Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Car starter clicks but wont start the engine

Diagnose the problem when starter clicks but wont crank the engine

If you turn the key to start your engine and your Car starter Car starter clicks but wont start the engine, this may be the article for you.

Clean the battery terminals

I know you really want to find a serious problem and spend (waste) lots of money replacing things that aren’t broken, but the first step in diagnosing a problem where the Car starter clicks but wont start the engine is to clean the battery terminals and ground cables connections.

car won't start, dirty battery cables, clean battery cables

Look at the corrosion on these battery cables. And you wonder why it won’t start?

Then test the battery condition. To read how to do that, read this article.

Looks are deceiving

The battery terminals may look OK, but when you’re trying to run 300 amps through them, even the smallest bit of corrosion can cause a huge voltage drop. The voltage drop will reduce voltage to the point where the solenoid engages, but can’t power the starter. That’s why the starter clicks but wont start. I’ve seen plenty of cables that looked fine but resulted in starting problems. So humor me on this and start by cleaning both battery terminals. All you need is a socket set and a battery terminal cleaning brush.

dirty battery terminals, click but no start, starter clicks,

Remove the battery cable terminals and clean the inside of the terminal and the battery post with a battery cleaning brush

When you’re done cleaning the battery terminals, clean the negative cable where it attaches to the engine. Then clean the battery negative where it attaches to the body. Finally, clean the cable that goes from the engine to the firewall. Still won’t start? Ok, at least you tried the inexpensive fix first.

clean battery terminals, starter clicks once, starter clicks, car won't start

Neutralize battery corrosion and protect against future corrosion with these product. Find them at any auto parts store.











Diagnostic tip if you don’t have tools.

People on auto forums always say “it can’t be my battery because the dash lights and radio come on when I turn the key.” Well, I’ve got news for you. Those components take almost no power to run. Energizing the solenoid on a starter motor takes a LOT more power. Here’s a quick diagnostic trick to check the condition of your battery:

1) Turn on the dome light.

2) Try to start it while watching the dome light. If the light dims by quite a bit, that’s an indication that power is getting to the starter and it’s drawing enough power to dim the light. Diagnosis? Perhaps a bad starter. But it could also be corroded connectors that are introducing a substantial voltage drop.

3) If the light doesn’t dim at all, then power isn’t even getting to the starter. The likely cause would be a bad or out-of-adjustment neutral safety switch. (If you own a Ford, it’s called the transmission range selector switch (TRS) and they have a high failure rate) You’ll need a digital multimeter and a wiring diagram to test out the neutral safety switch.

4) Remove a shoe and TAP (not hit) the battery terminals. That may cause enough vibration or movement to get you a good enough connection to turn the starter. If it works, clean the battery terminals ASAP.

NOTE: Do NOT use a 12V test light unless it’s rated as “computer safe.” Many new cars run the neutral switch through the anti-theft system and those are powered by computer. A 12V incandescent test light can fry those computers.


© 2012 Rick Muscoplat

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat

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