[Philkotse guide] All about a failing car starter and how to fix it

Updated Oct 13, 2020 | Same topic: Handy Maintenance Tips

Everything you need to know about a failing car starter and the step by step guide and tips on how to fix it.

The hundreds of parts that make up your vehicle each have a role to play. One of these vital parts is the car starter and you’re pretty much not going anywhere if this doesn’t work. If you’re not sure if it’s really the car starter at fault, then go ahead and read on this article from Philkotse.com about the signs of a failing car starter to confirm.

1. If there is a “whirring” sound

To understand what could be causing this particular whirring sound, you first need to know a little info about how car starters work.

Your vehicle’s starter utilizes a miniature device known as the “overrunning clutch”. In some cases, this is also referred to as the “one-way clutch”. Whenever you turn your ignition key to “run” the engine, there is a starter solenoid that interlocks your starter’s pinion gear along with the flywheel on your vehicle’s engine.

man starting the car

Your vehicle’s starter utilizes a miniature device known as the “overrunning clutch”


This rotates the engine to a so-called crank-speed. When your engine starts and goes over the cranking speed, the overrunning clutch will then release the pinion gear to free the flywheel. If your car’s solenoid mechanism becomes too worn out to start the flywheel, the only sound you’ll hear is a particular swishing sound. This noise will come from the starter as it spins by itself because it is unable to crank the engine to fully start.

If you encounter this sound along with a failing starter, then it may indicate that the solenoid in your vehicle is too worn out.

>>> Check out reasons and how to deal with the not-starting cars.

2. If there is a loud, clicking sound

If you happen to hear a solid clicking sound that only happens once every time you try to start the vehicle, you may have one of the following problems:

  • A bad or failing starting motor
  • A non-reactive solenoid
  • Or even a mechanical problem with the engine.

This clicking sound will ultimately mean that your starter circuit is getting enough current. It is highly possible however that one of the problems above is hindering your starter from working properly.

failing starter

A bad or failing starting motor

>>> Also about car sounds: Dealing with Faulty Fan Belts and Their Squeaking Sound

3. If you hear a noise that resembles grinding

If there is a harsh and loud grinding noise whenever you try to crank the engine, the problem may be one or two of the defects listed below:

  • The starter motor may be loose
  • It could be because of loose mounting bolts
  • The pinion gear or flywheel may be broken or have worn-out teeth

In most cases, the flywheel’s gears and the teeth on the pinion don’t mesh properly with each other. This is what causes the grinding sound that’s coming from the clashing metal parts.

Bad or loose starter motor

 The starter motor may be loose

>>> You might not know: 10 bad car noises Filipino drivers should look out for.

4. If there is an audible buzzing sound

Buzzing sounds when you try to turn on the engine is a common sign of a failing starter. There is an electrical current that travels in your car’s starter system every time you turn on your vehicle engine. Unfortunately, there are events when the electrical current does make it to the starter solenoid so it fails to activate the system’s solenoid plunger. This leaves the pinion gear and flywheel both untouched – which is bad news for you.

This unfortunate event is usually brought by poor current flow because of poor electrical connections or low battery charge on the starting circuit. There are also cases where the cause is a corroded battery and/or terminals.

annoyed driver

Buzzing sounds when you try to turn on the engine is a common sign of a failing starter

5. If you don’t hear anything at all

You may experience trying to turn on your car engine but hear nothing at all. This usually happens because of electrical issues like the following examples:

  • A well-discharged or failing battery
  • A broken or unresponsive system component (this may be the relay, the safety switch and so on).
  • A corroded electrical connection like the battery terminals. This could prevent the electrical charge from freely reaching your vehicle’s starting motor.

6. How to diagnose a failing car starter using your car’s headlights

Not all drivers know this trick, but you can actually use your headlights to confirm your suspicions regarding your car starter. Asides from the headlights on your car, you won’t really need other tools or equipment to perform this. However, you will need a friend to help you turn your headlights on.

Simply have your trusty partner turn the headlights on for you and stand right to the side of your car where you can freely see the lamps. Observe and look for your results below with the corresponding possible meaning.

My headlights aren’t working

If there is no sound and you don’t see your headlights glow, you may have the following problems:

  •  A dead battery
  • The starter has an open circuit
  • Corroded terminals

Cranking the engine turns the headlights off

If your lights turn on fine but go off when you crank the engine, you may need to address the following problems:

  • The battery is severely undercharged
  • There is a short in the starting motor
  • The problem may be in the car engine

headlight of cars

You can actually use your headlights to confirm your suspicions regarding your car starter

Headlights are perfectly fine

Your headlights may remain ok, but your engine may be cranking poorly. If you think you’re experiencing this, your vehicle may have an open circuit.

7. How to fix a failing car starter

Once you’re sure that there really is something wrong with your vehicle’s starter, you can now continue and try to address the problem. Here are some of the most effective tricks that you can use to get your car roaring again. Take a look at them below:

Check all the connections

As you may already know, your starter is powered by a lot of complicated connections. This leads back and forth to electrical circuits that can render your starter useless by just a loose plug. Check all the cables visually and don’t be afraid to turn over some of the wires just to make sure that there’s no damage that could be affecting the electric current. Tighten all the connections and try starting the vehicle again.

>>> Read top 9 common mistakes to avoid when jump-starting your car for further car protection.

Tap the area

If your lights are working, you could have a stuck gear. Try tapping the starter’s system from under the hood. Use a wrench or a hammer and tap the assembly about 4 or 5 times. Make sure not to do it too hard to avoid damage.

Hanna Sanchez

Hanna Sanchez


Hanna is one of the most competitive swimmers in the country during her day. It was not long before she discovered her passion for the automotive industry as well. Nowadays, she balances her passion through writing as well as coaching.

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