Skip the auto shop - Our mechanics make house calls

How the Starter Works in Your Car

car starter

A car starter is a powerful electric motor that cranks your engine in order to start your car. The starting system consists of the motor itself, and the attached solenoid. The solenoid is what takes battery power and delivers it to the starter motor. It also pushes the starter gear forward, allowing it to mesh with the gear teeth of the engine’s flywheel.

A high current is needed to start your car, so your battery has to have enough “juice” to enable the car starting system to work properly. Most of the time, when a car won’t start and the battery is fully charged, the starter motor is to blame. Starters do wear out. Let’s talk about some common car starting problems, some of which are related to the starter.

The starter cranks but the car won’t start

This might not be a starter problem. Most of the time, this is due to battery failure. Perhaps you left a light turned on, which caused the battery to drain. If the battery doesn’t have enough charge, you might hear clicking, or the starter might turn over slowly and then finally stop. You could have poor connections, corroded battery terminals, or simply a bad battery. Before you inspect the car starter, check your battery.

However, it could still be the starter. Sometimes, the control terminal becomes corroded or a wire comes loose. If this happens, you can disconnect the control wire (if it hasn’t already become disconnected and is the source of the problem), clean the terminal, and replace the wire.

You have to jiggle the key to start the car

Chances are you have a bad ignition switch. You turn the key to the “start” position, but you’re not consistently getting current to activate the solenoid. This is a common problem, caused by the contact points in the ignition switch wearing out. The ignition switch will need to be replaced.

Car starts in neutral, but not in park

The neutral safety switch in your vehicle prevents the car from operating unless the vehicle is in neutral or park, or in the case of a manual transmission, when the clutch is depressed. If the car starts in neutral but not park, the problem isn’t in the car starter system – you have a faulty neutral safety switch.

Lights go dim when the car is started

First check your battery. Dim lights when the key is turned to “start” often indicate that there’s a problem with the battery. If you test your battery and find that it’s fully charged, the problem could be with the car starter control circuit. It could be in the control wire, the starter relay, ignition switch or neutral safety switch.

Finally, as we’ve said, sometimes starters simply go bad. This can be due to worn brushes, bad bearings, and various other problems, many of which will require the services of a mechanic to properly diagnose. A certified mobile mechanic from YourMechanic can diagnose and repair your starter at your home or office.

The statements expressed above are only for informational purposes and should be independently verified. Please see our terms of service for more details

Skip the repair shop, our top-rated mechanics come to you.

At your home or office

Choose from 600+ repair, maintenance & diagnostic services. Our top-rated mechanics bring all parts & tools to your location.

Fair & transparent pricing

See labor & parts costs upfront, so you can book with confidence.

12-month, 12,000-mile warranty

Our services are backed by a 12-month, 12,000-mile warranty for your peace of mind.

Get A Quote

Ask a Mechanic
(100% Free)

Have a car question? Get free advice from our top-rated mechanics.

Ask A Mechanic
Over 10,000 questions answered!

Need Help With Your Car?

Our certified mobile mechanics make house calls in over 2,000 U.S. cities. Fast, free online quotes for your car repair.


Post a question and get free advice from our certified mechanics.


More related articles

Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Flexible Clutch Hose
Common signs include difficulty shifting, low clutch fluid, and feeling no resistance at the clutch pedal.
How to Avoid Back Pain in a Car
If you have back problems, sitting in a car for an extended period of time can be excruciating. Even without back problems, you could experience discomfort and soreness from...
P0608 OBD-II Trouble Code: Control Module VSS Output "A" Malfunction
P0608 means there is an malfunction in the vehicle speed sensor A control module often due too faulty speed sensor or shorted electrical wiring.

Related questions

Q: Engine doesn't start but lights power on - 1986 Ford LTD Crown Victoria

You're thinking in the rigt direction! Something in the electrical power path to the starter motor is malfunctioning: starter solenoid or starter motor itself, ignition switch, or wiring to either of these components. A professional mechanic, like YourMechanic, can isolate...

Q: Car won't start and no power

It sounds like you are having a problem with the battery cables the either connect to the battery, engine, or the body. All of these will need to be checked. The sparking from the alternator is because the system is...

Q: What does the Charging System Light mean?

There are numerous lights that will light up on your dashboard if the indicated part begins to malfunction. The Charging System Light will illuminate if the battery is not charging properly. To understand the Charging System Light. The Charging...