Starter Spins but Does Not Engage – What to Do Next?

Busy burning the midnight oil to get ready for your big presentation. What could hold you back? How about a last-minute breakdown of your car?

Not turning on the engine is pretty annoying, especially if you’re late for something important. Or worse, you could be hours away from home and stuck with the whole family inside the car.

The most common problem people face with their cars is that the starter spins but does not engage. Many people don’t understand what causes their starter to fail. Why does it make a clicking noise? Why does the engine not budge? This lack of information makes fixing your car even harder.

Most often than not, the reason behind your starter not engaging is a weak battery or a faulty solenoid of the starter motor. In addition, defective internal parts of the starter motor can cause your car to break down.

This article will help you diagnose starter problems and fix them yourself. We’ll explain how a starter motor works and how you can resolve issues that may arise.

Why Does a Starter Turn but Fail to Engage?

Typically, turning the ignition key in your car engages the starter motor and enables the engine to suck in air. The rest of the engine’s components work in harmony to help start your car. However, if the starter spins and fails to engage the engine, you may have a problem at your hand. Your starter motor may not turn due to loose battery terminals or a broken solenoid. Before shipping your car off to an expensive mechanic, it is better to check for and address these problems.Why Does a Starter Turn but Fail to Engage

What Are the Signs of a Poor Starter?

Before completely dying, your starter motor will show signs of failure. Some things you should look out for include the following.

Car Fails to Start

The most obvious sign of a faulty starter is when your car does not start as you turn the ignition. This indicates a failure of the starter relay in receiving an electrical signal. The cause is most often a disconnection in the circuit of the starter system.Car Fails to Start - Signs of a Poor Starter

Clicking Sound

The most obvious sign of a faulty starter is when your car does not start as you turn the ignition. This indicates a failure of the starter relay in receiving an electrical signal. The cause is most often a disconnection in the circuit of the starter system.

Occasional Troublesome Starts

If you need to crank your car more than once every morning, there’s probably something wrong with your starter. This problem could result from heaped-up masses of dirt on the starter relay. You can clean the debris from the starter motor and then check if it fixes the problem.

Identifying the signs of a problem is the first step towards resolution. Now let’s get in detail about what these signs mean and how to interpret them.

What Might Cause a Starter Motor to Spin but Not Crank the Engine?

There could be several reasons preventing your starter from engaging correctly. However, you can be sure that something is wrong with the starter motor. When in doubt, check for the following factors that may cause your starter motor to malfunction.

Low Battery Voltage

Battery voltage is the primary culprit when you’re facing trouble starting your car. Therefore, you need to check the battery before moving on to any other part. The battery is an essential component and a power supply to the starter motor. It means if the battery performance has gone down, your starter will be unable to start your car’s engine.Low Battery Voltage Might Cause a Starter Motor to Spin but Not Crank the Engine

You can check the voltage capacity of your battery by using a voltmeter. The meter is easy to use and requires you to only touch its contacts to the battery’s terminals. This device will help you understand if your battery has low voltage. You must set your voltmeter for 12 volts before connecting it to your car’s battery terminals.

To see a reading on the voltmeter, turn the key in the ignition switch. You should notice a reading between 12.4 and 12.6 volts for a battery that is still working fine. A fully charged battery will give you a maximum output of 12.6 volts. On the other hand, a battery with 12.4 volts is considered to have a 50 percent charge. If the voltmeter reads below these figures, it will not ignite your starter.

Battery Corrosion

Battery corrosion might be another reason for the low voltage issue causing your starter not to spin the engine. Your battery may be working fine, but its connection with the terminals may be affected. Checking for corrosion is easy. You can check for battery corrosion by looking for green or white deposits around your battery terminals. If they’re present, you have battery corrosion.Battery Corrosion

These deposits break the circuit between your starter and battery terminals. Ultimately, this shaky connection lowers or stops the power supply to the starter motor.

Starter Solenoid

The starter solenoid is a critical component located on top of the starter. The starter solenoid actuates the starter motor when you turn on the ignition. Moreover, it also pushes the pinion towards the flywheel.starter solenoid actuates the starter motor

To check whether the starter solenoid is working, you need to ground the solenoid using a jumper wire. Next, turn the key in the ignition chamber and listen to what type of sound the starter solenoid makes.

Your starter solenoid is working fine if you hear a solid and loud click. However, a weak click means your wire connection between the starter and solenoid is weak. Over time, electrical wires can break or become loose and dirty, requiring replacement.

Starter Motor Plunger or Pinion

If your starter solenoid isn’t the problem, the next thing to check is the inside of the motor itself. The starter motor parts that are first to give way include the starter pinion and starter plunger.

For a thorough inspection, you will need to disassemble the motor and look inside for a fault in pinion gears. The pinion gears are mostly placed at the front side of the starter motor. These gears engage the flywheel and help wind up your engine.

Progressively, these pinion gears deteriorate; they keep the starter engine from engaging. If you can rotate the gear freely in both directions, you probably need to replace the part.

