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.
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.