Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Terminology: turning over vs. cranking vs. starting

I’m not a professional, but I was taught that an engine “turning over” and an engine “cranking” mean the same thing. The starter is working, engaging the flywheel and rotating the crankshaft. But until the engine “catches” or “starts,” it’s only cranking or turning over. The cranking and the turning over are the mechanical rotation of the engine before it catches or starts. At least, that’s what I was taught.

But there seems to be a common misconception (?) that “turning over” means the engine is actually starting, not just cranking, and it causes confusion when posters say their engine won’t “turn over” when in fact it will crank but not start. In my book, if it won’t “turn over,” the flywheel doesn’t move at all.

Am I wrong? Is this a regional thing? Because on a recent episode of Texas Car Wars, one of the mechanics used the phrase “turn over” to mean “start,” which really puzzled me. I mean, he’s a professional mechanic, so he should know that “turn over” means “crank,” not “start.” Then I thought, hmm, maybe things are different in Texas (I’m from NY).

So, what is correct? Am I wrong? Are there regional differences in terminology? Or do some people just pick up incorrect usage from others?

These terms get used interchangeably and can lead to a lot of confusion and misunderstandings.

On this board, you see people asking for clarification all the time…

I think that texas car wars mechanic should know better than to use turn over and start interchangeably

I’m a pro and I know the difference between starting versus cranking over and turning over

Cranking and turning over are the same thing. It means the starter circuit is working.

Not starting means something is preventing the engine from running.


You’re correct. I watched parts of a few episodes of that show and just like every other car show on TV it can be embarassingly bad to sit through. Some of the info and processes are pretty bad.
Like the old stock, worn mid-70s Ford 351 that is claimed to have 335 Horsepower…

Even when the show American Hot Rod was on there were some mechanical goings on in that show that just left me wondering WTH they were thinking; and that show was about a big name, mega bucks car builder.

I’ve lived all over the country in my Air Force career and in my job after I retired from the military. The terms are used interchangeably. I use “cranking” and “turning over” to mean attempting to start. Starting is also used in some areas. It’s confusing to say the least. We need a new word to indicate when the engine has started or is running. That’s where the problem is.

@OK,The old Hi performance 390 was 335 HP- (the old Windsor 351 had 300) had one in a Mustang Grande,ran better then you would think and got acceptable gas mileage-Kevin

The terms are interchangeable. And they may vary regionally. As Caddyman said, we routinely try to get problems with starting clarified, as the interchangeability of the terms often causes confusion.

Hey missileman, sincere thanks for your dedication and service to our nation’s security.

In the auto repair trade, this particular semantic ball of wax is one of the most frequent drops of the ball in the chain of communication starting with the customer, then the manager/service writer and on to the mechanic. I’ve had monumental arguments with service writers over this stuff–the need to be precise as far as the customer’s description of the car’s symptoms.

Someone should write a “mechanic’s dictionary” of words and phrases so that everyone can be on the same page. It’s quite surprising that in such an important field as car repair that even amongst professionals there isn’t universal agreement of the meaning of these terms.

Included in the dictionary should be the meaning of various “sound words” that people often use to describe car noises: rattle, whine, squeal, thump, roar, growl, howl, clunk, etc. Often on the show a caller will describe a sound using a word that isn’t really the correct word, leading to further confusion about what the sound really is.

None of my colleagues use the terms turning over and starting interchangeably

Perhaps it’s just those glamorous tv show mechanics

Now I’ll go a little off topic . . .

It seems to me that some of the guys that don’t use the “correct” terminology are also the guys that aren’t very strong at reading and diagnosis

There are exceptions, of course

My consensus also,turning over and cranking mean the starter motor is engaging, and moving the flywheel, ie it wil turn over and not start, or it will crank and not start. Now I can see where it will crank but not turnover could mean the engine will crank but not run, and if we can agree it does not mean a poster has the terminology we expect.

Speaking of not being strong in reading…

I once knew a mechanic who was functionally illiterate. He was an impressive mechanic, owned his own house, had a nice wife, etc, etc. But he could barely read a word of English.

Only a very few people knew. Of course his boss and colleagues did not. He had to be quite creative in his deception, and it taught me that adult illiteracy, even among outwardly successful people, is more common than we think.


I have some questions about this mechanic you mentioned

How did he follow a diagnostic trouble tree or wiring diagram?

Logic and common sense will get you pretty far, but at some point, you’re going to have to bust out that trouble tree and wiring diagram. The electronic troubleshooting manual will also have a component locator, and it sometimes doesn’t actually show you where something is located, but merely describes its location

Did this guy have somebody assist him for that kind of work?

Good question, and I don’t know. I never saw him at the shop, I only saw him at home.

I think he must have done non-electric specialized stuff like carb rebuilds where he could do the same thing repeatedly and not have to consult repair manuals.


I’m glad that the guy was able to have a nice lifestyle, and that his functional illiteracy didn’t financially penalize him

Thanks @mountainbike …it was an honor and a privilege to serve my county.

Yes you are correct and there is a dictionary written-its in the factory service manuals that descibe the various noises and terminology. Unfortunately many drivers have no idea what a starter motor is and what it does, have never read the owners manual let alone a factory service manual.


Sure, you can’t expect the owners to read the service manual

But a mechanic would have looked at lots of service manuals in his career. Of all people, he should know the proper terminology. It sure beats calling everything thingamajiggy

That’s because they don’t speak English in Texas. They speak Texan.