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Few problems can be as frustrating as a car that won’t start⁠—especially when you’re in a rush to get to work. We’ve all been there at some point: You go to start your vehicle, but nothing happens. The engine doesn’t crank or start—and you’re left trying to hitch a ride to work.

Could the problem be a bad starter solenoid? Read on to find out what symptoms to watch out for, which issues could mimic a bad starter solenoid, and how to tell whether the starter solenoid is indeed the culprit.

bad starter solenoid symptoms
The starter solenoid is an electromechanical device that engages the starter motor.

4 Signs of a Bad Starter Solenoid

Starter circuit 1 4
A typical starting circuit

Before we get into the symptoms of a bad starter solenoid, let’s discuss what this part does and how it works.

Although you may have heard of a starter solenoid, you might not know what the part actually does. Basically, the starter solenoid is an electromechanical device that engages the starter motor. Most starter solenoids are mounted directly on top of the starter.

When you start your car, electrical current from the battery travels through the starting circuit (relay, etc.) to the starter solenoid. When energized, a set of windings inside the solenoid force a plunger and shift fork to engage the starter motor’s drive assembly.

At the same time, the plunger pushes a disc against a set of contacts, allowing current to flow through the solenoid to the starter. As a result, the starter drive assembly cranks the engine to get it going.

After reading the description above, you can probably surmise that a faulty starter solenoid can prevent the starter from operating. And that can keep your car’s engine from starting.

As a result, the common signs of a bad starter solenoid include:

Engine Doesn’t Crank or Start

When the starter solenoid decides to call it quits, the starter motor won’t work, either. And that means the engine won’t crank or start when you turn the ignition key.

No Clicking Noise When Trying to Start the Engine

That clicking noise you hear when you go to start your car (but nothing happens) is either the starter solenoid or the starter relay. So, if you don’t hear anything—not even a click—when trying to start your car, you may be dealing with a bad starter solenoid.

no clicking noise when starting car engine
You may be dealing with a bad starter solenoid if you don’t hear any clicking noise when trying to start your car.

Starter Spins Without Fully Engaging the Flywheel (Rare)

Although rare, a weak solenoid can allow the starter to spin without engaging the engine’s flywheel or flexplate. In such a scenario, you’ll hear the starter spinning, but the engine won’t crank.

Engine Cranks Slowly (Rare)

It’s possible for high resistance in the starter solenoid to cause the contacts to burn. As a result, there will be excessive resistance in the starter motor, potentially resulting in an engine that cranks slowly. Once again, this scenario is rather uncommon.

Common Problems That Can Mimic a Bad Starter Solenoid

Several problems can mimic a bad starter solenoid or starter motor. The most common include:

  • Dead battery
  • Loose or corroded battery terminals/cables
  • Issues with the starting circuit
  • Seized engine

You can learn more by reading this article: Car Won’t Start and There’s a Clicking Noise.

How to Tell if a Starter Solenoid is Bad

Testing a starter solenoid is usually fairly straightforward. The diagnostic procedure is mostly a process of elimination.

Note: The following are general guidelines for educational and entertainment purposes only. Consult your vehicle’s factory information for specific repair instructions and recommended safety procedures

automotive starter solenoid
Once you know that the battery is good, check whether power is getting to the starter solenoid.

Test the battery

Whenever an engine doesn’t crank (or it sluggishly tries to turn over), you want to begin your troubleshooting process at the battery. You can find out how to test a battery by reading this article: How to Test a Car Battery With a Multimeter.

Check That Power is Getting to the Starter Solenoid

Once you know that the battery is good, you’ll want to check whether power is getting to the starter solenoid. If there’s an issue somewhere in the starting circuit, power won’t reach the solenoid, resulting in a vehicle that doesn’t crank or start.

You can learn how to test the starting circuit by reading the applicable section in this article: 5 Signs of a Bad Starter.

Test the Starter Solenoid Itself

If you find that power is indeed getting to the starter solenoid, the next step is to test the solenoid itself.

Many repair manuals recommend checking the starter solenoid for internal continuity if the vehicle doesn’t crank. To perform this test, you’ll need a digital multimeter (DMM). Here’s how it’s done:

solenoid internal pull in winding
Testing the solenoid’s internal pull-in winding for continuity.
  • Put on your safety glasses.
  • Make sure the vehicle’s ignition switch is turned to the OFF position.
  • Set your digital multimeter (DMM) to the ohms setting.
  • Disconnect the starter cable from the solenoid’s ‘M’ terminal (the terminal that attaches to the cable going to the starter motor).
  • Connect one meter lead to the solenoid’s ‘S’ terminal (the terminal that receives power from the ignition switch).
  • Connect the other meter lead to the solenoid’s ‘M’ terminal.
  • If your meter reads out of limits (OL), the solenoid is faulty and should be replaced.
solenoid internal hold in winding
Testing the solenoid’s internal hold-in winding for continuity.
  • Next, connect one meter lead to the solenoid’s ‘S’ terminal.
  • Connect the other meter lead to ground on the starter motor’s case.
  • If your meter reads out of limits (OL), the solenoid is faulty and should be replaced.

You can also bench test both the starter solenoid and the starter motor. Remember: These days, the starter solenoid and starter motor usually come together as a single assembly. That means you may need to replace both if you find the solenoid is bad.

The video below demonstrates bench testing the starter and starter solenoid:

If you determine both the starter and solenoid are good during testing, you’ll want to check whether the engine is seized. You can do this by attaching a breaker bar to the crankshaft pulley bolt, then trying to turn the engine over by hand. An engine that doesn’t budge is seized.

How Much Does it Cost to Replace a Bad Starter Solenoid?

The starter motor and starter solenoid are usually serviced together as a single assembly. On average, you can expect to pay between $400 and $600 to have a professional replace the starter on your vehicle.

Products Mentioned in this Guide

Any information provided on this Website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace consultation with a professional mechanic.

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