Fixing a Car Starter Is an Intermediate Repair for most DIYers. Here’s Everything You Need to Know To Fix a Car Starter at Home.
- DIY Difficulty Level: Intermediate.
- Time Required: Between two and four hours
- Tools & Materials: Socket set, screwdrivers, wrenches
What Is a Car Starter?
The car starter is a small electric motor that spins the engine until it begins to run on its own. It comprises the solenoid and the starter motor. The solenoid receives the power and sends it to the starter motor. The starter motor pushes the starter gear forward, allowing it to interact with the gear teeth of the flywheel to crank the engine.
Is It Safe To Drive With a Bad Car Starter?
It’s safe to drive a car with a bad starter if you can still get the car to start. The problem, however, will be getting the engine started. If you manage to start the vehicle, the engine is unlikely to stall. You may be able to whack the starter with a hammer to make it work one more time or push-start the car if you have a manual transmission, but these are not guaranteed to work. You must get the starter fixed if you want to keep driving the vehicle.
If you are just noticing a problem with the starter, the worst thing that might happen is your car will die. This is unlikely, however, once you get it started. If you don’t address a failing starter, it can damage the electrical system, drain the battery, or damage the transmission.
When To Fix a Car Starter
There is no set interval for fixing or replacing a car starter. You’ll need to fix the starter when it begins to fail, but most starters will last at least 100,000 to 150,000 miles. Car starters can last for a vehicle’s lifetime, but in some cases, they can fail prematurely. You’ll know your starter is failing when you turn the key in the ignition but nothing happens. You may also see the lights dim when you turn the key to the starting position.
What Are Common Symptoms Indicating You Need To Fix a Car Starter?
Keep an eye out for the following signs of starter issues:
- The engine doesn’t crank.
- The dashboard lights go on, but the engine doesn’t turn over.
- You turn the key, and the starter makes a grinding or whining sound.
- The starter has oil on it.
- You see smoke coming from under the hood.
- You hear a clicking sound when you try to start the car.
Keep in Mind
Before fixing or replacing a car starter, make sure the starter is the problem. Check the battery, battery cables, and connections for wear or corrosion before taking the starter out. Sometimes the problem can simply be a loose battery connection, not the starter itself. Remember to always follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule and do this service as advised for your vehicle’s make and model.
While it may be possible to repair a starter yourself, it’s typically much faster and easier to replace the entire unit. Any auto parts store will sell you a remanufactured starter, which professionals have already rebuilt and tested. You will usually pay a “core charge” on top of the price of the starter itself. Then, after replacing the starter, you can give your old starter to the store, which will then refund this core charge. Your old starter will then get rebuilt professionally for the next person who needs one. Meanwhile, you can drive on down the road without worrying about whether you repaired your starter correctly or not.
How To Fix a Car Starter
Step 1: Jack up the Car
Most starters are under the car, so you’ll need to put the vehicle on a lift or jack stands. Use heavy-duty jack stands, and place them under the frame. Leave your hydraulic jack in place for added safety.
Step 2: Disconnect the Negative Battery Cable
This is essential for any job that involves high current cables. Always disconnect the negative cable first, then the positive. You’ll probably need wrenches to loosen the nuts and remove the plastic caps if your car has them.
Step 3: Disconnect the Wiring From the Starter
Depending on how your vehicle is designed, you might need to remove other components before you can reach the starter. With the battery disconnected, it is now safe to unbolt and remove the cables from the starter itself. Now there is no danger of your wrench shorting out a live connection between the positive cable and the engine block. Depending on how your vehicle is designed, there may be additional wires or harnesses connected to the starter as well. Remove all of these.
Step 4: Remove the Starter
Remove the bolts that hold the starter onto the side of the engine block. You should then be able to take the starter out of the car. If it’s stuck, it may help to gently tap the side of the starter with a hammer to knock it loose, especially if it’s been attached to the engine for a long time.
Step 5: Install the New Starter
Take the replacement starter and bolt it onto the engine block where the old one was. Reconnect all of the wires and the battery cable to the starter. Then reattach the negative battery cable to the battery.
Try starting your engine. If it works, you’re done! Shut off the engine, then remove the jack stands and lower your car back to the ground. If the engine doesn’t start, make sure you’ve reconnected all of the wires and cables correctly. If it still doesn’t work, you’ll want to check with a mechanic for further advice.
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Disclaimer: The guidelines in this story are general and not meant to replace instructions for your specific vehicle. Please consult your owner’s manual or repair guide before attempting repairs.
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