gear may be stripped, or it’s separated from the flywheel. If this is the case, the starter will need to be replaced.
The engine turns over intermittently
This can be a trickier issue than the other two. Your car starts fine, and then it doesn’t. This can be a minor problem anywhere within the system.
- A loose or dirty wire
- An electrical component that’s burnt out
- A gear starting to slip
When you start to see patterns in the behavior of your vehicle, the situation will only get worse over time. Before it leaves you stranded, take your car in for an inspection to pinpoint the problem early, and possibly reduce the pricetag of your repair bill.
You hear a grinding noise when you turn the key
Instead of a clicking noise, the sound might be deeper. This warning sign occurs when the gears connecting the flywheel to the starter wear down, or the parts within the starter motor wear out. Any noise originating in the starting process should be checked out to ensure it doesn’t leave you stranded.
See or smell smoke when starting the motor
The starter process is mechanical, relying on the electrical system to make it all work. If any portion of this process isn’t working correctly, it can cause the starter to overheat. This may produce smoke or a burning smell coming up from underneath the engine. It could be caused by a variety of things, including a blown fuse or a problem with the ignition switch. A mechanic will be able to evaluate it and get to the root cause.
The starter continues to run after the engine is working
Whether you turn the key or press the button, once you hear the engine engage, you release the key or pull your finger away, ready to put the car into gear and drive away. The starter process disengages until it’s needed again. Unless it doesn’t. If you hear the starter continue to work after release, you have a problem somewhere in your system’s electrical circuitry. It can lead to damage elsewhere in your system if you continue to drive without fixing it.
What happens if you don’t fix a starter at the first sign of trouble?
If your car won’t start, there’s little you can do. You’ll have to have your car towed and fix the problem before driving it once again. But if you experience a warning sign of starter trouble, you have time to resolve the issue before it worsens. Continued driving with a starter problem can lead to:
- Dim lighting
- Battery problems
- Electrical system damage
- Transmission damage
- Engine damage
- Vehicle refusing to start
Minor repairs can sometimes be fixed quickly and at a lower cost to you. The more your car goes unchecked, the more damage can occur, and the more your repair bill will increase. Taking early steps can often keep the problem to a minimum.
Take your vehicle in early, and we can help identify where the problem originates. The root cause of any starter problem is most likely the starter motor, starter relay, or solenoid. This involves straightforward repairs, and your car will be back and ready for you to drive in no time.