Starter not engaging: What the sounds tell me?

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Have you ever tried starting your car only to be met with disappointment because it just won’t start?

In most situations, car starter problems happen at unexpected times and can leave one frustrated, but if you ever find yourself in such a situation, there is no need to panic.

Car starter problems can easily be diagnosed and traced based on the kinds of sound that the starter gives. Read on to find out what these sounds are, how to diagnose them, and how to fix them.

Read more: Signs Of A Bad Starter

What The Sounds Mean When The Starter Is Not Engaging

bad starter sound
There are sounds you can use to identify the causes of you starter not engaging. For example, the starter spinning sound means the solenoid is not working correctly.

Once you try starting your car and it fails to start, there is a high probability that your vehicle has a bad starter. While this may not be the diagnosis in all scenarios, there is only one way to find out; by listening closely.

A bad starter would make different kinds of noises. Let’s further explore the causes of each noise and how to fix it.

No Sound

If your car does not make any sound when turning the key to start, it means the solenoid is not energizing the Bendix, which turns the starter. There are different reasons why this can happen, such as if:

1. There’s an open circuit in the starter system. Sometimes it could be an electrical problem due to an open wire or component. To troubleshoot this, you need to analyze the schematic diagram to have a general overview of the circuit.

You can then open the control panel to conduct voltage checks at the different terminals (X1 and X2 at the secondary of the control transformer) using a voltmeter or multimeter. If the voltmeter reading is below 120 volts at the terminals, then you have an open circuit problem. You should contact your nearest service center to get it fixed.

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2. The battery is dead. The battery may not have enough voltage to power up your car’s engine.

To check if your battery has enough voltage to power your engine, you require a voltmeter. To use the voltmeter, set it for 12V and connect it to your battery terminals. Then turn on your car’s headlights and check the voltmeter readings. If it reads below 12.4 and 12.6 volts, then your battery is dead.

You can jump-start your car to get it running. Your battery should be charged after a while, but if it doesn’t then, you should replace your battery.

3. There is a failed system component. You may have failed system components such as relay or safety switches which can be the cause of your starter problem.

To fix it, check the fuse diagram on the lid of your car’s fuse box or in your owner’s manual for the associated fuse. Look inside the fuse to check if the strip of metal has melted or not. If it has, you need to replace the fuse with another fuse of the same color and amperage.

A Loud Click

Sometimes, you may hear a loud and solid click sound with the starter Bendix not engaging when you start the car. While this certainly means that enough current is being supplied, it also means that you possibly have a:

1. Bad starting motor. Starting motors do not just suddenly become bad. If they do, it is most likely caused by:

  • Battery corrosion,
  • Oil leaks,
  • Dirt accumulation in the connections,
  • Loose wiring to and from the starter,
  • Worn-out parts.

You can tap the starter lightly with a hard object a few times to fix this situation temporarily. This is just an attempt to restore contact between the electrical components to make the starter working long enough for you to get your car moving to the nearest service center.

2. Bad solenoid. It can be caused by various reasons such as:

  • Excessive heating,
  • Bad wiring,
  • Too much tightening of bolts and other fasteners,
  • Excessive moisture.

If your car has a faulty solenoid, depending on the cause, you can fix it. Bolts and fasteners that have been tightened too much can be loosened, but other causes would require a professional to fix.

3. An engine mechanical problem. Mechanical problems which may develop will require more experienced personnel to fix.

A Buzzing Sound

It can also occur that you hear a repetitive or buzzing sound when you try to start the engine. What happens is that though the electric current is getting to the starter solenoid, it does not engage the pinion gear and flywheel. This sound can be caused by:

1. Poor current flow due to low battery charge. The rapid and continuous sound is due to a weak or low current flow to the engine.

As I noted earlier in this article, the required readings to ascertain that your battery is fully charged are between 12.4V and 12.6V. If your voltmeter reads below this, you know that your battery is low, and as such, you can expect that there will be a poor current flow to the starter.

Thankfully, this situation can easily be remedied by jump-starting your car with a fully charged battery.

2. Poor electrical connections along the starting circuit. Sometimes, the electrical connections can be affected by the accumulation of debris or corroded battery terminals.

This situation can be fixed by cleaning the accumulated debris or corroded terminals with a commercial-grade battery cleaning agent. If you cannot access any, you can make use of baking soda.

When you are done cleaning and drying your battery, apply anti-corrosion pads, also known as battery terminal protectors.

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Sound Of The Starter Spinning

On the other hand, you can hear the weak sound of the starter spinning or “rolling” without actually starting. This sound usually persists until you stop turning the key to start the car, and it happens because the solenoid is not working correctly.

Usually, a solenoid should receive electric currents from the battery when the key is turned and relay the electrical currents from the ignition to the starter motor. When it fails, it cannot make contact to engage the starter to function.

