Starter not engaging: Causes and How to Diagnose the issue

Internal combustion engines cannot start themselves; they require external energy to start. This starting method can be electrical, hydraulic, or pneumatic. Most vehicles employ electric motors, often known as starters. Because considerable friction and compression resistances must be overcome during the starting process, the DC series motor, with its strong initial torque, is particularly ideal as a starter motor. If your car’s starter is not engaging, you’re likely searching for the root cause, which is why you’re here.Starter

So, in this article, we’ll be going through the most common reasons why your car starter is not engaging and what you should consider doing. So, let’s get down to it!


Why your car starter is not engaging

Here are the most common reasons why your car starter is not engaging:

  • Starter solenoid
  • Battery voltage is low
  • Starter motor Plunger or Pinion
  • Flywheel damage
  • Problematic starter wiring

Starter solenoid

On top of the starter is the starter solenoid. When you turn the key, the starter solenoid inside the starter motor presses a plunger, forcing the pinion toward the flywheel. Ground the solenoid to a bolt using a jumper wire. Start the engine and listen for noises from the solenoid. If the click is loud and solid, the solenoid is functioning properly; if you hear a weak click, verify the wiring between the solenoid and the starter. Electrical wires can become filthy, loose, and broken over time.

Battery voltage is low

When you have battery issues, the first thing you should check is your battery voltage. The battery powers the starting, and if it fails, the starter will not engage completely. Fully charge your car battery. You could even try to replace the automobile battery with another one that you know works.

If you have the knowledge, you can also try jump-starting your automobile from the battery of another car. Next, inspect your battery terminals for corrosion. You will see a yellowish or greenish substance on the terminals as a result of this. If you observe any corrosion on the battery terminals, you should gently remove the battery cable clamps and the terminals.

Starter motor Plunger or Pinion

If your starter solenoid appears to be in good working order, there could be another issue inside the starter motor. The starter plunger or starter pinion are the parts that can achieve this. It’s time to take the starter apart and look inside for the pinion gears. These are frequently located in front of the starter. When you start your engine, the pinion gears engage the flywheel. These gears wear down over time and cause problems with the starter engaging. If the piston gear travels in both directions when rotated, it is time to replace it.

Flywheel damage

The flywheel is a huge wheel that sits between the engine and the transmission. To start the engine, the starting pinion gears engage. Worn or damaged gears are what you should search for in a defective flywheel. Rotate the crankshaft with a ratchet while the vehicle is in neutral. Keep an eye on the flywheel as you move it. If you discover any damage to the gears, you will need to replace them. It is more likely that the car has the incorrect flywheel installed.

Problematic starter wiring

It is also possible that the starter receives enough electricity to generate a sound but not enough to turn the starter. This can occur if there is a faulty starter cable connecting the automobile battery to the starter or if there is corrosion at any junction. To verify that there are no poor connections, clean all connections at both the starter and the battery. faulty connections are frequently located by feeling the cable connection; a faulty connection will generate a lot of heat.

How to test the starter with a multimeterhow to test starter

To test your starter, you’ll need the following tools:

  • The multimeter
  • Car battery
  • Multimeter probe alligator clips
  • Swivel ratchet
  • Jumper wires

The multimeter and its probes are the most important tools you’ll need to test your vehicle’s components for problems. So, let’s start diagnosing!

Take safety precautions

To test your starter for problems, you must first get under the vehicle. This has some risks, so pay heed to these safety precautions. The first thing you should do is put your vehicle in park and turn off the engine. After that, you place two bricks, stones, or big bits of wood behind your back tires.

The second step is critical because you will be using a car jack to raise the front side of your vehicle and you do not want the car to roll backward and drop while you are underneath. Shake the car to confirm that it is robust and will not move when something hits it softly.

Find the starter

Although the location of a starter varies depending on the vehicle model, it is often located where the engine and transmission meet. The flywheel is located here, and the starter must engage directly with it in order to start the engine.

Take it out from under the engine

Remove the bolts that hold it to your vehicle’s engine. You use a ratchet for this, and your best bet here is a swivel ratchet because conventional ratchets won’t fit. You then proceed to disconnect the wires connecting to the starter solenoid terminals. Hold the starter after removing the last bolt or wire to prevent it from falling off. Place it on a non-conductive surface for the following steps in the diagnosing process.

Provide power to the starter

You want to supply power to the starter with a 12-volt battery and jumper cables to verify if it works with the correct voltage. These jumper cables connect to the various battery connections, so pay attention here. Ground the other end of the jumper cable that you connect to the negative post of your battery on a metal surface. Apart from the terminals, this surface could be a part of the starter. Connect the other end of the jumper cable to the high-voltage input terminal at the starter solenoid. This is the outer terminal of the two from which you disconnected the starter from the car.

