The starter motor in your vehicle is a small and often-overlooked component. However, it’s a critical part that cranks the engine so it can run. But if that starter motor goes bad, will it still crank, or will your car be immobilized?
A bad starter might still crank, depending on the issue it’s experiencing. For example, it’ll crank slowly if its pinion assembly is stuck or it’s not receiving enough power. The starter might also crank intermittently due to an electrical problem with the wiring or relay. Finally, a bad starter won’t crank at all if it’s experiencing a severe issue like a cracked gear.
As you read this guide, you’ll learn whether or not a bad starter will crank while experiencing different problems. Then, you’ll discover why your starter motor goes bad and how you can resolve the issue.
Will A Bad Starter Still Crank?
A bad starter might still crank your engine, but that depends on the root cause of the problem. As you’ll discover through this article, faulty starters might crank slowly, work intermittently, or not crank at all.
Here’s a quick look at whether or not your starter will still crank depending on the issue it’s experiencing:
- Slow cranking: Some bad starters will crank your engine, but only very slowly. For example, the starter might have a stuck pinion arm that extends slower than usual to connect its gear to the engine’s flywheel. In that case, cranking your engine will take longer than expected.
- Intermittent cranking: Sometimes, a bad starter will crank but only intermittently. In other words, sometimes it won’t crank at all, but sometimes it’ll seemingly function normally. For example, that can happen if the starter has an electrical problem, like a burnt wire or faulty relay.
- No cranking: A bad starter might not crank at all in some cases. A worn-out or damaged gear makes it impossible for the starter to crank the engine.
Overall, you can tell your starter is going bad when it works in any way that’s less than perfect. For example, slow or intermittent cranking should prompt you to troubleshoot the starter before the problem worsens until it won’t crank at all.
Why Does A Car Starter Go Bad?
Car starters are relatively small components, but they play a critical role in your vehicle’s operation. After all, the starter cranks your engine to begin the combustion process.
Here are why your car starter might go bad and how you can fix it.
1. Wrong Installation
First and foremost, you must always consider that human error could be to blame for your bad starter motor. Suppose you repaired or replaced your car’s starter recently. If it doesn’t function correctly, you or the mechanic likely installed it incorrectly.
For example, the starter might be positioned the wrong way. That can prevent its gear from connecting with the engine’s flywheel, making it impossible to crank the engine.
Besides that, a wrong installation could also result in damage to the starter that prevents it from functioning at all. Something as minor as a loose wire could be the reason why your starter isn’t working as it should.
How to fix it: You can begin the repair process by inspecting the starter motor and its electrical connections. Sometimes, that’s enough to find the problem and fix it immediately.
However, a more thorough approach would be to remove the starter motor from your vehicle entirely. That way, you can redo the installation process step-by-step, ensuring everything is done correctly.
2. Damaged Relay Or Wiring
Your starter can also go bad due to an electrical problem.
Remember: the starter motor is powered by the electricity supplied by the car’s battery. That means the motor is part of an electrical circuit with wiring and a starter relay.
Because of that, a damaged starter relay could prevent the starter from working. In that case, the issue is with the relay and not the starter itself.
The same is also true for the electrical wiring connected to the starter. Wires can become loose, torn or ripped, and even burn if there’s a short circuit or voltage spike.
In both situations, the starter may or may not be damaged directly.
How to fix it: When a damaged relay or wiring is causing trouble for your starter, you must replace those components.
Simultaneously, you must also inspect the starter to assess its condition. In some cases, the starter is perfectly fine, and no repairs are necessary once you replace the relay or wiring.
3. Cracked Gears
The starter motor uses a gear to crank the engine via its flywheel. That gear, like any other, can suffer from excess wear and damage.
Cracked or broken gears might still turn independently, but they will fail to turn the engine’s flywheel. As a result, the engine will not crank, even though the starter motor is in normal condition.
How to fix it: There’s no way to save a cracked gear on a starter motor. So, the only solution is to replace it with an identical replacement that can fit perfectly with the engine’s flywheel.
4. Fluid Leak In Engine Bay
The starter motor does not rely on any fluids to function correctly. Still, it can suffer from fluid damage coming from other parts of the engine bay.
Depending on your car’s design, hoses or other fluid sources could be directly above the starter motor.
When those components leak, fluids fall directly onto the starter motor and cause extensive damage. On the other hand, the starter might just short-circuit and stop working because it’s an electrical component.
How to fix it: Firstly, you must assess the damage by removing the starter motor from your engine bay. If you can clean the starter motor and still functions, you can reuse it.
However, a starter motor that suffers a total failure is no longer helpful. So you’ll have to install a new one at that point.
5. Stuck Pinion Arm Or Lever
Lastly, your bad starter could result from a stuck pinion arm or lever.
To recap, the starter motor temporarily extends its spinning gear to connect with the engine’s flywheel. Once the engine is cranked and running, the starter will pull the gear back, disconnecting it from the flywheel.
That sequence is made possible by a pinion arm or lever that moves the gear into position. But, unfortunately, that component can also get stuck due to excess wear. When that happens, the gear will spin but never meet the engine’s flywheel.
How to fix it: Usually, the first troubleshooting step for this problem is to gently tap the starter motor with a hammer or something similar. The idea here is to shake the stuck arm or lever loose.
However, if that doesn’t work, you’ll likely have to replace the pinion assembly or the whole starter.
A bad starter might still crank, depending on the problem affecting it. For instance, the starter will crank slowly if its pinion assembly is sticky. On the other hand, electrical problems will cause the starter to work only intermittently.
Of course, a severe problem like a cracked gear will prevent the starter from cranking.
Your starter motor can go bad due to the wrong installation of the starter, damaged electrical components, cracked gears, a stuck pinion arm, or even a fluid leak from somewhere else in the engine bay.