Every memorable drive you've experienced in your life begins with the successful operation of the starter on your vehicle. The starter on today's cars, trucks and SUVs is attached in the rear of the motor, where a gear on the starter aligns with the vehicle's flywheel to begin the ignition process. Once the engine turns over, fuel is introduced to the combustion chamber and is ignited thanks to the ignition system being activated. When this process works correctly, your engine comes to life. However, when the starter begins to wear out or break, it will impact your ability to drive the car.
Over a period of time, the starter motor will eventually runs its course and wear out. The two components inside the starter that commonly fail are the solenoid (which sends an electrical signal to the starter motor to activate) or the starter motor itself. When this occurs, the starter will be rendered useless and needs to be replaced by a certified mechanic. Although many of the internal components inside the starter can be fixed, it's recommended by most automotive manufacturers to replace the starter, so as to avoid future breakdowns.
Like any other mechanical device, when the starter fails or is beginning to wear out, it will display a few warning signs. Noted below are a few of the indicators that will let you know that a problem with the starter motor is likely.
1. Engine won't turn over
The most common indicator that a problem with your starter exists is when you turn your key and nothing happens. This is often caused by the starter solenoid or motor that has burnt out, or is experiencing an electrical issue. However, this problem may be caused by a dead battery as well. If this occurs, you'll have to contact a mechanic to inspect the starter, ignition system and other electrical components, as it may be a sign of multiple issues.
2. Starter engages but doesn't spin the motor
There are times when you'll turn the ignition switch and hear the starter activate but will not hear the motor crank over. Issues with the starter are sometimes mechanical in nature. In this case, the problem may be due to the gears that are connected to the flywheel. Either the gear has stripped or has become dislodged against the flywheel. In either case, the engine won't turn over and will require that you have the starter replaced by a certified mechanic.
3. Grinding noise when trying to start the motor
Similar to the issue above, this warning sign often occurs when the gears that connect the starter to the flywheel are worn out. However, grinding may also happen inside the starter motor. In either case, it's something that can't be fixed on the car. If you notice this symptom, a call to a mechanic is the best logical step. If this noise continues without being replaced, it can cause damage to the engine's flywheel, which is a rather expensive repair to have completed.
4. Smell or see smoke when starting the motor
The starter is a mechanical system that is powered by electricity. Sometimes the starter will overheat because of continued power being supplied to the starter or the starter motor will not shut off after the car's engine has ignited. If this occurs, you'll most likely see or smell smoke coming from underneath the engine. This problem may be caused by a short circuit, blown fuse or might be due to a problem with the ignition switch. In any case, it's important to contact a certified mechanic as soon as you notice this problem.
Problems with the starter are virtually impossible to avoid, as there really isn't a predetermined or recommended replacement by the automotive manufacturer. As soon as you notice your vehicle freewheeling, grinding noises, smoke, or your vehicle does not start at all, contact a professional mechanic to further assist you in figuring out the problem.
This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as Symptoms of a Bad or Failing Starter and was authored by Timothy Charlet.