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How To Start A Car With A Bad Starter (Walkthrough)

October 15, 2021

Let’s say you’re running late for work. 
You sprint to your car and try to turn on the ignition system, but your car won’t budge. 

Chances are that your starter is acting up
But don’t worry, you can do something about it!

As a car driver, knowing how to start a car with a bad starter motor is a handy skill to have. 

In this article, we’ll tell you how to start a car with a bad starter
We’ll also tell you what problems to look for if your car still won’t start

We’ll then go through some of the common FAQs, including the signs of a bad starter and how to bypass a starter relay

This Article Contains:

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Let’s get your car started.

How To Start A Car With A Bad Starter

When you have a bad starter motor, there are two ways to crank up your engine: 

However, before you begin working on a starter problem, you must have the following tools in place. 

If you don’t have these, it’s best to call a mechanic to look into the fault. 
If you do have the tools, you can try starting your car with either of these two methods: 

Jump-Start Your Car

More often than not, your car may fail to start due to a discharged or weak battery. Providing enough amps to the starter can help it function normally, which in turn, will crank up the engine.

To jump-start a car, you can either use another car’s battery and jumper cables or use a portable jump starter. 

Here’s what you need to do next: 

  1. Open your car’s hood and locate the car battery. In case you can’t find it, refer to the car manual. If your car battery looks bloated or is leaking, don’t work on it. Call a mechanic instead, as you may have to replace the battery.
  1. If the car battery looks fine, use the positive wire (red jumper cable) to connect the positive terminal of your weak battery to the positive terminal of the spare battery or jump starter. 
  1. Use the black-colored jumper cable to connect the negative terminal of the charged battery to any bare metal on the car. 
  1. Now, turn on the ignition and wait for a few minutes to let the battery charge. 

A dead battery can take approx. 5-20 minutes to boost up depending on the battery health, depth of discharge (DOD), and the engine type. 

Once you manage to jump-start your car, detach the jumper cables. First the (-ve) clamp, then the (+ve) one. Also, make sure that these cables don’t touch each other.

Note: If your battery is charged and your car still won’t start, it could indicate a bad starter. In that case, you can bypass the starter relay

However, there’s another, simpler technique you can use too:

Push-Start Your Engine

Push-starting, also known as bump-starting, is an old-school yet effective way to start a car with a bad starter. However, it only works if you have a manual transmission vehicle.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Keep the ignition on and put the manual transmission of your car in first or second gear. It is advisable to keep your car in second gear as it allows you to push-start smoothly. It also reduces damage to your car’s system. However, use the first gear when you have a considerably shorter distance to push-start. 
  1. Get someone strong enough to push your car from behind to attain a speed of 5-10 miles per hour. 
  1. Once you achieve this speed, let go of the clutch. The attained speed will be enough to start the car.
  1. Repeat the process if the first attempt fails. 

If you have tried the above methods of how to start a car with a bad starter motor and failed, you may want to check your car’s other components.

What Should I Check If My Car Still Won’t Start?

There are tons of reasons why your starter motor won’t work.

It’s one of the reasons why it’s always better to have a professional mechanic look into the starter problem. They can run through all possible scenarios to pinpoint the fault.

However, you too can look at a few of these components to assess what’s causing your starting issues. 

Check The Connections

Ensure that there aren’t any loose connections in the starter battery pathway. 

If the connection looks good, check the other ends of the positive battery cable. This positive wire forks into two parts. One end goes to the car alternator and the other end to the starter. If the alternator and starter connections look good, try the jump-start method again. 

Check The Engine Grounds

Sometimes a faulty transmission ground or engine ground wire can also affect the overall ground provided to the starter.

Check these two grounds for any rusting or damage, as they can create an open circuit and prevent the starter from running. 

You can also bypass this problem with a jumper cable to provide a direct ground from the battery’s negative post to the starter frame.

Examine The Starter Solenoid Cable

The starter solenoid engages the starter with your car’s transmission. When turning on the ignition, if you hear the starter turning free, the problem could be with the solenoid. 

To identify a bad starter solenoid, check the solenoid wire for any grime or rust. 
If rusting is the issue, you can bypass the bad starter solenoid wire. 

To do so, use a 12V wire to directly provide current from the car’s battery to the point where the starter and solenoid connect. You’ll hear a click sound indicating that the connection is made. Now turn on your ignition system. 

Once the engine starts, you should immediately remove the 12V wire. If not, the starter gear (pinion) won’t retract and could get damaged by remaining engaged with the flywheel, which is rotating at a much higher speed.  

Examine The Engine Flywheel

The pinion gear in the starter motor engages with the ring gear of the flywheel to crank the engine. Sometimes the flywheel could also be the reason why your car won’t start. 

To examine the flywheel:

  1. First, remove the electric motor. 
  2. Now, set the car transmission at neutral. 
  3. Ask someone to rotate the center bolt of the crankshaft pulley with the help of a ratchet or a breaker bar. This pulley helps run the alternator, steering pump, and other components.
  4. Now look for any damaged or missing teeth in the flywheel that may be preventing it from engaging with the starter gear. If you discover any inconsistencies, you may have to replace the ring gear of your flywheel.

Note: It’s better that you leave this job to a qualified technician.

Inspect For Corrosion

Corrosion is one of the common car starter problems. To avoid it, make sure that your battery cable and the terminals are free of any acid deposits

Acid deposits look like a white, green, or blue-tinged covering around any battery terminal, post, or battery cable. 