While you can bypass the solenoid to get your car up and running, it is not an advisable or long-term option. Reach out to your nearest available service center to have your solenoid worked on or entirely replaced.

Starter Spinning And There’s A Whirring Sound

For a car to start when you turn the keys to the run position, the starter solenoid must be energized to make interlocking contact between the starter pinion gear and the flywheel to rotate the engine at the cranking speed.

However, when you try to start your car and you hear the starter spinning but with a whirring sound, it indicates that the starter solenoid is broken or worn out. To fix a broken or worn-out solenoid, it’s best to go to an automotive store to purchase a new solenoid to replace the broken solenoid.

Then with your car turned off, raise the front end of your car and put wheel blocks at the rear tires. The next step is to insert an oil pan under the fluid compartment attached to the transmission near the front of the hood.

You can then detach the fluid compartment using a wrench and socket set to locate the solenoid housing area inside the transmission. Remove the broken solenoid and replace it with the new one.

Be sure to reconnect the wire and fluid compartment firmly with the bolts you removed when removing the compartment.

Starter Spinning And There’s A Clicking Sound

On some other occasions, the starter keeps spinning when you turn the keys to run but would only make a clicking sound without starting. This usually occurs because:

1. The mechanism to engage the flywheel is faulty. The pinion gear and the flywheel may not be able to make contact to rotate the engine. It can be caused by the accumulation of debris around the pinion gear. Replacing the pinion gear is expensive and can be very difficult; hence cleaning the pinion gear might be a better option for its proper functioning.

2. The battery doesn’t have enough power to make the solenoid fully pull the mechanism. To fix this, ensure you check the battery charge using a voltmeter or test lamp.

3. There is a loose connection. This can easily be remedied by checking the wires that connect to your starter solenoid and tightening them.

Starter Spinning And There’s A Grinding Sound

On the occasion where the starter keeps spinning and makes a grinding noise as you start the car, you may have a:

1. Worn out Bendix, flywheel, or pinion gear with broken or worn-out teeth. A worn-out Bendix can result in the starter motor not engaging sometimes, which causes the grinding sound it produces. To fix the flywheel or pinion gear, it is advisable you contact the nearest service center.

2. An incorrectly mounted engaging mechanism which makes the Bendix spin too early or too late. This can be fixed by using a ratchet to rotate the crankshaft manually. You should also check the bolts and fasteners to be sure they are properly tightened.

Read more: 2011 Hyundai Sonata starter problems troubleshooting

How To Start My Car In A Pinch?

what to do when car battery dies
If your battery is too low or there’s a wiring issue, you can try to force start your car.

“Starting your car in a pinch” simply refers to “jump-starting” your car. While this is not the normal process of starting a car, there are different reasons why you might want to start your car in a pinch, such as when you’re being stranded in the middle of nowhere or having no time to get your car fixed.

There are a few cases in which you can jump-start your car if the unfortunate situations above happen.

  • Weak or dead battery. If your car is having starter problems because of poor current flow from your battery, then jump-starting your car can be a solution to fix it.
  • Malfunctioning starter due to wiring issues. If your starter is malfunctioning due to wiring issues, you can jump-start your car to get it up and running while you drive to the nearest service station to have a professional fix it.

How To Jump-Start Your Car

To safely jump-start your car, follow these steps:

Step 1: Take out your jumper cables and if you do not have jumper cables, find a car owner who has and is willing to assist you.
Step 2: Ensure that both vehicles are set in the park or neutral and engage the parking brakes before shutting off the ignition.
Step 3: Attach one of the red clips of the cable to the positive terminal (+) of your battery and attach the other red clip of the cable to the positive terminal (+) of the other car.
Step 4: Attach one of the black clips of the cable to the negative terminal (-) on the other car’s battery and attach the last black clip of the cable to a metal surface that is not painted located near your battery.
Step 5: You can then go ahead to start the working vehicle and leave the engine running for at least 15 minutes or more.

Then you can try to start your car. If it doesn’t start, recheck the connection cables and start the working vehicle.

Note: To identify the positive terminal, look out for the terminal with “POS” or “+” on it. It is usually always bigger than the negative terminal.

After successfully jump-starting your car, make sure you drive around for at least 15 minutes before shutting off your battery. This is to allow your battery to recharge.

Watch this video to see how to jump-start your car.


On most occasions, car starter problems do not just suddenly happen out of the blue. Your car would give you subtle hints at an early stage, such as not starting at once. Always try to pay attention to your car and the noises it makes even while still working before it finally stops starting.

If you ever find yourself in the uncomfortable position where your car doesn’t start, rather than go into panic mode, follow through with trying to recognize the noise and then figure out the solution next!

Read more: Top Auto Repair Shops In 50 States Of America 2021

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