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Car Won’t Start? 5 Signs of a Bad Starter

Are you wondering why your car won’t start? Issues with the starter system are more common than you think, but drivers often confuse them with other car troubles. Read up on bad starter symptoms and learn how to tell them apart from other problems.

What is a starter?

The starter is a small motor, powered by the battery. It gets the engine of your car running. A starter relay sits between the battery and the starter motor, transmitting power. Without a properly working starter relay and motor, you won’t be able to start your vehicle and may need a tow.

What are common bad starter symptoms?

1. Something sounds off.

One of the symptoms of a bad starter is a clicking noise when you turn the key or push the start button. However, a starter can die without making any sound at all, or it may announce its impending death with whirring and grinding noise—so listen up!

2. You’ve got lights but no action.

If you try to start the engine only to find that the dashboard lights up, but the engine doesn’t power up, you might have a problem with the starter.

3. Your engine won't crank.

Is your engine not revving up, even after attempting a jumpstart? At this point, it’s time to call roadside assistance and get your car to the nearest Firestone Complete Auto Care. If a jumpstart won’t fire up your engine, nothing other than a certified technician will!

4. Smoke is coming from your car.

The starter is part of your car’s electrical system and subject to blown fuses and short circuits. When you’ve been desperately attempting to start your car, the starter can overheat making electrical issues—and the accompanying smoke—more likely. If you see or smell smoke, call for help rather than turning the key harder, again!

5. Oil has soaked the starter.

Your starter can usually be found on the passenger's side (if RWD) of the engine, just below the exhaust manifold. Or if it is FWD, check on the drivers side above the transmission or under the exhaust manifold. They can also be located just under the intake manifold on some vehicles. If you pop the hood only to find that your starter is drenched in engine oil, your bad starter might be a symptom of another problem—an oil leak. Unfortunately, what starts out as a few drops of oil can slowly and sometimes unnoticeably turn into an expensive problem, so keep an eye out for oil leaks to avoid starter issues of this nature.

What causes starter problems?

A variety of problems can lead to a bad starter, including:

  • Loose wiring to and from the starter
  • Dirty or corroded connections at the starter
  • Battery corrosion
  • Damaged or worn-out parts in the starter system
  • Oil leaks
  • Bad relay or fuse

How do you troubleshoot starter problems?

Assuming you’ve already tried to start and jumpstart your car, try one of the following troubleshooting tips.

1. Look under the hood.

Check the battery and battery cables to see whether everything’s in working order. A weak or dead battery, or even faulty battery cables, could be causing the problems with your car, not the starter.

2. Tap the starter.

Try lightly tapping the starter a few times with a hard object, making sure not to pound it. In some cases, this gentle tapping can help power it back up, since you’ll be tapping the electrical components back in contact with each other. Know how you can sometimes bang on the side of an old TV to bring the picture back into focus? It's kind of like that. But like your wonky television, your car may only react to this fix temporarily—just long enough to get you to your nearest service center.

3. Adjust the transmission.

Let’s say your car’s automatic transmission is in the “park” setting but the car won’t start. If that’s the case, try starting the car in “neutral.” If it starts in "neutral," there may be a technical glitch that’s preventing the car from starting in "park," like a faulty neutral safety switch.

4. Check the fuel gauge.

We know it seems silly your gas tank empty? That’s a sure reason why your car isn’t starting!

Many times, the quick fix for a bad starter is tapping it. Jumpstarting your car can get it on the road, at least temporarily, but then you'll want to get the problem checked out by a qualified technician. If a jumpstart or tap doesn’t do the trick, you’ll most likely need to get the car towed and have the starter repaired or replaced. We can help with that. 

When you suspect a starter problem, start with your local Firestone Complete Auto Care. We'll provide you with a free inspection—no strings attached. If your starter is bad, our experienced technicians can get your car fixed right, at the right price, right on time.