Here’s how you can clean the corrosion:

  1. Prepare a solution of sodium bicarbonate and water in a 1:1 ratio
  2. Pour the mix over the affected battery terminal 
  3. Let it soak for some time, then rinse the connectors with hot water 

You can also check this corrosion guide for more detailed instructions. 

Also, check for dust, rust, or acid deposits around the motor, starter solenoid, ground wire, and engine connections. Remove the deposits with a metal brush. 

Tap The Starter

Over time, the motor tends to develop dead spots between the armature and the field coils. 

Tapping the faulty starter gently with a hammer can remove these dead spots and make the starter’s motor run. 

Check The Battery Voltage

You can also use a voltmeter or a multimeter to check if the starter’s solenoid is receiving enough power from the battery or if you have a dead battery. 

To check for a weak battery:

  1. Set the meter’s scale to 20V (higher than your battery’s voltage.)
  2. Turn on the meter. Connect the (-ve) and (+ve) leads of the meter to the respective posts.
  3. Now, turn on your car’s headlights and note the reading. A reading between 12.7 – 13.2 volt indicates that your battery is charged, and the problem lies somewhere else. Any reading below 12.4 volts means that you need to charge your battery to start the engine. 

If the meter readings are around 12.6V, and the problem still persists, a bad alternator may be causing the issue. 

Now that you know the possible reasons for a faulty starter, let’s go over some car starter FAQs.

5 Starter FAQs

Here are some answers to common starter motor questions:

1. What’s A Starter?

A starter is an electric motor used to crank an internal combustion engine to initiate an engine’s operation. 

When you turn on the ignition system of your car, the motor of the starter gets energized. The electromagnet inside the starter’s motor causes the pinion gear of the starter drive to engage with the ring wheel of the transmission, which then causes the engine to power up. 

2. What Are The Signs That I Have A Bad Car Starter?

Several signs could point towards a bad starter. 
These include: 

The Car Won’t Start Even With A Fully Charged Battery

This is perhaps the most common sign of a bad starter. To quickly check if you have a fully charged battery, turn on the headlights or the music system of your car.

If they’re working fine, you likely have a faulty starter. 

Strange Clicking Sounds

A distinct clicking sound can indicate a broken starter. The sound can also result from a dead battery. But if it’s a grinding noise, it could point to an interlocking problem between the starter gear and the ring gear of the engine flywheel.   

Check your battery first to rule out this cause. If the battery is charged, it means you have a bad starter motor. 

Slow Starting Speed

If your car takes multiple attempts or more time than usual to start, it could indicate a faulty relay or a bad starter. 

Dimming Interior Lights

If your interior lights dim when you start the car, it can indicate a short circuit in the starter’s motor. This causes the starter motor to draw excess current, leaving even lesser power for the rest of the vehicle’s systems. 

Additionally, listen for a chugging sound. 
It signals a failure of the bearings inside the starter’s electric motor, which means you need to get your broken starter fixed. 

Starter Continues To Run Even After The Engine Has Started

If it sounds like the starter is still running even when you have released the ignition switch, it could indicate a major problem with your car’s electrical system. 

In such a case, immediately call a mechanic for assistance.

An Oil-soaked Starter

Sometimes, an oil leak from the engine can lead to a bad starter.
If you find your car starter drenched in oil, you must call a professional mechanic to fix this issue. 

3. How Do I Check For A Blown Fuse Of My Starter?

Checking the fuse is the least intrusive way to test a bad starter. 
Here’s how you do it: 

  1. Disconnect the ground wire from your battery. 
  2. Find your car’s fuse box. It’ll either be near your car’s battery or on the driver’s side of the dashboard. 
  3. Look for the starter fuse. It’s usually labeled as “IG.” You can refer to your vehicle’s manual to identify the correct fuse.
  4. Check the fuse for the metal link inside. If broken, it indicates a blown fuse.
  5. Replace the blown fuse with a new one of the same ampere rating.

4. How Do I Bypass The Starter Relay? 

When you try to turn on the ignition switch, and the vehicle won’t start, it can be due to a faulty starter relay.

Before you try to bypass the faulty relay, check your battery voltage. If your battery is fully charged, you can proceed to bypass the faulty starter relay. 

  1. Get hold of a screwdriver with an insulated grip. 
  2. To bypass the faulty relay, place the screwdriver’s shaft on the “S” terminal of the solenoid and touch its tip to the solenoid’s battery terminal. 
  3. Ask someone to turn on the ignition switch.

If the battery voltage is in the range, the ignition should get your car started.

Note: When trying to bypass a faulty starter relay, remove the screwdriver as soon as the engine is cranked to avoid damaging the pinion gear of your starter drive.

5. How Do I Start My Automatic Car With A Bad Starter? 

If your car has automatic transmission, you can jump-start your car and can also check for other reasons to identify a broken starter.

However, the push-starting method won’t work with an automatic car as you need manual transmission to push-start your vehicle. 

Closing Thoughts

While failing to start a car is a fairly common issue that car owners face, it can be tricky to fix a bad starter yourself. Sometimes, starting issues could be down to other things like misfiring spark plugs or even a faulty fuel pump.

That’s why getting a professional to review your car starter problems is the most hassle-free option. 
And you don’t have to look far. Simply contact RepairSmith. 

RepairSmith is a convenient mobile car repair and maintenance solution that offers competitive upfront pricing.

Their ASE-certified professionals will be at your driveway in no time, ready to assist you or fix any starter-related troubles. RepairSmith also provides a 12-month | 12,000-mile service warranty for all repairs.

Fill out this form for an accurate cost estimate of a car starter replacement and any other repairs!