Starter Buyer's Guide
• The car starter or engine starter is a small electrical motor responsible for making your engine run at the twist of a key or a push of the ignition button.
• If you take a closer look at an engine starter, you’ll see that at the inner end of the solenoid, there are two terminals for the battery cable and starter control.
• By turning the key inside the ignition switch or by pressing the push start button, voltage is sent from the battery and through the control switch so that the starter solenoid can be activated.
• When the starter motor turns the gear, it will rotate the flywheel which then causes the crankshaft to spin.
• Issues like loose wiring, compromised connections, battery corrosion, damaged starter motor parts, and oil leaks all contribute to different changes in the performance of the engine starter.
• CarParts.com offers a wide range of replacement starters that cost from $15 to $750.
The car starter works by harnessing the power of the automotive battery. Once the key is inserted into the ignition switch and then turned to the start position, a tiny amount of current flows through the neutral safety switch and into the starter relay or starter solenoid. Can't get your car going right away at every start-up? Then it's high time to replace your old starter replaced with a brand-new one.
What is a car starter?
The car starter or engine starter is a small electrical motor responsible for making your engine run at the twist of a key or a push of the ignition button. Traditional modern designs feature a twin cylindrical assembly with a main housing and another smaller housing. The larger housing contains the starter motor, while the smaller one houses the solenoid. It's typically placed in the driver’s side of the engine, just below the left bank of cylinders.
The starter is considered an essential component as it makes your car fully functional from rest. It gets its supply of electric current directly from the battery of your car, with a relay located in between the starter and ignition switch. Without it, you won’t be able to move your car without bypassing the wires or with the help of a jumpstart.
A closer look at an engine starter
If you take a closer look at an engine starter, you’ll see that at the inner end of the solenoid, there are two terminals for the battery cable and starter control. These two are crucial as they're responsible for supplying the motor with the voltage it needs to function. The upper terminal is for the positive battery cable that links the assembly directly to the battery. The lower terminal, on the other hand, is for the thick cable that directs the voltage to the power motor.
Meanwhile, the starter gear is at the opposite end of the starter motor assembly. This gear serves as the mechanical link between the starter and your car’s flywheel, or the flexplate, if you have an automatic car.
The starter gear isn't in contact with the flywheel by default. For these two to connect, the solenoid will have to push the gear to mesh with the flywheel, which is the only time electric energy is converted to mechanical energy to make the engine components move.
Of course, there's more to see if you take a look inside a starter assembly. Subcomponents like an armature, return springs, coils, and levers, among others, are all working together to make up a fully operating starter motor and solenoid.
How does an engine starter work?
It all starts at the turn of a key or at the push of a button. By turning the key inside the ignition switch or by pressing the push start button, voltage is sent from the battery and through the control switch so that the starter solenoid can be activated. The solenoid then powers the starter motor and pushes the gear at the end of the motor, connecting it to the engine’s flywheel or flexplate.
In an internal combustion engine design, the flywheel is connected to the crankshaft. This means that when the starter motor turns the gear, it will rotate the flywheel, which then causes the crankshaft to spin.
What are the different types of starter motors?
This type of starter motor is reliable, mechanically simple, and delivers a higher torque. Used by some gas turbine and diesel engines, it has a geared turbine, pressure tank, and an air compressor. The turbine spins after compressed air is released from its tank. As the engine runs, its pressure tank is recharged by the compressor. A pneumatic starter is used by trucks and earth-moving equipment.
Designed with a direct-drive and movable pole shoe, this starter motor is mainly used for cost-reduction rather than electrical or mechanical benefits. The solenoid was removed, replaced by a separate relay starter, and movable pole shoe. Due to its larger size, higher current requirements, and heavier weight, the gear-reduction starter motor is almost obsolete.
This starter motor is the most common type used in modern gasoline or diesel engines, where a solenoid switch is mounted on the starter. A key-operated switch activates the battery, which sends a low-current power to the solenoid. The solenoid pushes the drive pinion on the starter drive shaft and meshes with the ring gear on the engine's flywheel. High-current contacts are closed by the solenoid and the engine starts running. The starter motor's pinion gear is controlled by a bendix drive--a device which allows the pinion gear to engage or disengage the engine's flywheel automatically when the engine fires or the starter is powered.
What are the symptoms of a bad starter?
There are a lot of factors that cause the starter motor to fail. Issues like loose wiring, compromised connections, battery corrosion, damaged starter motor parts, and oil leaks all contribute to different changes in engine starter performance. Once your car’s starter fails, your vehicle will begin to show one or more of these symptoms:
This is quickly noticeable when turning the key or pushing the ignition button. The weird noise is characterized by a clicking sound, although severe issues often result in a grinding noise. Not all bad engine starters exhibit this symptom, so not hearing any weird noises when starting your engine doesn't mean your engine starter isn't bad.
An obvious symptom is an engine that won’t crank despite your continuously turning the key or after repeatedly pushing the ignition switch. Sometimes, the starter solenoid clicks, but it doesn't crank the engine. In extreme cases, you can’t solve this by jumpstarting the engine.
A non-responsive engine isn’t always about a bad starter, so it would be better to call a certified technician if your vehicle shows this symptom.
Leaking engine oil can easily coat the starter and seep into its insides. This can damage the starter motor and solenoid's internal components, causing a malfunction. Be wary of oil leaks, as these can also damage other parts, including the engine itself, when not immediately fixed.
Smoke after repetitive ignition attempts
The starter is an electrical component, meaning it can overheat if it's overused. It's a mistake to desperately turn the switch or push the ignition button over and over again to start the engine. The reason why you don’t want to do this is it can quickly overheat the starter motor, which eventually leads to smoke or a burnt odor.
Choosing the right starter motor
Check your vehicle's manual for the starter motor's model or part number. It's important that you get the correct type and make to avoid any problems. After replacing your vehicle's starter motor, it's better to send the broken unit to the parts store. It will be rebuilt and sold as a refurbished unit.
Finding the right replacement part for your vehicle is important. Ask, shop or even do your own research for brands that offer the best quality and deals. Don't forget to always check your vehicle's wiring. Dirty or faulty wiring can cause electrical problems, which lead to a dead starter motor. A simple cleaning and repair can save you a lot of money.
How much is an OE starter replacement?
In need of a quality replacement for your faulty starter? CarParts.com offers a wide range of starter replacements with prices from $15 to $750. All you have to do is to input your vehicle’s year, make, and model in the filter tab to generate a specific list of parts that fit your car.
Engine starter assemblies have two conditions: remanufactured and new. You can choose your preference on the left-hand side of the page. You can also select categories like brand, series, and product fit. OE engine starter replacements are sold in single pieces.