Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Car won’t start, starter issues

Diagnose car won’t start caused by starter issues

If your car won’t start because the starter doesn’t rotate the engine, you’ve come to the right place. First, let’s take a look at the many ways a starter can fail. Here are the most common starter failure symptoms:

• Turn key to start and hear nothing

• Turn key to start and hear a single click

• Turn key to start and hear multiple rapid fire clicks

What to do when you turn the key to start and hear nothing symptom

This is usually an electrical problem caused by a dead battery, faulty ignition switch, corroded battery terminals, or bad park/neutral switch. Always start your diagnosis with a battery check. Here’s how to do that.

Test battery voltage (if you have a volt meter handy)

Check battery voltage

These are the voltage reading for a maintenance free battery at various charge levels and temperatures.

Battery voltage at 50°F

Fully charged 12.77 volts, 50% charged 12.37 volts, 25% charged 11.97 volts, 0% charged 11.77 volts

Battery voltage at 20°F

Fully charged 12.56 volts, 50% charged 12.15 volts, 25% charged 12.032 volts, 0% charged 11.80 volts

Battery voltage at 0°F

Fully charged 12.66 volts, 50% charged 12.26 volts, 25% charged 11.86 volts, 0% charged 11.66 volts

Test battery without a volt meter

Turn off all electrical accessories—heated seats, blower motor and rear window defogger. Then turn on the dome light (KEY in the OFF position). Is it brightly lit? If so, that’s a good sign. If it’s dimly lit, you’ve got a severely discharged battery or very corroded battery terminals. How do I come to that conclusion? Simple. A dome light represents a very small current draw. If the battery can’t light the dome light brightly with all other electrical accessories off, the battery is so discharged it can’t engage the starter.

What to do? Getting a jump may help you start the engine, but you’d better plan on driving directly to a shop to get your battery tested/replace. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you’re out of the woods or can simply recharge the battery by driving. Read this post on charging a battery after a jump start to understand why this won’t work.

If the dome light burns brightly but you still hear nothing when turning the key to start, move the shifter to the neutral position and try starting. If that works, your park/neutral switch may be the culprit or the shift cable may be out of adjustment. Get it to a shop sooner rather than later because this trick won’t work forever.

When you turn the key to start and hear a single click symptom

With this symptom you can rule out ignition switch and park/neutral switch issues since power is getting to the starter. What you don’t know, however, is whether the problem is caused by the battery or starter. Turn the key to the RUN position and turn the blower motor to HIGH, turn on the headlights and then turn on the dome light. Are all lights burning brightly? Is the fan running at it’s normal high speed? If so, then the battery is probably good and there’s a short in the starter motor. Turn off all the electrical accessories, and try starting again. After several attempted starts, lift the hood and smell. If you detect a burning smell, you’ve confirmed a bad starter. The smell is caused by the electrical winding overheating in the starter. In other words, you’re not going anywhere. Call a tow truck.

Diagnose a turn the key and hear multiple rapid fire clicks

Multiple clicking sounds without cranking is almost always the sign of a discharged battery or poor contact between the battery terminals and battery posts. How do you decide? Here are some tips.

• Turn off all electrical accessories like heated seats, blower motor, headlights and rear window defogger. Then turn on the dome light. Turn the key to START and watch the dome light. If it dims, your battery is severely discharged. What this test shows is that the battery is so low that it can’t even keep a 10-watt light bulb lit while engaging the starter. What can you do at this point? Clean the battery terminals because you’ve got nothing to lose at this point. If that doesn’t work, get a jump start or have it towed.

severly corroded battery posts and terminals

These corroded battery terminals are killing this battery

If you get it jumped and it starts, don’t think you’re out of the woods. Get it to a repair center or auto parts store IMMEDIATELY and get the battery tested. If you think you can simply drive the car to recharge the battery without replacing it, you’ll be stranded again. See this post

• If the dome light doesn’t dim all the way, you may just have a poor connection between the battery terminals and battery posts. This happens most often in spring and fall when the outside temps vary quite a bit from day to night. That causes expansion and contraction at the battery terminals, causing poor contact. What can you do at this point? There’s one trick.

Sometimes all it takes is slight movement to reestablish battery terminal-to-post contact. Using the heel of your shoe, tap the battery terminal on the side, trying to rotate it slightly around the battery post. Then try starting. If it works, get it to a shop to have the battery terminals/posts cleaned. That should cost less than $20

©, 2018 Rick Muscoplat



Posted on by Rick Muscoplat


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