Whatever can go wrong will go wrong. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard someone important say that before and in the case of starter problems in your automobile, those words could never ring so true. That familiar click or clicking sound that has replaced the sound of your engine starting is a huge inconvenience.
Your automotive starter has only one job and that’s to turn the flywheel and get the engine started. Unfortunately the motor in your car that has taken you to work everyday, has stranded you today. The clicking sound you hear from your starter can be caused from one of two components of your automotive starter, the relay or the starter solenoid.
What is the Starter Solenoid?
Learning how to fix a clicking starter begins by learning what has failed in your starter and why. If you are hearing a click from your starter when trying to start your car, it’s most likely the starter solenoid. The solenoid on your automotive starter is much like a drill in that it’s basically a electromagnetic device that performs a job.
In our how to fix a clicking starter guide, the job of engaging the flywheel and turn the engine can be broken into two separate smaller jobs. The starter turns the flywheel by engaging the gear attached to the starter plunger with the flywheel. When you turn the key to the START position, the starter solenoid charges the smaller coil inside the starter.
This smaller coil pushes the plunger and starter drive gear into the flywheel, making contact with the ring gear. With the plunger and drive gear pushed out, the small coil retains some power to keep the gear engaged. The second larger coil then engages to crank the engine by turning the starter drive gear.
If there isn’t sufficient battery voltage to provide the flow needed to turn the engine, the gear drive won’t lock into position so the engine can be turned over. Instead the drive gear will snap back into place and that’s the clicking sound that most people hear when they turn the key, trying to start their car.
If there’s a problem with your starter solenoid, from wear or age the coils may not have enough torque to turn the motor over despite the condition of the battery. This too can cause a clicking sound as the drive gear or plunger does not have the torque or power to do it’s job.
What is the Starter Relay?
The starter relay can often be confused with the main relay, but this part can also cause starter failure. This automotive relay is responsible for sending power to the starter terminals located on the starter solenoid. If relay failure has occurred you will hear the relay clicking or ticking as it attempts to do it’s job. If this component has failed, simply plugging in a new relay will resolve your issue.
Locate the Clicking Sound
The very first step in our How To Fix a Clicking Starter article is the process of locating where the clicking sound is coming from. Have a friend try to start you car while you listen in the engine bay. Locating your starter is not overly difficult and should be mounted inside your transmission housing. Tracing back the source of the clicking sound is the first step and you’ll need to know what component is having a problem before troubleshooting.
If this sound is emitting from your starter relay, replacing this relay should solve the clicking issue for you. Purchasing a replacement relay is easy using our OEM parts guide, located here. If this sound is coming from your starter, the problem is most definitely the starter solenoid.
Check your Battery
The first step of diagnosis in our How To Fix a Clicking Starter, your battery plays a huge role in your starting process. If your battery does not have a hydrometer, or “eye” indicator on it to tell you what condition the battery is in, use a multimeter. Not sure how to use a volt or multimeter? Check out our handy How-To here.
Check the positive lead of your battery using your multimeter to see what voltage your battery outputting. If you see less than 12.4 to 12.5 volts, your battery is undercharged and should be charged for a day. This can result from an electrical short, an existing constantly on accessory or lack of alternator charging. Remove your battery and have it charged overnight, or take it in to have it serviced.
Lack of proper charge or a bad cell can cause your stater to click and result in your car not starting. Once your charged battery is replaced, get a base reading from your battery using your multimeter. Turn on the headlights for 20 seconds to use up what’s referred to as the “surface charge” and then re-test your battery voltage. You should not see more than a .2 volt drop after your headlights have been operated and surface charge used.
Check your Terminals
If your battery checks out but the starter continues to click, take some time to inspect the starter terminals next. There’s a terminal for a thick power feed wire from the battery, and a thinner terminal for the switching mechanism in the solenoid. Make sure to check the main power connection wire as well as the starter solenoid connector, which should be a smaller wire or connection. If the wires check out okay, go back to your battery and using your multimeter take a reading from the battery as a friend turns the key to “START”
If you find issues with your terminal ends, replace it with a quality cable end that includes a protective sheath. Cut the corroded cable back to where the copper wire is absolutely free of any corrosion or wire rot. Install the new-cable end and join it to the remaining cable and try to stay away from jumpers or crimp connectors.
Check the ground cable if applicable on your starter, as most are grounded to the block. No signs of corrosion, damage or shorts on your cables? Remove all your engine grounds and clean the mounting point as well as the ground end and reinstall. Check out our How To Service a Honda S2000 Starter here.
With the key held in the start position, the reading from the battery should read under 0.5 volt. If it’s higher than this, it would indicate that the voltage drop is excessive. If it’s above 0.2 volts there’s some serious issues with the electrical system in your car and could be contributing to your battery issues.
Striking your Starter
Often times, striking your starter or tapping it with a hammer or tool can help you start the engine. Although this workaround is not a true solution and does further damage to your starter, it can help you out in a jam.
Take a breaker bar or hammer and gently tap the side of your starter housing to try and get the solenoid to act right. Work towards replacing your starter immediately.
Fixing your Starter
If your starter relay is the issue, finding it and replacing it is very easy. On certain models with plug-in style relays, a glance at your underhood relay diagram should indicate which one needs replacing. If you still have problems, locate the bad relay with a friend turning the key to the “START” position.
Replacing your starter is easy for most applications and does not require any special tools in many cases. Once you have your starter or starter solenoid replaced your issue of your car not starting should be solved.