Diagnostic Corner: Knowing When to Replace your Starter


Dinner was great, the movie was entertaining, and now it’s time to head back home after a nice evening out.  You slide into the driver’s seat, put the key into the ignition, and…




You turn the key again…


Click.  Click.


It couldn’t be the battery, because all of the dashboard lights are brightly lit.  What could it be?


In this case, you can likely blame the vehicle’s STARTER for your issue.  Let’s take a look at how you can be certain that your starter has let you down…


What Does a Starter Mean to your Vehicle?


A starter is just as its name indicates – it starts your engine.  But, the manner in which it does it can be a bit confusing.  With a direct power connection to the battery, the starter spins the flywheel (manual transmissions) or flex plate (automatic transmissions) that gets the engine and transmission fired up and ready to take you on your way.


Diagnostic Corner  Knowing When to Replace your Starter


While the above description leaves out some other parts of the technical process, having a working idea of how the component functions is all that is necessary for diagnosis.  There IS the possibility, however, that the connection between the battery and starter is to blame.  But, for the most part, this is a rarity.


How to Diagnose a Bad Starter


As we mentioned in the introduction, anytime you are turning the ignition over and get nothing but a “click”, you can assume that your vehicle is having starter issues.  If the dashboard lights are brightly lit, you can assume that the battery is charged just fine, eliminating battery or alternator issues.  Here are a few things to consider during diagnosis:


(1)    Electrical Connections


Before running to the parts store to grab a new starter, however, it’s always a good idea to check out some of the connections.  Are the battery terminals nice and tight?  What about the connection leading to the starter?  If the wires are brittle, you may have saved yourself some money!


(2)    Do You Have An Alarm?


We aren’t asking this question because we want your address and intend on cruising by for some freebees.  Instead, it’s all about understanding your electrical system.  Any aftermarket or alarm connections are part of the electrical line, and a damaged connection anywhere along this lead could cause your starter to fail.  Give it all a look – you may learn that the problem is actually smaller than we thought!


(3)    The Old School Method


We’re going to preface this with one warning:  DO NOT hit your starter with a hammer!  And, if you do, we certainly are not responsible!  Our lawyers made us say that…


But, if you’re feeling froggy, and in some cases this will work, use a rubber mallet to give your starter a WHACK.  Sometimes, the component seizes, and just needs a “jump start”.  It doesn’t take much force, though, so don’t knock your starter into next week!


It’s also worth mentioning that if you have to do this more than once, you’ll probably need to replace the component anyway.


Repair Prognosis


If you determine that your starter needs to be replaced, the overall project really isn’t that difficult.  In most vehicles, it is easy to access and is mounted with just a few bolts.  There is also a wiring lead that is either held to the component with a bolt or via an electrical connector.  The bolted method is the most common.


Those that are familiar with auto repairs can complete the project in about 30 minutes.  If you are new to such repairs, or the particular vehicle, it can take up to an hour, but not much more than that.  You’ll be out of the garage and back in the house in time for lunch and a ballgame.


By taking the time to diagnose and replace the starter, you can save a nice chunk of money, while increasing your confidence for future repairs!  You can do it – we have faith in ya!



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