Starter Motor Replacement Cost


A starter motor is one component in the system that starts a car; when the key is turned, energy from the battery is sent to the starter solenoid and from there to the starter motor, which then cranks up the engine. In the past the starter solenoid and starter motor were separate components, but on most modern vehicles they are a single unit. Symptoms of a starter motor problem include a clicking or grinding sound when turning the key in the ignition, or if the engine starts slowly or doesn't start at all.Typical costs:
  • A starter motor for an average passenger car typically costs $100-$400 for just the part, depending on the make and model of vehicle and whether the part is aftermarket (produced by a company other than the vehicle manufacturer, and typically less expensive) or OEM (original equipment manufacturer, produced by the vehicle's manufacturer and typically more expensive).
  • A starter motor for a limited-production or luxury vehicle can cost $250-$1,200 or more for just the part, depending on whether it is aftermarket or OEM. For example, AutoZone charges $120 or $144 for an aftermarket starter motor for a 2008 Ford Focus[1] .
  • Labor to replace a starter motor on a vehicle with relatively easy access typically takes about 30 minutes to two hours at $50-$120 an hour (ranging from an independent mechanic to a dealership). This brings typical total costs (parts and labor) to install a starter motor on an easy-access vehicle to $150-$600.
  • For example, RepairPal[2] estimates replacing a starter in a 2008 Toyota Camry costs $264-$482 in Trenton, NJ and $266-$484 in Sacramento, CA, with parts accounting for $208-$111 of the total and labor costing $56-$73, depending on location.
  • For a vehicle where the starter motor is buried under other parts that must be disconnected and removed to reach the starter motor, labor can take six to eight hours at $50-$120 an hour, bringing typical total costs to $300-$2,000, depending on whether the part is standard or rare, and aftermarket or OEM; and whether the work is done by an independent or chain repair shop, or a car dealership (typically more expensive).
  • For example, RepairPal[3] estimates that replacing a starter on a 2008 Lexus LS460 costs $1,225-$1,454 in Trenton, NJ and $1,149-$1357 in Sacramento, CA, with parts accounting for $641-$709 of the total cost, and labor costs of $508-$745, depending on location.
Related articles:Car Battery, Car Battery Charger, Alternator, Ignition Switch Replacement, Ignition Coil Replacement, Towing a Car

What should be included:
  • Replacing a starter motor can be relatively straightforward or difficult and time-consuming, depending on where the starter is located in the engine, and how many other parts have to be disconnected and removed to reach the starter motor. AutoZone provides a how-to video[4] and AutoMD offers a general overview of the process[5] , estimating the the do-it-yourself project takes about 2.1 hours and is of moderate complexity.
Additional costs:
  • The total cost may include a labor charge of an hour or so (at $50-$120 an hour) for diagnostic testing to determine whether the starter motor should be replaced.
Shopping for starter motor replacement:
  • Popular Mechanics explains how to diagnose a bad starter motor[6] and AutoZone provides a video explanation[7] of the diagnostic process.
  • A starter motor can be replaced by a car dealership, an independent repair shop, or car-repair chains like Pep Boys[8] or Sears[9] . Both the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence[10] and the International Automotive Technicians Network[11] provide a searchable directory of repair shops.
  • Consumer Reports lists tips for finding a good mechanic[12] .
CostHelper News

What People Are Paying - Recent Comments
Posted by: Arador in Plano, TX.Posted: February 12th, 2021 08:02AM
Car Make: ToyotaCar Model: Tundra
Car Year: 2006Auto Shop: City Garage

Starter just clicked without turning over engine. Battery also needed to be replaced. Starter is under manifold on top of engine in Toyota's
$75 Manifold Gasket
$170 Battery
$228 Starter
$690 Labor

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Posted by: Gummmy408 in San Jose, CA.Posted: December 13th, 2020 02:12PM
Car Make: HondaCar Model: EX
Car Year: 2000Auto Shop:
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Posted by:[email protected] in Woodbridge, VA.Posted: September 23rd, 2019 09:09AM
Car Make: Donge ramCar Model: Cv
Car Year: 2014Auto Shop:

That's icluded labor and material.

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Posted by: MamaLuv in Newyork, NY.Posted: April 29th, 2019 07:04AM
Car Make: DodgeCar Model: Durango
Car Year: 2009Auto Shop:

Everything else on the car is good transmission good but the motor is bad it got water in it.

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Posted by: MarciaBonita in Chicago, IL.Posted: February 10th, 2019 09:02AM
Car Make: Mercedes BenzCar Model: 230 c class
Car Year: 2007Auto Shop: CarMax

My car does crank all the way. After trying 2 start it about 2-3 times, it is as though the battery is dying. I had AAA 2 come 2 give be me a jump but the AAA auto assistance told me that the battery was good & that it may be the starter. I’m trying to get a sense of how much it will cost for parts and labor at any auto repair shop other than the dealership. Thanks!

