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What engine start problem do you think this is?

When turning the key, I can hear a click from the engine bay (I
believe this is the solenoid, but the starter motor either does not
engage, or just barely turns the motor over).

I uploaded a video here:

I had the battery tested and it’s good.
Checked connections at the battery terminals and they also appear good.
It seems to me like the starter motor is not getting enough power for some reason. My thoughts are it could be:
1.) starter motor sticking
2.) loose connections somewhere b/w battery and starter motor
3.) power relay to starter

What do you think?

Battery connections are the first place to begin when you have a “No Crank” situation. Even
if you have a new battery, if the connections are loose, dirty or corroded, you will not be
allowing the full flow of current to pass thru the connections. The connection may be
enough to turn on the lights, but not enough for the huge flow that is needed to operate the
starter. This is where many people say that they know the battery is good….”because the
lights come on”. This is no more a battery test than licking a 9volt battery. It only tells you that there is electricity…not how many volts or the amperage that flows from the battery.
Jump starting may have wiggled the terminal just enough to allow the current to pass and start the engine, but tomorrow you have the same problem.

First remove the cables from the battery and use a wire brush to remove any corrosion and dirt from the battery posts and the cable terminals. There is a tool with a round wire brush for this purpose, found at any auto parts store for less than $10
Before connecting the cables, apply a coating of di-electric grease to the battery posts this will keep oxygen away from the connection so that it will not corrode as fast.

It is just as important that the other end of the cables also have a clean connection. Remove the positive cable from the battery again so that you do not short anything out. Follow both cables to their far ends, remove this connection and wire brush the connection and the cable terminal clean and retighten these connections.

If there was work done recently, there may have been an “engine to body” ground that was not installed following the work. These grounds normally run from the rear of the engine to the firewall and are uninsulated and most are a braided wire. If any of these are found unattached…reattach them.
Remember….this is not a “Sherman Tank” don’t over tighten the connections.
Tight…tight………………too tight…broke!!!


Thank you for your response, Yosemite.

I checked the battery terminals and connections, and they are very clean and tight.

I wonder about this: I tried starting the car with the lights on to see if the lights would dim when the starter motor engaged. The theory is that if there is a problem with current draw at the main battery, the lights would dim when the starter motor engaged. This did not happen, which leads me to believe it is not the connections at the battery terminal.

I’ll hunt for that engine ground wire. It sounds like this one is going to be tricky to pin down.

Starting at the battery post and working your way down to the starter terminal, what is the voltage at each point you can access, while someone has the key in the “start” position?

The goal is to measure the voltage drops across each connection to identify the biggest (or where the voltage drops below about 10 volts.

Most starter motors won’t turn robustly unless they are getting 10.5 volts between the big (battery wire) terminal on the starter motor and the starter motor case, during attempted cranking. If that measures out ok with the key in “start”, the next step is to do the same measurement on the thinner connection to the starter motor, the “start” terminal. That has to be over 10.5 volts with the key in “start” too. Otherwise the solenoid may not close the contacts with enough force to cause the starter motor to turn. Those two voltage measurements are usually the best place to start with this problem. Please tell us what you measure, then I expect they’ll be lots of ideas what to do next.

Thank you George and Joe for your responses. I don’t have access to a voltmeter right now but this weekend I will go get one and post an update here.

“Start” position is fully turned to the last clockwise position to start the car, or is it the position you leave the key in when the car is on and you are driving?

“start” is usually labeled that on the ignition switch, and is the position you turn the key to cause the engine to crank. When the engine catches and begins running, then you release the key and it automatically goes to the “run” or “on” position. Since you have a “fails to crank” problem, you have to test it in the “start” position. You’ll need an assistant to help.

If you don’t have the skills and experience needed to safely jack and support the car in order to access the starter motor terminals, stick with just checking the battery connections as described above. If the battery connections are not the problem, and you lack the needed skills & tools & experience to make the starter motor voltage measurements, suggest to let a shop do that part of the job.

I have seen many start problems with the starter being loose as well as the ones that would break the (GM) bolts and fall off the engine, Yup, there’s a big list of possibles like the plastic broken on the solenoid from the heat. Loose terminals, dirty terminals, bad negative battery cable. Hope it’s an easy one.

The only accurate way to see if there is enough voltage going to the solenoid is to to measure the voltage between the battery and the cable connection on the solenoid. Even that could be misleading if the battery does not supply sufficient amperage. You would need a DC clamp meter to measure amperage.

I suggest you have someone attempt to start the engine and you give the solenoid a swift tap with a hammer or mallet. If it start you know the solenoid is bad.

Well starters do go bad from time to time. The solenoid can click but the starter itself is bad so that it won’t turn or turn slowly or be intermittent. Solenoids can go bad too. I agree with the voltage checks etc. but might be time to pull the starter and have it tested by someone reliable.

Hi everyone. First of all, thank you for your help so far. I promised an update so here it is. The starter motor is getting 12 volts, at least as far as I can tell. So far in testing in the “On” position, there is 12.5 volts. It’s very hard to read when the engine is cranking to start, because the starter motor shakes a lot and I have to crawl under the car and reach up awkwardly to get to the starter motor. To get an accurate reading when the engine is cranking, I will need to get some copper wire and twist it around so it can remain in contact while starting.

To the best of my understanding, the fact that the starter motor is getting 12.5 volts seem to shift the probability of the problem to the actual starter motor and solenoid itself (is the solenoid separate or inside the “starter motor” that I see under the car)?

I suppose there’s some chance there’s no drop in current but a loose/frayed connection that isn’t able to carry enough current, or perhaps the power relay could cause this problem as well, possibly??

One other thing I noticed: when connecting the negative to the frame of the car, the voltage reading was about .22 volts. When I read it connecting to the starter motor case, it was 12.5 volts.

Also, my car is a Kia Pregio van, from outside the US. I’m from the US but an ex pat. Some of the writing (including next to the key ignition barrel) is in Korean, that’s where the question from on and start came from, just wanted to be 100% sure :slight_smile:

Ok thank you again guys and any help is much appreciated. I’m tempted to go to a junkyard and try to pull off an old starter motor and put it on my car. I’ve never done this before, but I imagine I can figure it out.

To tell if the starter motor is the prime suspect you have to test both voltages as posted above under load; i.e. during cranking. When I do this I connect up long test wires and run them from the starter motor to the passenger compartment, then I can easily watch the meter as I crank the engine. I usually do this test with an anolog volt meter (the kind with a needle that moves) rather than DVM, makes it a little easier to see what’s happening b/c the voltage jumps around a bit as the motor turns, but you can do it with a DVM too I expect. The fact that the voltage is 12.5 volts at the B+ terminal of the starter motor when the key in in the “on” position means the wire is hooked up correctly, but is otherwise not diagnostic. So at this point you don’t know whether the starter motor is the culprit or not.

I suspect the lower voltage reading you got when connecting the negative probe of your DVM on the frame is you weren’t making a good connection b/c of rust or grease. With the engine off and key removed, you could measure the resistance from the starter motor case to the engine frame, then to the chassis frame. It should read the same as if you connected the two meter probes directly together, usually reads less than 0.2 ohms on inexpensive meters. There should be a fairly thick ground wire you can see that goes between the engine/transmission and some part on the chassis. Double check it is intact.