Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Is the starter kaput?

My daughter couldn’t start the Regal today. I tried it this afternoon. When I turn the key, the starter solenoid clicks repeatedly, but the starter does not crank. Battery voltage at rest is 12.54V. The lights and other electrical services seem to work fine, and the lights do not dim after 20 seconds or so, even with the battery and blower motor running flat out. Nobody else is home, or I’d have them turn the ignition switch while I look for dimmed lights. My guess is that the battery is OK and that the starter is not. I think the wiring to the starter is OK because the solenoid actuates. Anyone have suggestions for additional troubleshooting? I guess it wouldn’t hurt to put another starter on it, but I don’t want to spend $120 if I don’t have to. That’s the price for a re-manufactured Delco starter at NAPA after the core charge is refunded. Any consents about my choice of starter? I got a project on my long weekend!

You’re probably on the right track, but are all the connections clean? We went through this exact scenario with a Nissan last year, and ended up with a REBUILT STARTER.

In our case, the starter was supposed to have a “flat spot” which means that sometimes it caught and sometimes not. Anyway the new starter solved the problem, after the shop checked everything else.

Your $120 Delco price is great.

You can remove the starter and have it bench tested at an Autozone or similar auto parts chain.
But, first check and make sure of the connections, that they are clean and tight and there is no white powder growing under the rubber on the copper wires near each connection (if you do see that the wire is corroded, snip off enough wire to get clean copper to connect to your terminals and starter. Very common problem, cheap and easy to fix).

One thing to check is a corroded positive battery cable.

Remove both battery cables, and on the positive cable, peel back the red rubber cover to expose the positive terminals. If a lot of corrosion is found under this red rubber cover, clean it off, reconnect the battery cables and try starting the engine.


The click of the solenoid engaging means there is power from the ignition switch to the starter solenoid mounted on the starter, so you can eliminate that. MOST LIKELY, the starter has gone bad, as the solenoid also closes the circuit and allows the motor portion to turn. BUT, a voltage drop in the cables can also cause it. Usually this takes the form of corrosion between the battery terminal and cable, or corrosion further down under the insulation. GM cars are rather notorious for that, especially if there are two cables sandwiched together attached to the battery positive terminal. I would take these apart and check them carefully.

I pulled the cap of the positive terminal, and it’s bright metal. The negative terminal doesn’t have a cap and it’s dark, but not rusty. I’ll remove the negative terminal and check it tomorrow after the rain stops. Still, I had enough poser to run the radio, blower motor, and lights for a while without the lights dimming.

Also, Mrs JT turned the key a few times, and the lights dimmed for a second and then went back to normal.

I’ll check the cables tomorrow; there are a coupe of cables wrapped with tape near the positive terminal.

I pulled off the red terminal cover and removed all the corrosion. Then I sprayed it with electrical contact cleaner, reassembled the cable and cover, and tried it again with the same results.

I also took the old starter to NAPA. They tested it and said it’s OK. I wonder if it might be the battery? It seems to be a lot lower now; I can’t use the remote to open the doors anymore. The battery was installed on about 9/2/2008 (Bosch). I cleaned the mating surfaces on the positive terminal yesterday and tried a jump start, but that didn’t work, either. Any other suggestions?

I cleaned the positive cables after removing the red rubber cover. The wires looked fine. Still no start. I suppose I could test the voltage on the cable at the starter. What do you think? Any other ideas? The battery is low now, and I didn’t crank it that much.

Have you tried to put a charger on the battery? It sounds like a battery that is weak on charge. A weak battery can run lights (20A), blower fan (10A), and radio (15A) without an issue, but starting the car (350A) is too much.

I did not try charging it (I don’t have a charger). It didn’t show any problems cranking before. This just came up out of nowhere. 2 years is a short battery life, but maybe I need a new one.

NAPA, Autozone, Pep Boys, et al. can charge it for you. And load test it.

Sometimes, batteries go bad. I had a new battery go bad in 2 years on me. The Pep Boys battery had a 2 year free replacement guarantee, and I used it to replace the defective one. A friend had a battery go bad within 6 months. Fried the alternator as well. This was a Sam’s Culb battery, and they made good on the battery and alternator once we proved the battery was defective.

Your starter assembly needs replacing.

When 12VDC is applied to the starter assembly, the solenoid energizes and slides an assemblage that does two things: it slides the starter gear into engagement with the flywheel ring gear, and it engages a set of electrical contacts that enable the starter motor windings, turning the motor. The two contacts, being repeatedly engaged and disengaged while “hot”, arc a bit every time and get eroded and coated with carbon over time. They get fried. Some here have disassembled and cleaned the contacts successfully, but I personally just change the starter assembly out. Erosion cannot be reversed, so my personal feeling is that cleaning the contacts is temporary.

Your problem is a normal part of aging.

Funny you should mention Pep Boys. That’s where my last battery came from. Actually, the last 3. I installed the 3rd one in the last 2 years today after I found out one cell was bad. All 3 are Bosch, and I have one year remaining on the 3 year warranty. The car starts fine now.

Yahoo! A free fix! Thanks for the suggestions and helping me work through it.

Note to self: This car eats batteries (Bosch batteries, anyway), and I should get it checked any time there is a no start condition. That beats removing the starter. What a pain that was - and re-installation, too. At least all the connections to the battery and starter are clean now.

Even though the start checked out fine, I thought about replacing it anyway, and for the reasons you mention. It’s a pain to get off, but at least I know where to get a rebuilt Delco starter. BTW, I mentioned earlier that the price is $120. Wrong. I took the on-line price and subtracted the core charge. I should have added it. The real price is $176.

The definitive test would be to put a voltmeter directly on the starter’s battery terminal (directly on the starter, not the battery or even the solenoid) and try to start the engine. If you read 12 volts there with no starter turning either the starter has failed or the engine is siezed.