Faulty Wiring to Starter

In some cases, you might hear a sound coming from the starter, which means the motor is getting some current. However, that power is not enough to turn the starter on. A worn-down starter cable or any corroded connection between the starter motor and your car’s battery can be the reason. You can diagnose this problem by touching the cable connection most of the time. Since most of the power is going to waste, the connection will be hot to the touch.

Also Know: Jumping Starter Solenoid Does Nothing

Why Is My Car’s Starter Unable to Engage the Flywheel Despite Spinning?

A flywheel is a sturdy and large wheel located between the engine and the transmission. The starter motor’s pinion gears activate the flywheel and crank your car engine. What you should inspect in a poor flywheel are damaged and worn-out gears.Why Is My Car’s Starter Unable to Engage the Flywheel Despite Spinning

You can inspect your flywheel by separating the starter motor from it. After setting your car’s transmission to neutral, you need to rotate the crankshaft using a ratchet. While you do so, you must check the movement of the pulley that is present at the bottom or front of the engine.

The pulley should move with the pinion gears if the flywheel is good. If not, it means the gear teeth are damaged, which is the worst-case scenario. Damaged gears warrant a replacement of the flywheel.

How to Diagnose a Starter Problem With Sound Only?

Different issues with the starter relay and engine components can generate varied sounds. You can pay attention to these sounds and pinpoint the faulty part quickly.How to Diagnose a Starter Problem With Sound Only

No Sound

If you push the ignition button on your car or wind the key in the ignition chamber and notice a dead silence, there could be three possible situations.

Firstly, the circuit in the starter system could be open due to damaged wires between the starter solenoid and the battery. You can check the current flow and fix the issue with the cables. Secondly, you may have a loose connection at the battery terminals. A simple tightening of the bolts will resolve this problem.

Lastly, damaged parts, including a faulty safety relay or switch, a broken solenoid, a dead battery, or corroded battery terminals, can cause havoc. You will need to replace the defective safety switch and solenoid with the new parts. However, a simple jumpstart with a dead or discharged battery can ensure the current’s continuity.

Buzzing Sound

Your battery’s inadequate electrical current supply causes the buzzing sound on turning the ignition. The starter solenoid will fail to initiate the solenoid plunger in case of an insufficient electrical supply.

The poor electrical supply causes a buzzing sound. The root cause behind a weak electric supply is often low battery voltage and corrosion around the terminals. You need to jumpstart the battery and top up the battery fluid levels to solve the issue. In addition, you may also want to clean the battery terminals to avoid a repeat of this incident. You can clean the battery terminals with steel wool, pour hot water on the terminals while scraping with a brush, or pour carbonic acid solution.

A Noisy Click

A loud click comes out of the system when the starter motor receives enough current. However, a damaged solenoid or poor starting motor stops the engine from cranking. Notably, similar symptoms are linked to the mechanical failure of the car’s engine. You need the help of a professional to identify and fix these issues as the faulty parts often need replacement.

Sound of the Starter Spinning

If you hear that the starter is spinning, but nothing else follows, then your starter solenoid is probably the culprit. The solenoid malfunctioning can indicate poor power supply to the solenoid, burnt solenoid coil, inadequate voltage, or missing parts. In this case, replacing the starter solenoid is the best possible solution to get your car running properly.

Sound of the Spinning Starter Along With a Whirring Sound

A whirring sound translates into a faulty solenoid in the starter relay. To be specific, the armature present in the starter generates the whirring sound. The independent rotation of this armature causes the inability of the starter to start the engine. You will have to consult your mechanic to rebuild or replace the solenoid.

Sound of the Starter Spinning and Clicking

The spinning and clicking sound comes from a spinning starter motor. This happens when the motor cannot rotate to the necessary rpm to crank the engine. The underlying reasons include low battery voltage or a bad connection in the battery’s terminals or the solenoid. You can jumpstart the battery to help the power flow to the flywheel or tighten the wires to fix a poor connection.

Also Read: What Are the Symptoms of a Bad Fan Clutch?

How Do You Fix a Starter That Won’t Engage?

Usually, the starter motor is placed down the engine block to facilitate its engagement with the flywheel. If a spinning sound comes out of the starter, but the engine is not cranking, then do the following:

First off, Check the Battery Voltage and Connections

If you checked your battery voltage and connection and noticed an issue, then jumpstart your car. You’re good to go if it works fine after this, but you should consider replacing the battery otherwise. Besides, if a corroded battery is an issue, you can clean it with solutions rich in carbonic acid-like sodas, baking soda solutions, or even hot water.

Inspect Electrical Connections of Starter Motor

When you have inspected the looms and electrical connections and noticed loosened parts, start tightening them. You can tighten the mounting bolts if your starter drive is not engaging with the flywheel. As for loose wire connections, you can try tightening the wires on your own and then start the vehicle to check if it works. If the electrical wires are worn out, we advise you to replace them with new ones.

Conclusion – Starter Spins but Does Not Engage

Only one thing is more annoying than a car not starting – having to call for roadside assistance or getting towed to the garage. Luckily, even if you are late for your pitch, you can fix the starter with minimal tools and in less than an hour. If your starter still doesn’t work, you’ll have to dish out some time and cash to get a replacement.