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Posted by: Tanqueray in Miami, FL.Posted: January 11th, 2019 01:01PM
Car Make: BuickCar Model: Enclave
Car Year: 2015Auto Shop: NA
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Posted by: Fred Anders in Schoharie, NY.Posted: August 5th, 2017 01:08PM
Car Make: HondaCar Model: Civic
Car Year: 2008Auto Shop: Lia Honda, Albany, NY

OMG! This was ridiculously expensive. Yes, the starter motor on a '08 Civic is hard to get to, but I never figured it would cost this much!!!

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Posted by: freezed in warren, OH.Posted: June 10th, 2017 09:06AM
Car Make: cadillacCar Model: sedan deville
Car Year: 1993Auto Shop: a&r

got the starter myself and these guys put it in and also gave a mechanical update on my vehilhle

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How to Replace a Car Starter

Most people think that if their car doesn't start the problem is with the battery. So they try boosting it and it still won't crank up. Obviously it's something a bit more serious, like the starter. The car's battery sends a charge to the starter which in turn sends it to the alternator. The charge from the alternator enables the car to start. If the starter is worn out it won't accept or send a charge, and the car is dead. You can buy a new starter, which is rather expensive, or you can buy a rebuilt starter, which is just as good as a new one [source: Allen]. If the problem is really your starter, save yourself a trip to the mechanic and replace it yourself. Here's how to replace a car starter:

  1. Turn off the ignition and remove the negative battery cable from the battery.
  2. Remove the positive cable (the large cable that runs to the battery) from the starter.
  3. Disconnect all the bolts that hold the starter to the block, using a ratchet.
  4. Remove any other supporting brackets holding the starter in place.
  5. Remove all the bolts holding the starter. Don't force any bolts that are very tight and are difficult to remove. Rather, use a lubricant or grease to help you loosen the bolt.
  6. Remove the starter from the car.
  7. Mount the new starter on the block and attach it with the bolts. Before you tighten the bolts, reconnect the battery cable to the starter.
  8. Tighten the bolts of the starter.
  9. Reconnect the negative cable to the battery [source: part source].

Originally Published: May 10, 2011

AutoZone Car Care: When to Replace Your Starter

What Is The Average Cost To Replace A Car Starter?

There are few feelings worse for a car owner than jumping into their vehicle, only to discover that it won’t start. Usually, when this happens, the root cause is something to do with the engine. In most cases, the problem will be in or around the engine, something that interferes with its proper functioning.

Wear and Tear

The health of your car’s electrical system is intimately linked to that of your car. In fact, the majority of components of the electrical system are located right near to the engine. This means that if a problem develops with one, it can easily spread to the other. The biggest concern for any of the components in your car’s engine is going to be temperature fluctuations.

Given how a car works, it is unsurprising that it can get so hot inside the engine compartment. The starter is one of the components most susceptible to the effects of temperature fluctuations, but it is also placed under a great deal of mechanical strain. Every time you start your car, the starter has to turn the crankshaft. The crankshaft is the first component involved in starting an engine, and like the engine itself, a problem with the crankshaft will bring your whole car to a literal standstill. If your starter is unable to turn the crankshaft, you aren’t going anywhere.

If any component in your car is likely to fail unexpectedly, the starter is that component. If you only use your car occasionally, you won’t have to worry about the starter giving in to the pressure for some time. However, given that every time you start your car you are putting the starter through its paces, those who drive every day will notice the effects sooner. Those who drive the most will find that their starters fail at a more frequent rate.

Can I Prevent Problems from Arising?

There is a multitude of components that work together in concert in order to make your car start. The car starter is one of the most important components; it is also subjected to more strain than many other components. The temperature fluctuations and mechanical strains that the starter has to contend with are inherent in its operation. This means that there is no way around the fact that your starter will experience wear and tear over time.

What are the Signs That it is Failing?

While starters do sometimes fail unexpectedly and without warning, in most cases there will be some indications of imminent failure beforehand. Perhaps the most common sign that your starter is on its last legs is a distinctive grinding noise, audible when you are starting your vehicle. You can find examples of the sound online if you are unsure, but it is quite a distinctive noise and you are unlikely to mistake it for anything else. If you hear this, it means that your starter has begun to deteriorate.

When the starter begins to wear out, it won’t be able to generate the torque needed to turn the crankshaft, which will mean the car won’t get started. Worse than this, a deterioration of the components responsible for turning the crankshaft can end up grinding against gears and causing a great deal of damage.

Should I Replace the Starter?

