In this article, we’ll teach you how to start a car with a bad starter.
We’ve all been there. You try to start your car, and nothing happens. The starter just spins in vain, as if it had a mind of its own. And you think: “Why me? I’m not that bad! Just this one time couldn’t the darn thing work! It doesn’t happen all that often!”
And then you give up and walk home – or call for help. Well, now we can offer some hope to those who have suffered through such an ordeal more than once with a little “how-to” on restarting your car’s starter motor without calling AAA (or anything else).
- What is a starter?
- Most common faulty starter symptoms
- How to Start a Car with a Bad Starter
- What causes starting problems?
- Essential tools to have
What is a starter?
First, let’s start with a primer on automotive starters. An automotive starter is an electrically powered motor that spins the engine’s flywheel (and crankshaft ) over to bring it up to operating speed and then disengages – leaving you with a running car.
Car starters are usually located behind the engine, under the intake manifold. The starter can be quite complicated, but you can follow along if you understand the basics.
Most common faulty starter symptoms
These are the most common symptoms of a faulty starter:
Symptom 1: The car won’t start. You turn the key, and the starter will not engage to spin the engine.
Symptom 2: The car starts, but doesn’t stay running. You get it started – it may take a few tries with this one – but then the car coughs, sputters, or dies once it reaches an idle speed.
Symptom 3: Starter engages, but the car doesn’t start. This happens when you have turned over the engine with your starter motor enough times that you’ve worn holes in your flywheel bushings as well as some of the teeth on either side of them – combined with other possible damage from bad ignition timing, etc.
Symptom 4: Car starts (sometimes), but then dies. You get it started, and the car runs for a short while – maybe even longer than before – but eventually, it just cuts off again without warning.
Symptom 5: Car starts with starter fluid, battery dying or dead. Once you spray starter fluid into your engine to start it, however, the car may continue to run once the motor is engaged – but only for a few minutes until it cuts off again.
How to Start a Car with a Bad Starter
1. Check the connections
The first thing to check is the connections. Make sure the battery is firmly attached. Also, disconnect any other devices you have that use power from the car’s electrical system (such as a stereo or air conditioning compressor) so they don’t drain your battery even more.
2. Check the battery
Using a voltmeter, check to see if the battery has a charge. You should have at least 9 volts (for most newer cars) if it’s not dead. Then check for voltage across the terminals while turning over the engine with your starter motor. You should get 12 – 14 volts here in most cases. You can read our guide on how long do car batteries last here.
3. Check the engine grounds
If your engine still won’t start, it may be because the motor isn’t getting a proper ground. Check to make sure you have a good connection from the negative battery terminal to the engine block. You can check this with an ohmmeter if you want, but if there aren’t any holes in these connections, chances are high they’re good.
4. Check the starter solenoid’s wire connections
Again, if you have a good connection to the engine, but the starter motor still doesn’t engage when you turn over the key, it may be because one of your wires is loose. Disconnect them until the vehicle starts again. Then reconnect each wire individually from end to end with a screwdriver and retest until you find which one is not making contact.
5. Check the fuses
If you’re still stuck here, check your fuses. If they’re blown, use an ohmmeter, continuity tester, or test light to find out which fuse isn’t working properly – then replace it.
Many auto parts stores will let you swap out a fuse for free like this – and will keep the blown piece as proof you’re not trying to take advantage of them.
Check out your car’s owner’s manual to determine where each one goes if you don’t know how to do this on your own.
6. Tapping the starter with a hammer
If you’re still stuck here, your starter motor may be broken inside and not working. Tap the starter with a hammer while someone turns over the ignition. If that doesn’t work, the starter may need to be replaced or rebuilt by a mechanic.
7. Push start the car
If your vehicle doesn’t start even after you’ve found loose wires or the fuse is bad, check beneath your car for a flat tire. If there’s no flat tire, push start it.
(You’ll want to do this on a level surface – like a parking lot.) Push down on one side of its engine with your foot and turn over the ignition for about 15 seconds until it starts up.
8. Jumpstart the car
Jumpstarting is a great way to get your car going again if your battery is dead. Even if you have a good battery, jumpstarting can be the best thing to do – especially if your starter motor is worn out and not getting enough power to turn over the engine.
Take it to the service center
Once all else fails, you can just have someone at an auto parts store or repair shop handle it so they can inspect or replace other components that might be faulty (like the starter motor itself) in addition to any bad connections, loose wires, fuses, etc.
I hope these instructions helped you get up and running again! Please leave comments if you have additional questions about how to start a car with a bad starter.
What causes starting problems?
If your vehicle won’t start, generally there are three major reasons: a dead battery or a bad starter, and a bad alternator.
We’ve finished discussing all starters, so it’s time to move on to the alternator.
What is an alternator?
An alternator is a device in your car that produces electrical energy. It is essentially a DC generator that recharges the battery when the engine is running. The alternator is connected to the crankshaft by a belt.
A voltage regulator prevents too much current from flowing back into the battery. The output of alternators may be around 14 volts, although they can fluctuate between 12 and 16 volts in normal operation.
Got a Bad Alternator?
It may have damaged your battery. If you have a bad alternator, your car may be unable to start because the battery is dead. You can test this by removing the wires connecting your battery and trying to turn over the engine.
This would mean your alternator is not charging properly. Alternators should charge around 14 volts when they are supposed to and as you accelerate or drive. A voltage regulator in your alternator will prevent it from generating too much current that exceeds the maximum output of 100 amps.
If you notice that your car is not charging, first check the battery and then test the fuses. If it’s your battery that’s bad, it won’t damage the alternator.
Essential tools to have
Here is a list of essential tools to have in your car in case of an emergency. These simple things can make a big difference if you have trouble starting the car.
– Voltmeter or multimeter
One of the most frustrating car problems is the starter not working. Not knowing what to do can be as irritating as a bad case of itches. Having a guide on hand is always a life-saver for such situations and we hope ours will serve your purpose well.
We tried our best to keep it simple and clear so even beginners could understand what’s going on under the hood. If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to comment. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook!