There’s nothing worse than getting into your car, strapping yourself in, pressing the ignition and, “click, click, click,” nothing happens. Your day just got hectic.

You could’ve sidestepped this inconvenience months ago when your car first started showing symptoms of a bad starter. Unfortunately, you’re still unsure of what those symptoms were. To ensure this doesn’t happen again, take a look at Car Bible’s guide below so you catch these symptoms sooner.

New car starter dissasembled

What Are The Symptoms of a Bad Starter?

Like symptoms of the flu, symptoms of a bad starter are easily spotted but can range in severity. Here are a handful of symptoms:

  • Starter Clicking

Whenever you turn your ignition on, you can hear the starter “click, click, click” and the engine fires. One symptom of a bad starter is that the “clicks” last longer than usual or don’t immediately start the engine.

  • Accessories Run, Engine Doesn’t

Similar to how “clicks” could take longer to start the engine, if you press or turn the ignition and all you get is the car’s accessories like lights, radio, and HVAC but not ignition, your starter could be bad.

  • “Clicking” After Engine Turns On

If your starter continues to “click” after the engine is on, your starter is going bad. It should not continue to try and start the engine while the engine runs.

  • Smoke From Under the Hood

Like all mechanical parts, if you stress the starter for too long it’s going to go caput. When you’re trying to get the car to start and all you hear is the continued “clicking” noise, you’ll eventually heat-soak the starter and smoke will start emanating from under the hood.

  • Grinding Noises After Start-Up

Just as a starter might fail to engage, it can also fail to disengage. If you start the car, and there’s a shrieking grinding sound, it could be the sound of the starter grinding against the flywheel because it didn’t disengage quickly enough.

Bad Starter Basics

  • What Is a Car Starter

A car starter consists of a small electric motor and solenoid.

  • How Does a Car Starter Work

The starter’s solenoid takes energy from the car’s battery and sends it to the attached electric motor. The motor uses that energy to push a starter gear into the vehicle’s flywheel, which then cranks the car and fires the engine.

Bad Starter FAQs

Car starters can appear complicated and many will give up, relegating their starter issues to be tackled by seasoned professionals. You don’t have to call it quits, though! The editors at Car Bibles have compiled a small list of FAQs concerning car starters to help pierce the murky waters. Let’s do this.

Q: What Causes a Bad Starter?

A: A bad starter could be caused by oil, dirt, and debris getting into the starter, along with loose connections, battery corrosion, and damaged parts. Or simply age?

Q: How Much Does It Cost To Replace a Starter?

A: The physical part will range between a couple hundred dollars to a thousand, depending on the vehicle. Labor will cost you more if you go the professional route.

Q: What Happens When a Car Starter Goes Out?

A: You’ll be stuck in your driveway, work parking lot, or at the gas station. As such, it’s important to catch the symptoms of a bad starter early.

Q: How Do You Tell If It’s Your Battery or Your Starter?

A: A car with a bad battery will have dimmed interior and exterior lights and panels or will be so drained that nothing will turn on, including your starter. A car with a bad starter will still be able to run your vehicle’s ancillaries.

Q: How Do I Know If My Starter Needs to be Replaced?

A: Are you stuck by the side of the road? Is there smoke pouring out of your hood? When turning on the ignition, is the only thing you hear “click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click?” If any of those apply to you, or you have any of the other symptoms described above, it’s time to replace your starter.

Driver initiating car starter with start button

Bad Car Starter Tips & Tricks

There are always tips and tricks to learn, and Car Bible’s editors want to give you all of theirs.

  • If you’re going the DIY route of starter replacement, you can exchange your old starter for a new starter and get a small discount on the new part, as the part can be refurbished by a professional.
  • Check your car’s battery connections to make sure you don’t have a loose wire.
  • Clean the engine bay every so often and immediately after getting your car very dirty; i.e. after mudding or off-roading. This can help prevent starter motor issues.