Tech / Tech Articles

Solving Common Aftermarket Starter Problems

 

Summit Racing Protorque Starter

What’s more frustrating than an old, worn out starter that just won’t turn over? How about a brand new starter that won’t crank over…or engage properly…or fit correctly?

We don’t wish that on anyone, especially after you’ve spent part of your weekend installing the new starter. That’s why we’ve worked with the tech advisors at Summit Racing to put together this quick guide to troubleshooting starters. You’ll find that you can diagnose and fix many new starter-related issues right in your home garage. Start with these common problems:

Problem: Starter does not turn or turns over slowly when key is turned.

Solution #1: Check the rest of the electrical system for the correct voltage, grounds, and wiring. Often, the starter is misdiagnosed as the culprit for electrical system problems when the problem really lies in some other area of the system.

Solution #2: Check your battery voltage and make sure it is sufficient to turn your new starter. Most starters require at least 9.6 volts to turn over correctly.

Solution #3: Check your battery cables and make sure they are in good shape. Bad cables will not deliver the full current flow needed operate the starter.

Solution #4: Clean the starter mounting surface. Most starters are grounded through the mounting block, and if there is excessive oil or paint on the block, the starter will have a faulty ground.

Solution #5: If your vehicle has a neutral safety switch, make sure it is operational. If this switch is bad or not properly wired, the starter will not operate correctly. You can check by attaching a jumper wire between the safety switch terminal and the main terminal on the starter. If it turns over with the key, the switch is either bad or wired incorrectly.

Solution #6: Confirm that you purchased a starter designed to work with your engine’s compression ratio. Engines with 11:1 or higher compression generally require a high-torque, gear-reduction starter. Otherwise, the engine will turn over slowly.

Problem: Starter does not engage or disengage properly.

Solution #1: Due to variances in design between manufacturers, you may need to install or remove starter shims between the starter mounting block and engine. If the starter is engaging too hard, install shims at the mounting point. If there’s not enough engagement, the starter is not catching enough teeth on the flexplate, and you’ll need to remove the shims.

Solution #2 (Ford only): Confirm that your starter was designed to work with your transmission. Ford uses two different offset starters, depending on the transmission being used.

Solution #3 (Chevy only): Confirm that your starter was made for your flexplate or flywheel. Chevy engines uses two different tooth count flexplate/flywheels—the 153-tooth and the 168-tooth.

 


See Also:
Monday Mailbag: Tracking Down Causes of Starter Failure
Video: How to Troubleshoot Starter Problems

Problem: Starter failed shortly after installation.

Solution #1: Confirm that you purchased a starter designed to work with your engine’s compression ratio. Engines with 11:1 or higher compression generally require a high-torque, gear-reduction starter. Otherwise, the engine will turn over slowly.

Solution #2: Check the position of your starter in relation to your headers. If your starter is continuously heat soaked from exhaust heat, chances are it will fail early. You’ll either need a different starter design, or you’ll have to install a starter heat shield with your next starter.

Solution #3: Clean the starter mounting surface. Most starters are grounded through the mounting block, and if there is excessive oil or paint on the block, the starter will have a faulty ground. This will cause the starter to pull excessive amps, making it overheat and wear out.

 

Problem: Starter does not bolt up correctly.

Solution: General Motors used two different mounting patterns on Chevy blocks: inline and staggered. If you have a Chevy engine block, make sure your starter has the correct bolt pattern for your engine.

             

Problem: Starter does not fit with my headers.

Solution #1: For starters with “clockable” mounting blocks, you’ll need to experiment with the different mounting positions. If this doesn’t work, you may need to swap your starter for an adjustable mounting block starter.

Solution #2 (Chevy applications): Confirm the mounting block of the starter is attached to the engine correctly. Often, these blocks are installed upside down, making it impossible to achieve the correct starter position.

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30 Comments

    • Alison, thanks for reading! It sounds like your starter may be turning a bit slow, and there can be a few possible causes for this: The reserve capacity of your battery may be insufficient, so make sure it is sized correctly to the needs of your vehicle or at least sized to industry recommendation. There could also be high resistance in your starting system, causing your starter to turn a bit slow. Resistance is often caused by old battery cables or poor connections at the battery, starter, or engine block (grounds). Bottom line is if the starter motor can’t turn the engine fast enough, it has to endure the loading and unloading of each compression stroke.

  1. I have a 1969 camaro ss with 5 he stock engine with headers, my starter seems to work good when starting a cold engin3, but after it hearts up and I turn off the car, the starter seems to turn very slow,any ideas

    • OnAllCylinders says:

      Tony, this appears to be the typical heat soak of the stock starter due to the headers. You could try wrapping a starter blanket around the starter to reduce heat soak or go with a gear reduction starter. They do not seem to suffer the heat soak issues the factory starters do!

  2. Just replaced the starter in my 2000 GMC Jimmy, it had intermittent problems where it wouldnt catch, would grind, shifting to neutral and rocking the car, then starting would often get it going again. New starter works great, old starter had the half of each tooth on the gear worn off, and the gear was loose, could slide back and forth freely on the pin. (what on earth would have caused this, and why would the old one have worked for so long?) Glad I replaced it, just wish I knew what caused it, and why it even worked the way it was.

  3. I have a 1985 Ford ranger with a 2.8l v6 . When I try to start my truck all I hear is the starter make a whizzing sound . Any advice ?

    • OnAllCylinders says:

      Thanks for reading, Geoffrey. There are a lists of tests you can do, but it is too lengthy to share here. Call the Summit tech line at 330-630-0240 as we have shared you issue with them.

  4. So if the starter isn’t touching the block that means its not grounded and that will keep it from turning over right? I installed a brand new high torque starter on my sbc and after I tried to start it with no luck, I notices it still had space in between the starter and the black and that I need to install some shims…

  5. My starter will not disengage without disconnect of battery. How do I fix a grounded out starter. Or do I need to replace it?

  6. So I have a 94 Chevy 1/2 ton pickup and I recently replaced the starter but when I start it up it sounds like the engine is running way too hard to just be idling any ideas?

    • OnAllCylinders says:

      Jake, you’ll need to provide a few more specifics. We’d suggest you call our partners at Summit on the tech line: 330-630-0240. They can get your questions answered quickly and help you narrow down your focus.

      • I have a 92 Chevy 1500 stepside I tried 3 starters still getting same issue when you go to start it don’t makes like a clank noise like it wants to but don’t like on the 3 or 4 th turn then it will start not sure if I’m getting right starter for that vech some one said there’s a small open end and large open end on starters can’t find help fig witch one goes on my veh

  7. Have a 89 camaro 350 motor sound like my starter is just turning want turn motor over need help bad been having problem for to long

    • OnAllCylinders says:

      Derrick, we recommend a call to the Summit tech line at 330-630-0240. They’ll have more specific questions about the starter and how it’s behaving.

  8. Pingback: Starter Sleuth: Solving Common Aftermarket Starter Problems | MEP Precision Racing

  9. I have a 1999 chevy suburban and my was making a clicking sound when i turn the key. Went got a starter and its still doing the same thing could it be the starter is bad?

  10. jeremy bratten says:

    I replaced starter twice in 2005 expedition when I finished it started just fine but after running a little I shut it of went back to start it and the starter spins but doesn’t engage not pushing the gear out just spinning. why?

  11. I was testing my starter for BMW 1 series. It does turn and kick out. But when you test Solenoid alone the starter does not only kick out but also turn. What could be the problem

  12. John Lehnherr says:

    I have a 78 Chevy 350 this starter will not engage when it’s cold once I get it to engage and it warms up it works every time

  13. Ray Miranda says:

    do the teeth from starter have to fully engage teeth from flywheel.
    its grinding but i noticed the teeth not engageing totally do i add another shim
    pls help

  14. Kenneth woodard says:

    I have a 73 z28, not sure about year model of motor, its a 400 smallblock fours speed car, 400 flywheel 168 tooth, I would like to get a mini starter because of headers, not sure what to get 10 to one compression.

  15. Timothy Fleshman says:

    I have a 1990 Honda CRX 1.6 liter VTech engine with a turbo installed. I pulled the starter out and noticed that the bottom bolt (longer one) was missing/not intalled. I took the starter to advance Auto and they conducted a bench tesrand it worked. Got some boots and went back and installed the starter bolted the. Bolts andddddddddd nothing. Can anyone help please

    • Did the starter work before you removed it to discover the missing bolt? If it tested OK at the shop and worked before, then double-check your electrical connection lugs. Can you hear the solenoid click? A couple of gentle whacks with a rubber mallet may help it if the solenoid is stuck.

  16. Chad Dickerson says:

    I have a 95 chevy 350 and the starter motor wont turn, i put new solenoid and it works fine bench testing but starter wont turn,i check for voltage on starter side of solenoud and get no voltage coming out of new solenoid so thought new solenoid was bad? Put another new one and get same thing? If i put 12 v directly to the starter motor post on solenoid sarter turns fine? It just wont when i put 12 volts on solenoid and jump to s terminal? Solenoid kicks bendix out but never sends voltage to starter motor? Help! Please

    • So you’re saying if you bypass the starter solenoid and run your battery lead right to the starter motor, it works fine–the engine is able to crank and presumably start–but when you install the solenoid back in, it doesn’t appear to have enough energy to engage the starter motor? Have you checked the health of your battery? Have you check the main battery ground strap? Have you cleaned the terminals in and out of the solenoid? Is there any damage to the wiring harness? Check those first and you might want to try jump stating your engine from another vehicle to ensure it’s not a dying battery.

  17. Ben Knisley says:

    2004 Nissan Xterra. Starter usually works fine, but at times does nothing. I pushed the car a little bit and tried is again and it started fine. This has happened twice.

    • Hey Ben, it could be a myriad of issues, but there a few that you should investigate initially.

      First things first, check and clean each terminal connection, including at the battery and at the grounds. Second, make sure your battery is healthy.

      You say that the starter “does nothing,” so we’ll assume you don’t hear a solenoid click/engage. That could be an ignition (or neutral) switch issue, or a bad solenoid. If the switch is easily accessible you can check continuity via the switch with a circuit tester/multi-meter.

      As for the solenoid, we checked–it looks like most (all?) 2004 Xterra starters are sold with the solenoid as a single unit and may not be individually serviceable–but it’s worth a look to see if there’s any corrosion or gunk preventing the solenoid to properly engage.

      It could also be a “bad spot” on the starter, which is a colloquial term for worn brushes on the starter commutator.

      Again, there could be several other issues at play here, but this should hopefully give you some initial troubleshooting direction.

  18. Gerardo Cantu says:

    I have a 1977 Corvette and I replaced my starter with a Mini Starter for my 502 engine. I only disconnected and dismounted the old starter and replaced it with the new one and put all wires back as they came off. I’m having an issue with it going to ground and smoking at the battery terminals as I’m trying to put them back on. I’ve retraced the wiring and there is no wires touching thy could make it ground out. What else could be causing this problem?

    • So you’re saying the terminals are shorting before you even attempt to start the Vette? Did you try to re-install the original starter to see if the problem is directly related to the new starter? That would eliminate the question of bad wiring upstream of the starter.

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