Connect the multimeter probes to the jumpers

Now, connect the positive probe of your multimeter to the positive jumper cable (which is attached to the high-voltage terminal), and the negative probe to the negative jumper cable (or any ground surface). If you did not remove the starter from the engine, attach your positive multimeter lead to the high-voltage solenoid terminal and your negative multimeter lead to any ground surface. Alligator clips are ideal for securing all of the connections made here.

Initial assessment

At this stage, you anticipate receiving a readout from your multimeter. If your starter is in good working order, the meter will display a 12V reading (because you are testing with a 12V battery). When you see this result, it signifies your starter is getting enough power from the battery.

Anything less than 12V indicates a faulty battery (particularly when tested directly with jumper cables). Alternatively (when tested while still attached to the engine), it could indicate that the wires leading from your automobile batteries are damaged. A 12V automobile battery test might help you determine the source of the problem.

Simply set the multimeter probes at the proper battery posts and examine the meter screen for battery capacity. If the multimeter does not read 12 volts, the battery is faulty. If you obtained 12V but not on the solenoid terminal, the wiring between the starting and the car battery may be faulty. If you received a 12V reading, go to the next steps.

Jumpstart the starter

Now, if the starter has become removed from the vehicle, you want to simulate the engine starting. A tiny jumper cable is required for this. Connect one end of the jumper wire to your larger jumper cable (or high-voltage solenoid terminal), then connect the other end to the ignition tab. This tab is a protrusion that is normally situated between the two solenoid terminals. If your starter is still in your car, have a friend turn the ignition key to “start.”

Second assessment

When you connect the ignition tab to the solenoid terminal, the starter motor should spin. If not, the ignition coil, motor windings, or the motor itself is faulty. It is therefore necessary to replace the starter. If it spins, the multimeter should read less than 12V. In some situations, this reduction in value might go as low as 0.5V, indicating that the starter motor is receiving power from the high-input solenoid terminal.

How to Test Starter Continuity and Resistance with a Multimeter

The continuity test is an extra step you can take to figure out what’s wrong with your starter. This test does not require a battery or jumper wires because it requires the absence of an electric current. You should do two tests here: a continuity test between the starter solenoid terminals and a resistance test between the low-input terminal and the motor windings.

Continuity Test Between Solenoid Terminals

If your starter is in proper working order, there is no continuity between the solenoid terminals. Set the multimeter to continuity mode or Ohms and connect the multimeter leads to each solenoid terminal. The meter should produce an “OL” value, indicating no continuity. If you hear a beep or receive an Ohms reading on your multimeter, the starter is faulty and must be replaced.

Furthermore, if your starter is working properly, you should not expect continuity between the high-input solenoid terminal and the ignition tab. If there is continuity, this explains why the starter may still be operating after starting the vehicle.

Resistance Test Between Low-Input Terminal and Motor Windings

You now anticipate continuity between the low-input terminal and the starter motor windings. The inner solenoid terminal is the low input terminal, and the windings are copper wires positioned near the starter motor. In this test, however, you simply utilize the Ohms option and not the continuity mode.

You want to look for a specific resistance value between these two electrical components. Place the probes of the multimeter on the low-input tab and the motor windings. If the starter is working properly, the meter should read around 0.1 Ohms. The indicator of “OL” indicates that the starter is defective and must be replaced.

Related Article

Watch the video below to learn more


What causes a starter not to engage?

A starter may not engage due to a faulty ignition switch, a bad starter relay, a blown fuse, or a problem with the starter motor itself.

How do I know if my starter solenoid is bad?

If your starter solenoid is bad, you may hear a clicking noise when trying to start the vehicle, or the starter may not engage at all.

How do I know if my starter is damaged?

Signs of a damaged starter include a grinding noise when starting, slow cranking, or no response when turning the key.

Why is my starter just clicking?

A clicking sound from the starter usually indicates a low battery voltage or a faulty starter solenoid.

Can a weak battery cause a starter to stay engaged?

Yes, a weak battery can cause the starter to stay engaged even after the engine has started, leading to potential damage.

What are the 3 symptoms of a problem in the starting system?

Three common symptoms of starting system problems are difficulty starting the engine, a clicking sound when turning the key, and slow cranking.

What keeps killing my starter?

Frequent starter failure can be caused by issues like excessive heat, electrical problems, or poor-quality replacement parts.

Why does my starter turn but no crank?

If the starter is turning but the engine does not crank, it could indicate problems with the starter drive gear, the flywheel, or the engine itself.

And that’s it for this article, in which we discussed a car starter not engaging while looking at the most common causes and how to diagnose the actual issue. Hope it was helpful. If so, kindly share it with others. Thanks for reading; see you around!

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