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Why Is My Starter Smoking? (Causes, Fixes, FAQs)

October 16, 2021

If smoke seeps from under the hood when you start your engine — something is definitely wrong. 

Could it be a starter problem?
But if so, why is your starter smoking, and more importantly, how do you get it fixed?

In this article, we’ll take you through the causes of starter smoking and give you an easy way to fix a smoking starter. We’ll also cover some common starter smoking FAQs to clear up any questions you might have.

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Let’s get started.

Why Is My Starter Smoking?

The smoke that comes from under your car’s engine compartment is likely a sign of a shorted starter. Let’s take a look at the various causes of this issue and how you can identify starter smoke:

Starter smoke is likely a sign of a blown starter fuse. Sometimes, this is caused by a worn-out fusible link — an insulated cable that protects electrical components.

Both the starter fuse and the fusible link usually get damaged and cause smoke when there’s excessive current in the starter circuit.

2. Short Circuit And Ignition Switch Problems

If there’s a short circuit in the starter system, the starter motor will likely heat up and release smoke. 

And if you have wire problems, your ignition switch might end up being faulty too. For example, the ignition switch might still run the starter motor even when the engine is on. This will heat up the starter and release smoke.

Let’s now take a look at how you can identify starter smoke.

How Do I Identify Starter Smoke?

Starter smoke usually varies in strength based on the damage incurred by the car starter.

If the damage is critical, you’ll likely see a lot of smoke. This could be similar to the smoke you’d see from a chimney when you burn lump charcoal or briquettes in a charcoal chimney starter.

If the damage isn’t bad, you’ll see a small amount of smoke — one you’d see from a smoker or one that comes off when burning a lighter fuel.

Either way, regardless of the amount of smoke, you need to get that starter smoking problem checked. An easy way to do this is to contact a reliable mobile mechanic right away!

We’ve covered why your starter is smoking and how you can identify starter smoke. Let’s now take a look at a couple of starter smoking FAQs.

6 FAQs On Starter Smoking

Here are some common starter smoking FAQs and their answers:

1. What Is A Car Starter And How Does It Work?

A car starter is connected to the battery and helps start the engine when you turn on the ignition switch. Its critical components include the starter solenoid and the electric motor.

When you turn on the ignition key, the starter solenoid closes the electrical connection between the car battery and the starter motor. The starter solenoid also helps push the starter gear forward to mesh it with the ring gear of the flywheel.

Finally, the starter motor turns the crankshaft and sets the engine components in motion.

2. What Are The Signs Of A Bad Starter?

While a smoking starter is definitely a cause for concern, it isn’t the only symptom of a failing starter. 

Here are some other warning signs to look out for:

A. The Engine Does Not Crank

You could be dealing with a faulty starter if you turn on the ignition switch and the engine won’t crank.

If your engine cranks after multiple starting attempts, this is most likely a problem with the starter relay. In this instance, replacing the starter relay could resolve your car starting problems.

However, the engine might also not crank because of a dead battery. In this case, getting a new battery might help out.

B. Whirring Or Grinding Noise

If you hear strange noises when you crank the engine, you could be dealing with a shorted starter. Usually, a bad starter motor releases a whirring or grinding noise.

And as soon as your starter makes a whirring or grinding noise, it could be time to get a new starter or a rebuilt starter.

C. No Clicking Sound When Starting The Engine

The audible clicking sound that comes on when you turn the ignition key comes either from the starter solenoid or the starter relay. These are both critical components of the starter system.

So, if your vehicle won’t start and you don’t hear a clicking sound, you could be dealing with a faulty starter solenoid or a damaged starter relay.

3. What Causes Starter Problems?

While we’ve already covered the causes of a smoking starter, there could be other issues with your starter.

Here are some other common causes you should know of:

A. Dead Battery, Or Faulty Alternator

The battery, alternator, and starter motor are interconnected. 

The car battery supplies the starter motor with power and also helps run the alternator. Meanwhile, the alternator helps recharge the battery. This process ensures that there’s always enough power for the starter motor and other components.

However, if you have a faulty alternator, you’ll also likely end up with a dead car battery. In this case, getting a new battery and repairing the alternator could resolve your starting problems.

