Last Updated: 11.04.2022

You turn the ignition key ON but the car won’t start, and you just get clicks from the starter relay or solenoid.

Could it be a bad connection, a dead battery, or a bad starter? It’s likely a bad starter drive, and the most ideal solution would be to replace the starter. 

But, what can you do at the moment to get the car started?

We’ve got a few ideas that will help you learn how to start a car with a bad starter. Keep on reading to learn more!

What Is a Starter in a Car?

disassembled starter of a car

A starter is an electrical unit that turns on your engine to start your car. Almost every vehicle on the market has one unless you’ve got an electric vehicle.

A starter is normally bolted to your car’s engine. It is equipped with a series wound electric motor with a small sliding gear at one end of the motor shaft. There is an electromagnet or solenoid on top of the motor, which uses a lever system to push the small sliding gear until it touches a larger gear that is part of the flywheel.

Once the two gears touch each other, the armature located in the motor will start to rotate and turn the crankshaft of the main engine. You will hear the distinctive sound generated by the gears’ teeth when they come in contact. The sliding gear will retract as soon as the car starts.

What is a flywheel? A flywheel is an energy storage unit that helps keep the engine running smoothly when you are not pressing on the gas or when in neutral. It’s usually attached to the end of the engine or the crankshaft. If the flywheel was absent, the car would have uneven power distribution.

Overall, the flywheel is responsible for engine starting, engine speed smoothing, engine balancing, drivetrain stress reduction, and weight manipulation for engines working under heavy loads.

If the starter is bad, it could be one of the following: starter motor, starter motor relay, or starter motor solenoid. 

What Causes a Bad Starter?

mechanic holding a broken starter

There are a few things that can make the starter go bad, such as:

Defective Starter Motor

Whenever you turn on the ignition key, the starter motor is actuated by a flow of electricity to engage the sliding gear to the flywheel gear. If the motor is bad, it will not actuate and there will be no start. Apart from being defective, the starter motor could also be loose.

Bad Starter Solenoid

A starter solenoid is simply an electromechanical unit that is engineered to engage the starter motor. Electrical current from the car battery travels through the starter relay to the solenoid. Once the starter solenoid is energized, it engages the assembly of the starter motor to actuate it. A bad solenoid will not engage the motor assembly.

Poor Connection

The most common reason for a poor connection is old wiring. As the car ages, the wiring tends to lose some of its electrical conductivity. This can be caused by the wires getting crimped or bent.

How to Start a Car With a Bad Starter

We have seen what a starter is and what could cause it to go bad. If it is your first time to experience a bad starter when turning on the ignition, then we think it’s important for you to learn a few tricks on how to start a car with a bad starter.

  • Push-Start the Car

people pushing the car in order to start engine

If you are in a hurry and you can’t go through with a time-consuming examination of the starter assembly, then push-starting the car seems like a good idea. This method, however, works for manual gearbox transmissions.

It’s easy to go about it, just get a few bodies behind the vehicle to give it a push while you are turning on the ignition. It is always recommended to put the vehicle in moving gear. This way, it will be much easier to exert force at a specific speed before letting go of the clutch. The engine should get the power it needs to start working.

A second attempt could be needed if the first one fails.

  • Jumpstart the Car

jumpstart the car battery with other vehicle's battery

The push-start method will not work with an automatic transmission vehicle. So, you could think about jump-starting the car. You might be wondering if this can help. Well, jump-starting will push more amps to your starter and hopefully, the car will start.

These are the key steps you need to follow when jump-starting your car:

Step 1: Get Prepared for the Jumpstart

You need a second car that has a working battery and runs smoothly. You also need jumper cables that are at least sixteen feet long. Always use caution when using jumper cables. Preferably, you should check your vehicle’s manual for a specific set of instructions.

Then position the working vehicle either nose to nose or side by side with your car. The handbrake in both vehicles should be on and the ignition switched off. It is also a good idea to park the two cars close to each other. This will shorten the distance the jump needs to travel.

Step 2: Attach the Jumper Cables

After all the preparation, go ahead and open the hood on both cars. Get out your jumper cables. Then look for the positive as well as negative terminals on both vehicles. The positive terminal is usually indicated with a red plus sign in a circle, whereas the negative terminal is specified by a black minus sign in a circle. In most vehicles, the positive terminal will be to your left and the negative to your right.

Attach one end of the positive cable clamp to the positive terminal of your car’s battery and place the other end of the positive cable clamp to the positive terminal of the working battery. Make sure the negative cable clamp is in a safe place and not in contact with any metal surfaces.

Clamp one end of the negative cable to the negative lead of the working battery. Note that the cables are live, so, avoid touching the metal part of the clamp. Then clamp the other end of the negative cable to an unpainted metal part of your car’s engine away from the battery.

Step 3: Jumpstart the Car

Double-check to ensure that all the jumper cables are in the proper position and they are making good contact. The jumper cables should be clear from the fan as well as all moving parts on the cars.

Start the engine of the working vehicle. Then, press on the gas gently and allow the vehicle to run for approximately two minutes. Try to start the engine of your car (with a bad starter). If the engine starts, let it run for about two minutes.

Step 4: Remove the Jumper Cables

This last step can be tricky because you are required to remove the jumper cables in the reverse order that you attached them. Start with the negative cable from your car, then the negative clamp from the supporting vehicle (don’t touch the metal section of the clamp). Next, remove the positive clamp from the supporting car and then from your vehicle. 

  • Tap the Starter with a Hammer

starter solenoid and starter motor image

The next trick you can try to get a car with a bad starter working is tapping the starter with either a hammer or pry bar.

