What Does a Bad Starter Sound Like? – The Symptoms and Solutions

Even a functioning starter creates some noise! You will hear it when turning the engine although for a brief time. It could linger a bit during cold weather when the starter needs some time to get to the 15 psi oil pressure required for the engine to kick in. But, what does a bad starter sound like?

A bad starter sound can be of various types. Mostly, it is frequent successive clicks or whirring noise. Sometimes, there is complete silence. Learning what does a bad starter sound like on a car and the signs of a bad starter will help you to take action as soon as the problem occurs.

What Does a Bad Starter Sound Like?

The symptoms of a bad starter are laboring to crank the engine and it may make several noises while struggling. Let’s discuss the type of sounds that a starter creates when it is malfunctioning.

1. A single loud click

When you turn the ignition key and watch all the car power going off with a loud clicking sound, then the trouble is not with the starter. It is more like an immense power drain with the switching on the starter motor, dropping the battery’s voltage below 7 volts – which is the minimum to kick off the ignition.

what does a bad starter sound like on a car
A single loud click often means a battery problem. (Photo: drivetribe)

You’ll try starting your engine but you only hear one click sound. The clicking noise you hear in this situation probably comes from the solenoid which activates the plunger to move the pinion gear outward to touch the flywheel. 

Moreover, it is likely to be a battery problem – corroded, dirty, or loose battery terminals to be precise. Check the terminals under the hood and give them a good wash.

2. Rapid clicks

When your car does not start and you hear successive clicks in rapid order, the problem is again not with the starter. It could be a drained-up battery caused by cold weather or accidentally keeping the headlights or a few other accessories ON overnight. A bad alternator could also be the culprit in this case.

If you can jumpstart the car, the trouble is definitely with the battery. But, even using the best car battery cannot solve the issue, you have to check the starter or the battery cable.

3. A whirring noise

What does a bad starter sound like? One of the signs is a whining sound without spinning the engine a bit. It happens because of a faulty kicker solenoid. Tapping on the solenoid with a hammer may solve the problem but you should replace it later to prevent any more damage to the starter. Remember that you cannot fix this glitch with a jumpstart.

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4. Grinding sounds

The starter has a small ring gear that protrudes out and engages the teeth on a flywheel. It pops out when you try to start the car and pops back when you don’t. If the ring is worn out or the teeth are stripped, the gear will spin it its axis but cannot turn the flywheel and start the engine. In that case, you will hear loud grinding noises when starting the car. The problem should be fixed as soon as possible, else it will lead to bigger damage.

How to Tell If Your Starter Is Bad?

You already know what does a bad starter sound like. It could be intermittent whirring noises, loud clicks, or grinding sounds. The problem is there won’t be any sound at all in some cases. What are the other symptoms of a bad starter? Keep reading:

1. Traces of smoke

Seeing or smelling smoke coming out of the hood at the time of starting the car is a surefire way to tell the starter has gone bad. The starter is an electronic device. If it is not working properly, there will be too much power drawn to it at the time of switching the ignition on. As a result, there will be a short circuit in the starter’s motor and smoke will be belched out from under the hood. The smoke could also be the consequence of a burnt-out starter that may happen if you repeatedly try to crank the engine.

best car battery
Check the battery when starter does not work properly. (Photo: istockphoto)

The presence of smoke at the time of attempting to crank the engine is a grave issue. Continuing to start the car will further aggravate the damage. You should fix it by calling a mechanic as soon as possible or towing it to a service shop.

2. Dimming lights on the dashboard

It’s a problem when the car engine starts but the starter motor appears to be sluggish. The only way to be sure is to watch the dashboard lights turning dim at the time of cranking. Fixing or replacing the starter is the solution. A bad battery could also cause the same issue but if it’s good and the motor is still sluggish, the starter is most likely the culprit.
Watch the video below to see How to tell if your car starter is going bad:

Useful Tips To Maintain The Car Starter Properly

The starter is just a small part, but it plays a very important and indispensable role in every car. So, when you find this part has a problem, it’s better to take your car to a reputable repair garage to be checked with diagnostic equipment, maintain the engine, or replace it if necessary… To ensure that the starter is always in good working condition you should follow 3 conditions below:

  • Make sure the battery provides enough power. In order for the starter to work properly, it needs to have the right amount of power. So, every time you do maintenance, you also need to check and maintain the battery.
  • Regularly check the electrical connection to the starter. Check if the electrical system connected to the starter is loose, misaligned, or open to fix it in time.
  • Don’t forget to regular maintenance of the car’s electrical system every 5000km.

This article gives you an idea about what does a bad starter sound like and a few other signs to look out for to detect a bad starter. The most common causes for this component to malfunction are a corroded solenoid, bad bearings, worn-out flywheel teeth, and faulty electrical contacts on the rotor. The usual solution is to replace the starter because driving with it may lead to other serious troubles.