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How To Replace A Starter (Step-By-Step Guide + FAQs)

October 15, 2021

Your starter motor is giving you trouble, and you’ve realized it’s time to get a new one.

So how do you go about replacing a starter?
In this article, we’ll show you step-by-step how to replace a starter, mention the tools you’ll need, and answer some starter-related FAQs.

This Article Contains:

Let’s get started!

How To Replace A Starter Motor?

Before we jump right into the steps on how to replace a starter, let’s identify the tools and preparations needed before you start. Additionally, if you’re not familiar with the insides of a car, it’s better to leave this task to a mechanic.

Tools Needed For A Starter Motor Replacement

Here are some things you want to keep handy:

You can buy these equipment from any online, hardware, or auto shop.

Preparation Required For A Starter Replacement

Here are some things you need to do before you replace your starter:

Now that we’ve got the tools and preparations covered, let’s go over how to actually replace a starter.

10 Steps To Replace A Starter Motor

Here’s what you need to do to replace a starter. 
Just note that it can get pretty technical — so when in doubt, seek a professional mechanic’s help.

Step 1: Safety First

There are some basic safety measures that you must keep in mind:

However, the number one safety measure is disconnecting the battery and removing the negative battery cable.

Pick a fitting hand or socket wrench size to loosen the nut holding the wire on the negative battery terminal.

However, you won’t have to remove the nut entirely. 
If it’s loose, just slide the wire up and off the battery terminal. To ensure that the wire doesn’t come in contact with the terminal while you work, tuck it away to the side of the battery.

Note: You don’t need to remove the positive battery cable (the large positive wire running to the battery).

Step 2: Jack Up The Vehicle If Needed

Some cars need you to jack up the vehicle to access the car starter.

To do so, place a jack beneath one of the designated jack points at the vehicle’s front. Then raise and lower or turn the handle to elevate the car from the ground. 

Don’t forget you should always jack up a vehicle on flat and firm ground, and rest the car on jack stands for safety.

Step 3: Locate The Starter

Pop the hood of the car to access the engine compartment. You should find the starter here. It  looks like a big cylinder with a smaller cylinder attached to it, placed in the bell housing area.

The smaller cylinder is the starter solenoid
A wire should run directly from the positive battery terminal or from the fuse box in the engine compartment to the top terminal on the starter solenoid.

If you can’t locate the starter, check your vehicle repair manual because the location can vary depending on your car’s model and make.

Note: Bell housing is another term for the area of the transmission that covers the flywheel, clutch, or torque converter. It’s shaped like a bell (bolted to the engine block), hence the name bell housing.

Step 4: Remove The Starter Motor And Bolts

Start by removing the starter mounting bolts with a socket wrench. After every bolt is out, remove all the wiring including those connected to the solenoid in order to remove the car starter.

Use a bit of force to pull and remove it from the bell housing in the engine compartment.

Step 5: Compare The Replacement Starter To The Old One

With the starter out of the car, place the old (original starter) and new replacement starter next to each other on a table to compare them.

Both the starters should look almost identical. The holes for the starter mounting bolts should be in the same spot for the replacement starter.

You don’t have to worry about the starter solenoid being exact. 
Most cars have a solenoid with three or four terminals — you can omit the fourth if yours uses only three.

Step 6: Transfer Heat Shield

What’s a heat shield?
In a car powered by an internal combustion engine, a heat shield protects a car component from absorbing excessive heat either by scattering, reflecting, or simply absorbing.

So if your old car starter has any heat shield, transfer them to the new replacement starter.

Step 7: Place The New Starter 

Before inserting the new starter back in the bell housing, check the flywheel for damaged teeth. If everything looks good, keep the starter mounting bolts ready and insert the starter right where the old one used to be (bell housing).

Step 8: Insert The Starter Mounting Bolts

After inserting, tighten every starter bolt to secure the starter.

Slide the two starter mounting bolts through the bracket on the engine and the starter. Then turn each mounting bolt clockwise by hand till you’re sure they’re fastened properly.

After that, pick up the right socket and socket wrench to tighten them all the way down.

If any bolt still feels loose, unscrew it and try again. 
This way, the bolt doesn’t vibrate and detach while the engine is running.

Step 9: Connect The Wiring

With the car starter motor in position, reconnect the wiring you disconnected from the old starter onto the new one’s terminals.

Do the same for the new starter solenoid as well.
If you’re unsure, you can always refer to the owner’s manual and make the right wire connections.

Step 10: Reconnect The Battery

Now it’s time to connect the battery.

To do so, reconnect the black cable (ground wire) to the negative battery terminal
Then insert the key into the ignition and try to start your car. If it does, your starter replacement was successful.

What if your car still doesn’t start?
Check if every wire is securely connected at both ends, then attempt to start again.
And if that fails, you will have to call a mechanic to help.