You have to be careful, though. Know where the engine pulleys are located and stay clear of them. This is because they could hurt you if the engine is accidentally started. Make sure your car is in Park and the brakes are on, then take your time to assess the situation.

Step 1: Locate the Starter

Locate the starter in your car. It is normally situated at the rear of the engine (between the engine and the transmission).

Step 2: Tap the Starter

Tap the starter with a hammer or a pry bar. But here’s a tip when tapping the starter stay away from the electrical connection part. You don’t want to short anything. What you should be hitting is the main body of the starter.

Step 3: Turn on the Ignition

Put the key into the ignition and turn it on to see if the car will start. If the tapping helped, the starter will work. 

  • Bypass the Starter Solenoid

mechanic holding a solenoid of a car starter

In some situations, the starter solenoid could be bad. You can know for sure by bypassing the solenoid. If the starter works, then the solenoid is bad. Connect a booster cable from your car battery’s positive terminal to the starter-motor terminal to bypass the solenoid. If the starter is okay, it will either crank or spin the engine. In most vehicles, the engine will crank.

How to Diagnose Bad Starter

Before you even try to diagnose a starter problem, you have to make sure your battery is functional. It should be fully charged. Check the connections to ensure they are tight.

You can use a digital battery charger to get some information about the battery. It’s going to analyze the battery and then start charging. It will indicate the battery voltage and the remaining charge in percentage. 

If the digital battery charger indicates 12 volts and 12 percent, for example, then the battery needs charging before you can diagnose the starter. You can have a better idea about your battery if you know how long a car battery usually lasts

Here are the key steps you have to follow when diagnosing the starter:

Step 1: Find the Location of the Starter

Most car starters are located underneath the vehicle, usually near the engine and transmission. In older vehicles, some of the starter solenoids are separate units from the starters. But the starters come attached to the solenoids in modern vehicles. You should check for the starter in the front or underneath the car if you have a front-wheel-drive vehicle.

Step 2: Check If the Starter is Getting Power

Next, check if there is power going to the starter. You can do this with the help of an automotive test light.

A test light is simply an automotive accessory that you can use to tell if ground or power is present at a fuse or circuit. It is made up of a wire lead equipped with a clip, an indicator light bulb, and a sharp probe. Clip the wire lead somewhere on the vehicle for the ground. Then place the sharp probe on the terminal connecting the power wire to the starter. The indicator light will illuminate if there is power going to the starter.

Note: The starter gets its ground through the transmission or the engine block.

Step 3: Test the Signal Wire

Disconnect the signal wire from its terminal on the starter assembly and insert a jumper wire. It isn’t advisable to put the sharp probe of the test light inside the electrical contact. Attach the other end of the jumper wire to the probe of the test light and attach the other end of the test light to the negative battery terminal.

Then try to start your car to see what happens. If the current is flowing through the signal wire, then the indicator light on the device will illuminate.

When to Replace Your Car Starter

Do you hear a grinding or clicking sound when you turn on the ignition? Is your engine cranking slowly or not at all? These are indications that you might be having a problem with your starter. You will know it’s time to replace your starter if you observe the following.

Clicking Noise

You could hear a clicking noise when turning on the ignition. This is a sign that the starter is not receiving enough electrical current to run properly. This could be due to a bad battery, poor connection, or a bad starter.

Grinding Noise

You might hear a grinding noise when you turn the ignition key. This usually happens when the starter is not engaging properly with the engine, which could mean a problem with the flywheel or a bad starter.

Consider Other Issues Before Replacing the Starter

If you happen to experience the signs mentioned above, then it’s time you replaced your starter. But before you do, it is important to make sure it isn’t something else.

Check the Battery and Alternator

Make sure the battery is good and has a full charge. A bad battery could be the culprit and not the starter. If your battery isn’t fully charged, it could be that your alternator is bad. If the alternator cannot maintain the battery’s charge, the starter will not get enough power to turn over the starter motor.

Look for Blown Fuses or Fusible Links

Do a visual inspection under the hood. Check all the fuses as well as fusible links. A blown fuse will interrupt the flow of electricity. It could also be causing a charging system problem.

A blown fuse usually has a gap or a break in the wire filament. If your vehicle uses fusible links instead of fuses, then test them with a voltmeter.

Check for Corrosion on Battery Cables

It is important to check the battery cables for corrosion. Remove the cables and clean them to get rid of the corrosion. Then reconnect the cables. If the cables are damaged, frayed, or worn, they should be replaced.

If there are no other issues, then there is a good chance that you need to replace the starter. The awkward position of the starter in some cars and the instructions that need to be followed when removing it could be challenging for some people. If that’s the case, then we recommend you take your car to a local mechanic shop.


What if I have normal cranking but doesn’t start?

If your vehicle cranks at normal speed but doesn’t start, you have to check the fuel gauge. Remove and clean the filter. Also, check the fuel pump pressure as well as volume.

What is the cost of a starter replacement?

The cost of a replacement starter may range from approximately $50 to $350, depending on the car’s make and model. A do-it-yourself replacement is usually cheaper because you will be eliminating mechanic costs. But a professional mechanic could charge around $150 to $1,100. So, on average the cost of replacement could range from approximately $200 to $1,450.

Can a bad starter drain my battery?

Every attempt you make to start your car just for the starter to fail could drain the battery. This is especially true if you’ve got a bad alternator that is incapable of keeping the battery charged.

Also, find out what SRS means in a car


If all the signs you are experiencing indicate that you have a bad starter, then you can try to start the car by jumpstarting, push-starting, tapping the starter body with a hammer, or bypassing the starter solenoid. All these tricks should be considered temporary solutions, though. You will have to either fix or replace the starter for worry-free starting in the future.