If you are having trouble getting your car started, and you have ruled out a problem with the engine itself, then your problem lies with the starter. As with all vehicle repairs, you will need to make a determination for yourself as to whether it is economically viable to replace the component or not. The cost of replacing a crankshaft isn’t as high as some other common car repairs, but it is enough to make some people think twice.

If you do decide that you want to replace the crankshaft, you will be happy to know that you won’t usually have to replace anything else. Unless your starter was damaged by some kind of physical impact or force which might have affected components around it, a failing starter shouldn’t spread.

What Does it Cost?

If you are hearing any unusual noises when you first turn your car on, it usually means that it’s time to replace your car’s starter. It’s never fun having to spend money on repairs for your vehicle, but if you don’t repair your starter now, it could necessitate more expensive repairs later.

The exact cost of replacing a starter can vary. If you are able to identify an issue with the starter early, you might be able to save yourself some money by getting your vehicle to a repair service yourself. If your starter fails unexpectedly, you may well need to pay for a tow vehicle to come and tow your car to be repaired. The costs of the job itself will vary, but it usually costs somewhere between $400 and $500.

One of the most important factors regarding the overall cost of replacing the starter is whether it needs a new ring gear. If it doesn’t, repairs will not be so expensive. Starters themselves can be obtained for as little as $50 but might set you back as much as $100. On top of this, there will be a couple of hundred dollars to pay for the costs of labor. The cost of a ring gear can easily add another $200 onto the cost. In the worst cases, there might be multiple components in and around the starter that require replacing.

Scrapping Your Vehicle

In some cases, the costs of replacing a vehicle’s starter just aren’t worth it. When the cost of replacing a starter starts to approach the value of the vehicle itself, you should begin to think about other options. In fact, unless you feel some kind of attachment to the vehicle in question, you should always consider whether your money might be better spent on upgrading.

Whenever someone is thinking about purchasing a new vehicle, one of their first orders of business will be to sell any vehicles they currently own. Sure, many households have a use for more than one car, especially families with children. However, even in these situations, it is quite uncommon for them to purchase a new vehicle without getting rid of an existing one. Doing things this way offsets some of the costs of a new vehicle, making an upgrade viable for people who would otherwise be unable to.

Scrapping your vehicle, rather than replacing a worn-out starter, is also a smart move to make if you have a sneaking suspicion that other components in the vehicle might also be approaching the end of their lifespans. There is no sense in taking on the financial burdens, and general inconvenience, of a vehicle that is prone to failure. Instead, you can recover what you can from the vehicle by scrapping or selling it and putting the resulting proceeds towards something better.


If your vehicle is in good enough condition to be sold on, and you will make enough money doing so to buy a better vehicle, that’s great! However, most of us aren’t driving around in new top-of-the-range cars anyway. The average person simply cannot justify spending that kind of money, and so we tend to buy used cars. There is nothing wrong with buying a used car, but when you have a used car that has developed an expensive fault, it is going to be a tough sell.

Selling a car with a known fault is, again, perfectly fine practice – as long as you disclose the issue to the buyer, of course. But selling isn’t the only route open to you when you aregetting rid of an old vehicle. You can also choose to scrap or recycle the vehicle. Doing this can still get you a reasonable amount of cash for your vehicle, which can then be put towards a new car.

Cars have very long lifespans when compared to most things that we buy. A car can also continue to sell, whether new or on the second-hand market, for decades after it was initially produced. However, some vehicles are either too old or too damaged to warrant anyone spending the money to purchase them, even at the used price. In such cases, scrapping the vehicle still allows you to recoup the value of the material and components inside.

If you have a newer car that is suffering from a broken starter, or another technical issue, scrapping it can be a very smart decision. The term ‘scrapping’ might imply to some people that the car is being discarded. In reality, when you scrap a vehicle, you receive financial compensation for it.

There are a surprising number of people who just assume they need a car, but in reality, they don’t. When a component such as the starter gives in and finally breaks, it can provide the impetus for getting rid of the car altogether.

The bits of any car that you scrap or recycle that can still be used will be salvaged and repurposed. How many components are salvaged will depend on the specific vehicle in question. However, regardless of the outcome, in scrapping a vehicle you are disposing of it properly. If you don’t benefit financially from the decision to scrap or recycle your vehicle, the planet certainly will!

If you either do not need the money from the sale of your vehicle, or you have a vehicle on your hands that isn’t in a sell-able condition, scrapping or recycling that vehicle is your best option.


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AutoZone Car Care: When to Replace Your Starter


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