Issues in starting a car are common, but most car owners will look at every possible problem except the car starter.
What is a car starter and what are its functions?
A car starter, aka starter motor, is responsible for turning over and cranking the engine. It is located within the engine and consists of an electric motor powered by the car battery.
The starter motor is attached to a solenoid that engages the starter motor's drive gear to rotate the starter gear. As the car starter motor turns, the engine turns over and sucks in air and fuel, allowing combustion to take place. With its job done, the starter motor then disengages.
Are car starter problems easy to detect?
What happens when the car will not start, but your battery's health is at 100%?
You guessed it right! You may be experiencing car starter issues. Car starter problems start to show earlier on, which is unlike most car issues that are not as easily detected. Once you notice the problem, you should get it fixed right away and prevent it from worsening.
Let’s not confuse it, however, to other parts of a car that may cause starting issues, namely, the battery and alternator.
How do you tell that it's the car starter and not the battery or alternator?
Other parts under the hood that may cause starting problems include the battery and the alternator. A battery supplies power to the car starter and other electrical devices in a vehicle, while an alternator recharges the battery. So, how do you know that the culprit is neither a faulty alternator nor a drained battery? What symptoms will point to a faulty starter motor with certainty?
First, let’s eliminate the symptoms of problematic alternator or battery.
1. Faulty Alternator – electrical problems like the stereo not working properly, flickering indicator lights and headlights, car stalling, and eventual battery death.
2. Faulty Battery – clicking sound when starting, backfiring, a slow crank, and dim headlights.
If it’s none of the above signs, then we can move to confirm if the symptoms point to a defective car starter motor.
What are the signs that you need a new starter motor?
To aid early detection, we have compiled five common signs of a faulty starter motor.
1. Overheating or smoke – as a system configured for electrical functioning, the car starter is vulnerable to short circuits and blown fuses. When the faulty starter motor starts acting up, you may notice overheating of the car starter, which is usually accompanied by smoke. When you detect smoke, stop turning the ignition key immediately and seek professional help before your car problems worsen.
2. Car starter remains ‘On’ after the engine starts – turning the ignition key or press 'engine start' button starts the engine; releasing the key or button terminates the circuit and disengages the starter motor. With a faulty starter motor, the circuit does not terminate. Technically this means that the solenoid contacts have fused in the closed position. If this is the case, it should be immediately addressed since it results in the relay being stuck in the "on" position, which will ruin the transmission flywheel and, ultimately, the starter motor system.
3. Engine does not crank - when the engine fails to rev up when you attempt to crank it, there is a starter problem. What you will hear instead is a whining sound. This is referred to as freewheeling, which happens when the starter motor is not engaging the flywheel. This is a serious issue and may require replacing the entire starter system. You could attempt to jumpstart your vehicle as a workable solution for this scenario (this only works for manual cars). If this option fails, then you will have to consult your mechanic.
4. Recurring starting issues – when you try starting your car, and it fails the first time, the most obvious thing to do is try again, right? And once it starts, you assume it may have been a minor glitch of some sort. Wrong, what it indicates is that it’s a potential car starter issue that’s gradually worsening. A highly probable cause is a dysfunctional relay, which is responsible for transmitting electrical current from the battery to the starter. The first time you ignite, it fails to send an electrical current to the starter but will send a full charge to ignite the starter motor after the subsequent try. In some cases, you will hear a clicking sound when you turn the ignition key, indicating a damaged relay.
5. Grinding Noise – this is among the most common and telling signs of a car starter motor issue. Always have an ear out for a grinding noise while starting your car. This sound signifies that the starter gear is worn out or has a problem engaging. Once you hear these noises, visit your mechanic to avoid more damage, which may extend to parts such as the flywheel.
And there you have it. Five easily identifiable signs that your car starter motor is faulty. Don't take these signs lightly. You need to address the issue immediately to avoid more damage to the car starter and other parts, resulting in even costlier repairs.
If you’ve confirmed the need to replace your faulty starter motor or other car parts, make sure that you get the best quality. If you're anywhere in Australia or New Zealand, you should try Carpart's auto part finder. It's easy and free to use. Find your part now!
By Eric Anyega