(Updated on April 21, 2021)
Every vehicle has a starter motor in it. The purpose of the starter motor is to spin the engine fast enough for the engine to run off of its own power. The starter is really just an electric motor that can be controlled by the ignition.
When you turn the key in the ignition, teeth on the starter motor engage with the flywheel or flex plate and spin the engine. The flywheel or flex plate is directly connected to the crankshaft, which pulls air and fuel into the combustion chamber as it rotates. Meanwhile, the spark plugs fire at a precisely calculated interval which allows the fuel inside the combustion chamber to be ignited.
This whole process is crucial for an engine to turn on and function properly. If your starter fails, there is a very good chance you are going to be stranded.
Bad Starter Motor Symptoms
When you have a starter motor that goes bad, the symptoms will be easy to recognize if you know what to look for. The best thing to do is to get your starter checked right away after you first notice these symptoms.
Below are five common symptoms you can watch out for which indicate that your starter is bad and possibly needs to be replaced.
Warning: when troubleshooting your starter, be careful not to touch the thick wire that connects the positive terminal of the battery to the starter. This is a hot wire that may shock you. It’s best to disconnect the battery when working on the starter if possible.
1) Can’t Start Vehicle
This will be the most obvious symptom that everyone should be able to notice. If you turn the key in your ignition and the engine won’t turn over, then the starter solenoid may be damaged or worn out Check the small electrical connector to the starter and make sure it hasn’t come unplugged over time.
If you drive an automatic, you might want to check your neutral safety switch as well.
2) Smoke from Engine Bay
If your vehicle is producing a lot of smoke and it continues to come out of it, then your starter might be shorted. The reason why smoke comes out is because electricity from the electrical supply is trying to pass through the shorted starter. This will result in a gray or black fog of smoke to appear from your vehicle.
3) Grinding Noise
A series of gears connects the flywheel and the starter together. Both components can cause grinding noises when they get too worn out. A bad starter motor will have grinding noises coming from inside of it and worn out gears will also cause these noises too.
Some failing starters may keep the starter gear engaged with the flywheel or flex plate even after the engine is running. This may cause a grinding noise or sound like the car is still trying to start, even when the car is already running.
Either way, you should immediately take your vehicle to the mechanic so they can see which one is causing the grinding noise.
Related: What Does a Bad Starter Sound Like?
If there is no cranking coming from the engine and you start to hear a whining noise coming from the starter, this is a symptom known as freewheeling. This indicates that your flywheel cannot make contact with the starter gear.
The starter solenoid is responsible for pushing the gear on the starter forward so it can engage with the flywheel or flex plate. Freewheeling may occur if the starter motor is able to spin, but the starter solenoid has failed.
5) Burning Smell
Whether you see smoke coming out of your car or not, a burning smell inside and outside your car is an indication that your starter is bad. Most of the time, the smoke and the smell will occur at the same time.
Even if it doesn’t and you just have the smell, you should still get your starter checked out right away because the smoke may be coming next.
Starter Motor Replacement Cost
Starters are positioned close to where the engine and transmission meet. The cost to replace a starter motor will depend on the repair shop or dealership that you bring your vehicle to as well as the make and model of your vehicle; some starters are much harder to access than others.
On average, you can expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $500 in total to replace your starter. The parts alone will cost you anywhere from $200 to $360 and the labor costs will cost anywhere from $100 to $140.
It is not the most expensive replacement job you will ever need but it is certainly one of the most important. After all, if you can’t start your engine, then you won’t be able to drive your car at all.
So, as soon as you recognize the symptoms of a faulty starter, get it replaced right away before you get stranded somewhere.