Rick's Free Auto Repair Advice

Starter clicks but wont start the engine

Starter clicks but wont crank the engine

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

Possible causes of starter clicks but wont crank

• Dead battery
• Corroded battery terminals
• Bad starter relay
• Bad starter

Step 1 Does your vehicle have a blinking anti-theft light?

Some cars and trucks will not allow engine cranking if the anti-theft (immobilizer system) is showing a fault. In most cases, the SECURITY light will flash if there’s a problem with the system.

1) Remove all other keys from your key ring and move them out of the way
2) Turn off the cell phone, GPS, laptop, MP3 players, or any other electronic device that could be causing interference
3) Try another key.

Step 2 Check the car battery

If the anti-theft light isn’t blinking, your next step is to check the condition of the battery. Of course, you won’t have a voltmeter with you when you get stranded, so try this:

  1. Turn on the dome light.
  2. Turn off ALL other electrical accessories; headlights, blower, rear defogger, and heated seats.
  3. Turn the key to START while watching the dome light. If the dome light dims way down, your battery is discharged. It only takes a few watts of power to run the dome light. If your battery can’t provide that little bit of power while trying to operate the starter, it’s most likely a dead battery. But there are more things you can try before you give up.

A car battery works by chemical reaction. The reaction slows when the battery is cold. So you want to warm it up. How? Simple. Repeat Step 3 several more times. Each time you put a load on the battery you’re creating heat. If it still doesn’t crank after the 6th or 7th try, it’s toast.

Step 3 Check the car battery connections

Battery terminals must make good contact to carry the 100-200 amps needed to operate the starter. You can’t always tell if the terminals are corroded visually. I know you don’t have tools with you to clean the terminals, but here’s a trick. You need to move them or at least vibrate them to get a better connection

Smack the side of the positive and negative battery terminals with the heel of your shoe. Don’t hit straight down on the terminal; the goal is to force them to rotate slightly. I’m not kidding, this works?

If you’re at home and have tools to clean the battery terminals, click here for the procedure

If you’re sure the battery is dead and you want to replace it, click here for step by step car battery replacement instructions

Step 4 Swap the starter relay

If you hear a faint clicking sound coming from the small starter relay in the fuse box but the starter won’t crank, you can try swapping in a different relay. The starter solenoid’s job is to connect the large gauge battery cable to the starter so 400 amps can push the starter drive into the flywheel and rotate the engine. Carmakers often use a small relay in the fuse box to switch power to the starter solenoid. Sometimes the contacts pitt and won’t transfer power. That’s when you try swapping in a different relay. Here’s how.

Here’s a diagram of a typical starting system that uses a fuse box relay.

1) Locate the relay in the fuse box
2) Find a different relay that looks just like the starter relay
3) Yank the starter relay straight out (rocking it side to side as you pull will help)
4) Substitute the other relay and try starting the engine. If it works, the relay is bad. Find a replacement at any auto parts store.


© 2012 Rick Muscoplat

Posted on by Rick Muscoplat

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