99 Toyota Tacoma: Grinding Noise on Cold Start

I have a 99 Toyota Tacoma 4 cylinder. Just reached 200,000 miles this past Sunday. I did a cold start this morning and there was a grinding, metallic noise from under the hood. I turned the key bafk because it didn’t sound good. Turned the key again and it started like normal and ran fine. I had a new starter installed last Thursday and now I’m wondering where this noise is coming from. Before I changed my starter, I had the bad starter symptoms in the last two weeks, slow to crank over, the whining airplane noise (happenened 3 times in the last 3 weeks). But now, this new grinding noise has me even more worried. Does my engine have to get used to the new starter and what other issues could this be? The battery passed the battery test at Autozone, and my alternator is fine as i unplugged the positive and negative wires from the battery while was truck was running. ANY incite would be greatly appreciated! I really really like my truck and am trying everything in my power to keep it running as smoothly as possible.

Perhaps The Starter Motor Is Hanging Up And Not Disengaging The Flywheel/Ring Gear When The Engine Starts.

Did the mechanic inspect the teeth on the flywheel/ring gear? Sometimes a failing starter can chew up some teeth and cause a new starter to hang up. Or… maybe the “new” starter is defective. Or… I’m not sure with Toyotas, but some vehicles need to have gear teeth clearance adjusted with shims, etcetera.

Have it rechecked.


Thanks CSA. I won’t get paid until this Friday for the mechanic to take a look at it. Is it alright to drive at this point in time? I started it and as soon as it made that noise I turned it back, then it started fine and when I drove it to work it ran beautifully. Just want to take precaution. :slight_smile:

It should be under warrantee from whoever replaced the starter. It does sound like it is not engaging the ring gear.

Every Time The Vehicle Is Started And There Is Grinding, Additional Damage Is Being Done To Something. Did You Try Calling The Mechanic And Explaining The Situation?

He/She could possibly speculate on the cause and possibly even offer to take a look without additional charge. The problem is that if a cold start is required to demonstrate the noise then the car would have to park at the shop, possibly overnight.


I did a cold start this morning and there was a grinding, metallic noise from under the hood. I turned the key bafk because it didn’t sound good.

Did the grinding occur when attempting to start the engine (without it starting) or after the engine started running?

has a good point. A grinding noise could be made by the starter gear failing to engage the flywheel/ring gear or by failing to disengage after starting. Either way, every time it grinds, some damage is occurring.

If it fails to engage then the solenoid portion of the starter or even starter and battery positive electric cables become suspects, as well as engine ground cables, particularly on a “senior citizen” Tacoma.


@csa I’ve had this problem as well with cheap remanufactured starters. Ended up getting my money back but needed new flywheel ring gear and OEM starter. Problem solved. My mechanic was quite apologetic.

"My mechanic was quite apologetic."

Your mechanic was probably trying to save you some money, but owned up to a decision to use a cheap starter that didn’t work out as planned.

I gave a defective starter as one possible culprit in my first post.

It’s been years since I have replaced a starter (seems like they’re made well now), but I remember seeing a physical difference in some aftermarket starters when compared with OEM. Some are much smaller and just appear to be light duty.

As you point out, sometimes trying to save a couple bucks can become quite costly. One must choose carefully where to save or cut corners.


Yeah, the grinding occurred when attempting to start the engine. When I heard the grinding noise I turned the key back because it sounded bad. When I cranked it again, it started up fine.

The starter may need to be shimmed. This should be part of a proper installation, but it isn’t always.

I also agree that the teeth should be checked for damage… on both the flywheel ring gear and the starter.

NOTE; never disconnect either the positive or negative battery cable while the engine is running. Doing so can damage several expensive components. That method of testing the charging system worked great on pre-1960 automobiles with generators.

I don’t believe this starter is the shimmable type. I’m wondering if the solenoid may not be pulling the starter drive pinion gear in far enough, possibly due to excessive wear on the solenoid to starter (Bendix) drive linkage.

If the spark plugs are removed and the starter operated while under the truck listening the noise could likely be isolated. It is likely the starter though.

My story. I installed a new or reman starter, and got quite the grinding noise, pulled it and was going to take it in to napa for an exchange. I thought I should video the noise, so I put it back in, no problem, and that was 2 years ago.
My thought is there may be a tiny amount of play in install that can make a big difference.
If my experience works for you great, make sure it is the correct motor, and you may have to look at shims, but reading through the process for shims for mine was mind boggling!

GM starters often need shims and for gear heads bending a shim 90% 1 inch from the end and installing it at the outer bolt will move the bendix closer to the flywheel and installing it at the inner bolt will move the bendix away. Of course knowing which noise required moving out and which moving in was necessary but in time it became quite obvious. I’m not aware of any starters that can be shimmed other than GMs though.

Likely the replacement starter install job wasn’t done correctly. Where the starter motor is located – right where the engine meets the transmission – it’s an awkward job to do. It’s quite easy to inadvertently get it on cockeyed. And this symptom could result.

The other likely thing is the replacement starter motor is no good. I’ve had this happen to me on my Corolla. It refused to crank the engine unless I ran a thick wire directly from the battery to the starter solenoid start terminal. The pull-in coil was probably shorted out. I took it to where I bought it and got my money back, then I took the old starter to a auto-electric rebuild place and had them fix it. Been working fine since. The other advantage of this technique is you know the starter gear and flywheel gear have worn together over many starts and so match perfectly.

Thanks everyone for the input! I’m going to print out this forum and give it to the auto shop. I’ll be dropping off my truck with the mechanic today and let them keep her until it makes the noise again. I’ll definitely keep everyone posted on what they say.

Thanks for the update. Please let us know what happens.

"…then I took the old starter to a auto-electric rebuild place and had them fix it. Been working fine since. The other advantage of this technique is you know the starter gear and flywheel gear have worn together over many starts and so match perfectly."

George, this wonderful advice, especially for the DIYer. I’ve done this for decades. I have an auto-electric shop about an hour away (not too bad since nearest auto parts is half an hour). They stock brushes, bearings, etcetera, and can usually overhaul a starter or alternator while I wait (and while I watch and pet the dog!).

The overhaul is usually done at a slight fraction of the cost of a rebuilt and as you point out, why not go with what has been getting the job done, the OE part. Plus, they are way more reasonable than a general mechanic shop.

I take my component with me, but they will also diagnose and R&R, too, but usually require car to be left there.

You are right on. Owners of vehicles not covered by warranty (particularly high-miles) should find a tried and true auto-electric shop, should they need one.


Picked up my truck on Monday, November 16th. I let the shop keep her from the 11th thru the 16th. They said that the truck didn’t make the coldstart noise until the 13th. They pinpointed the noise to the starter. Installed a “new” (recharged) starter and and it’s been starting up fine for 2 weeks now. They did look at the flywheel and stated that flywheel is perfect. Thanks everyone for the help and advice. Feeling pretty good that my old Tacoma is back to normal. :slight_smile: