common symptoms of a bad starter and starter solenoid

Common Symptoms of a Bad Starter and Starter Solenoid

When you hop into your car, buckle up, and turn the key in the ignition, the last thing you want to encounter is a car that won’t start. While a dead battery might be the first thing that comes to mind, there are other culprits to consider, such as a bad starter or starter solenoid. These components play a crucial role in starting your vehicle’s engine by converting electrical energy into mechanical energy. In this article, we will explore the common symptoms of a bad starter and starter solenoid, helping you identify and diagnose potential issues accurately.

Understanding the Starter and Starter Solenoid

Before we delve into the symptoms, let’s briefly understand what the starter and starter solenoid are and how they function in your vehicle.

What is a Starter?

The starter is a critical component responsible for initiating the engine’s crank and starting your car from rest. When you turn the ignition, the starter motor receives electrical energy from the car battery. The starter solenoid moves the starter gear to align it with the flex plate and cranks the engine, allowing the vehicle to start running.

What is a Starter Solenoid?

The starter solenoid acts as a switch, receiving a low-power signal from the ignition switch and converting it into a high-power signal to engage the starter motor. It also mechanically drives the pinion to engage it with the engine’s flywheel rear gear using electromagnetic force.

Common Symptoms of a Bad Starter

Now that we understand the basic functioning of the starter and starter solenoid, let’s explore the symptoms of a failing starter:

Unusual Sounds When Starting the Car

One of the most common signs of a bad starter is hearing strange clicking, whirring, or grinding noises when you turn the key or push the start button. These noises indicate that the starter drive gear is not engaging properly due to wear and tear.


Freewheeling is when you turn the ignition, but the car doesn’t power up. This occurs because the starter cannot engage with the flywheel, and it might require a complete replacement.

Multiple Ignition Attempts

A well-functioning vehicle should start at the first attempt to turn the ignition. If you need to make several attempts before the vehicle powers up, it could be a sign of a bad starter relay or worn-out starter motor brushes.

Starter Remains On After Ignition

After starting your vehicle, the starter motor should automatically disengage. If it remains on even after the engine has started, it could indicate a problem with the starter solenoid or stuck main contacts.

Smoke Emission after Starting Attempts

Smoke emission from under the engine after starting attempts can be caused by short-circuits, blown fuses, or other electrical malfunctions within the starting system. It’s crucial to address this symptom promptly as it can be dangerous.

Starter Soaked with Oil

If you find your starter soaked in oil, it may be a result of a burst pipe or hose that leaked oil and caused the starter to malfunction. Investigate the source of the oil leak before taking further action.

Common Symptoms of a Bad Starter Solenoid

Next, let’s look at the symptoms that indicate a failing starter solenoid:

Clicking or Grinding Sounds During Cranking

When you turn the ignition and hear clicking or grinding noises during cranking, it could mean that the solenoid is not receiving or providing enough power to engage the starter properly.

Starter Keeps Rotating After Disengaging the Ignition

If the starter motor remains engaged even after releasing the ignition key or button, it could be a sign of a bad starter Bendix or stuck main contacts in the solenoid.

Starter Clicks, but the Engine Doesn’t Rotate

When the starter clicks, but the engine doesn’t rotate, it may indicate a broken or defective starter motor-solenoid connection or solenoid corrosion.

Possible Causes of Premature Starter Solenoid Problems

Understanding the reasons for premature starter solenoid issues can help prevent future problems:

Bad Wiring

Hastily done or poor wiring can lead to insufficient electrical transmission within the vehicle engine, resulting in eddy currents or electric shorts.

Excessive Heat Production

Excessive heat produced during electric transmission at the solenoid can cause brushes and the starter Bendix to melt and fuse, leading to problems in power transmission.


Moisture entering the hood and reaching the starter solenoid can cause corrosion in the electrical contacts, reducing starter conductivity and efficiency.

Tightened Bolts

Over-tightening bolts and nuts can make starter parts rigid and lead to shorting or mechanical failure during power transmission.

How to Test and Fix a Bad Starter Motor

If you suspect a bad starter, here are some steps to test and fix it:

Multimeter Test

You can use a multimeter to test the starter solenoid. Connect the positive and negative multimeter terminals to the corresponding starter terminals and check the reading. If it’s not within the specified range, the solenoid may be faulty.

Screwdriver Test

Alternatively, you can perform a screwdriver test by connecting the two terminal posts of the starter solenoid using a screwdriver and observing if it rotates. A normal rotation indicates that the solenoid contacts are malfunctioning.


In conclusion, a bad starter and starter solenoid can lead to frustrating car-starting issues. Understanding the common symptoms of these components’ failure can help you diagnose problems early and prevent further damage. If you encounter any of these signs, it’s essential to have your vehicle inspected by a professional mechanic to address the issues promptly.


Jumpstarting won’t help if the starter solenoid is the issue. It requires a functional starter motor to crank the engine.

Both are devices used to control high-power signals with low-power signals. A solenoid is typically capable of switching higher currents than a relay.

Yes, a blown fuse in the starter circuit can lead to a no-start problem.

Yes, a bad alternator can cause the battery to have low voltage, making it unable to start the engine.

If the solenoid is integrated with the starter, it may be necessary to replace the entire unit.

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