Is My Starter Really Bad?

When a car won’t start, the battery is often blamed. 
And if it’s not the battery, the alternator is usually the problem. 

But it could quite possibly be a bad starter instead.
Here’s how you can make a quick basic diagnosis to determine if it’s a defective starter or some other issue.

1. Listen To Your Vehicle While Starting It

When you turn the key in the ignition, does the engine make no noise or only a faint clicking sound?

There probably isn’t enough power traveling to the electric motor, indicating a bad starter.

Another situation is when you turn the ignition on, the dashboard lights turn on dimly, and the solenoid clicks or buzzes, or nothing happens at all.

The reason, in this case, may not be your starter. 
Instead, it could be the battery or the cables.

2. Ensure Each Battery Terminal Is Clean And Secure

You must ensure that every battery terminal has a strong connection with each wire.

Turn off your car to check the wire connections. 
Secure every battery cable in place, so they don’t wiggle or come loose from the terminal. If any battery terminal looks corroded, you need to get them cleaned, or your car may stall.

If every wire is clean and secure, the problem can be a dead battery and not a starter.

3. Check Your Car’s Battery 

Could your battery possibly be drained?

Try charging it with a portable battery charger, a portable jump starter, or another vehicle using a jumper cable.

If you’re jump-starting a car with the help of another, ensure you connect each battery cable to the right terminals.

Connect the red battery cable to the positive battery terminal on each vehicle. And the black battery cable should create a connection between the negative battery terminal of the donor car to an unpainted metal surface of your dead car.

Keep the battery donor vehicle running when jump-starting your car and allow it to charge your battery.

If your car doesn’t start even though you just charged it, there may be some other issues, like a bad starter solenoid. 

4. Check If The Starter Solenoid Is Bad

The starter solenoid drives power from the battery to the electric starter motor used to start your car’s engine.

A bad solenoid will fail to transmit the electricity, resulting in a failed starter motor. If the starter solenoid is completely dead or doesn’t receive power from the battery, it can also indicate problems with wiring or a blown fuse.

How can you tell if a solenoid is faulty?
Here are some bad solenoid symptoms:

Also, you should look for any poor electrical connection to the starter and solenoid.

Now, wiring and power systems can be quite tricky to deal with, especially when it comes to something as specific as a solenoid. 

And that’s why it’s best to call a mechanic
They can even spot more specific issues like a bad armature, commutator, ignition switch, starter gear, etc. 

You now know how to replace a starter and check if you need a starter motor replacement. 
Let’s answer a few more questions to clarify things.

5 Car Starter FAQs

Here are some other questions you may have about starters and associated things:

1. What Is A Starter?

A car starter motor is a small electric motor powered by your car’s battery. It helps to crank the internal combustion engine of your car.

The car’s battery sends power to the starter, which starts the engine that powers the alternator. The alternator charges up your battery, closing the cycle.

A starter assembly consists of different components, including:

2. What Happens To A Car When The Starter Goes Bad?

Here are some of the things that can happen if your starter goes bad:

3. Starter Relay Vs. Starter Solenoid: Are They The Same?

A starter relay is an electro-mechanical switch, just like a starter solenoid. 
However, they’re not the same things.

A starter relay allows a low power signal (40-100 amps) to control a higher-powered circuit. In contrast, a solenoid is a switch that allows a heavier current (ranging from 85-200 amps).

They’re also structurally different. 
A starter relay is a cube, whereas a starter solenoid is more of a metal cylinder.

4. How Does A Starter Motor Work

In a starter motor, the solenoid (or, on some starters, just a threaded part of the armature) pushes the Bendix gear (pinion gear) forward until it meshes with the ring gear. This lets the starter motor spin the engine until it starts.

When the engine’s revolutions per minute exceed the cranking speed, the Bendix gear automatically withdraws, stopping the engine from spinning the starter excessively fast.

5. What’s An Easier Way To Replace My Starter?

A starter motor replacement is quite technical, so the easiest way to replace it is by letting professionals deal with it.

And with issues like a bad starter motor, it’s much easier to call a mobile auto repair service like RepairSmith. They can come to your rescue at any place for a starter replacement.

Here are some more things you’ll enjoy with RepairSmith:

And if you want, you can get a cost estimate of a starter motor replacement right away.

Final Thoughts

A starter can go bad because of manifold reasons. 
It can be a damaged pinion or flywheel, faulty electrical connection, damaged commutator, faulty solenoid switch, and more.

Now you could follow our guide to do it yourself, but it isn’t highly recommended.

Handling specific components like a starter should be left for professionals like RepairSmith
Just contact them, and their ASE-certified mechanics will have your starter motor replaced in a jiffy.

And that isn’t all; contact them for all kinds of car issues – whether it’s issues with an exhaust manifold, a gasket, your motor mount, the throttle body, they can handle it all!