B. Corroded Battery Terminal Or Loose Battery Cable

When a battery terminal corrodes, it doesn’t pass enough electricity to power the starter motor.

Besides a corroded battery terminal, a loose battery cable can also be an issue. For example, a loose cable will also not transfer enough power to the starter and other components.

C. Oil Leak Or A Lack Of Fuel

If your vehicle has an oil leak, that oil might reach the starter and cause corrosion. So, if you notice an oil leak, attend to it immediately to avoid mechanical failures.

Sometimes, the starter problem could simply be due to a lack of fuel. So, if your vehicle won’t start, try checking the fuel gauge.

D. Loose Wiring Or A Worn-Out Starter Cable

A loose wire within the starter system can cause short circuit problems and electrical arcing. This could heat up the starter motor and release smoke.

You could also end up with a shorted starter if you have a worn-out starter cable — the wire that connects the starter to the battery. Frayed cables can cause electrical arcing too, and create uneven power flow to the starter. 

Additionally, when this cable is damaged, the starter motor might not receive enough current and could run into issues. 

E. Incorrect Installation Or A Bad Connection

When your old starter begins failing, a mechanic will fit in a new starter or a rebuilt starter.

But if there’s a bad connection in the starter system, then you might still run into issues. For instance, a bad connection might lead to the electric motor not meshing properly with the flywheel. This could damage the starter, flywheel, or other components. 

F. Defective Ignition Coil

Starters sometimes run into issues because of a faulty ignition coil. This coil works together with the spark plugs to ignite the fuel. In case it’s faulty, starting your engine could be a challenge.

4. How Does A Mechanic Jump A Bad Starter Solenoid?

When jumping a bad starter solenoid, a mechanic will usually use a long screwdriver that’ll act as a jumper cable. By using the screwdriver, they’ll be preventing electric shock that could be incurred while using a real jumper cable.

Here are the steps of jumping a starter solenoid:

Step #1: Locating The Solenoid

The mechanic will open the hood and locate the starter solenoid. And because the starter solenoid is attached to the starter motor, they’ll first locate the starter motor.

When locating the starter, they’ll identify the positive terminal of the battery and then follow the positive battery cable — this will lead them to the starter motor.

Step #2: Jumping The Solenoid Using A Screwdriver

The mechanic will now place the tip of the screwdriver to the solenoid’s ground wire connection point (output solenoid terminal). Next, they’ll shift the other end of the screwdriver to the solenoid terminal that connects to the positive terminal of the battery (input solenoid terminal).

Step #3: Starting The Car And Removing The Screwdriver

Now that the screwdriver is touching both the positive terminal and ground wire connection points on the starter, the mechanic will ask you to start the car. They’ll then remove the screwdriver immediately when the engine starts.

In case your car won’t start, the mechanic might need to remove your starter and bench test it. During the bench test, they’ll connect the starter to the battery and observe how it responds.

5. What Are The Signs Of A Blown Fuse Or A Bad Ignition Switch?

A blown fuse and a bad ignition switch could both make it difficult to start the car engine. When these components are damaged, your starter motor could still run even when the engine is on.

However, a bad ignition switch comes with several other problems. For example, it could make it difficult to turn your car key and your vehicle could stall while you’re driving.

6. What Is An Easy Way To Repair A Smoking Starter?

When you see smoke while starting your car, you need to attend to that matter immediately. In most cases, you’ll need to get a starter replacement.

However, you shouldn’t try to do a starter replacement yourself. This procedure is complicated and requires special equipment.

Ideally, get a hold of a qualified mobile mechanic so they can check and replace your old starter.

When searching for a mechanic, ensure that they:

You’re in luck because RepairSmith gives you a simple way to find this kind of mechanic!

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Closing Thoughts

If your car releases smoke when you turn on the ignition switch, it could be time to replace your old starter. For this, you’ll need to look for reliable starter replacement services.

And in case you’re wondering who you could contact for a starter replacement, look no further than RepairSmith! They’ll send you an ASE-certified mobile mechanic that’ll resolve your starter problem right in your driveway!