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Whirring sound with engine off

Last night my wife came home and told me that the car was making some whirring/whining sound with the engine turned off and no key in the ignition. She also said that on her way home the engine died at one time, but she was able to restart it without problems.

Sure enough, when I went to look at it, I could hear the sound loud and clear, coming from what I believe is the starter. No key in the ignition and engine turned off. I had to disconnect the battery to stop it.

The car is a 1997 Acura CL with about 235K miles on it. Maintained regularly and never had a serious problem.

This morning I looked at it again. It did not make the sound immediately when I re-connected the battery cable, but as soon as I turned the key to turn on the ignition, the sound would return and the engine would not start, not even a click. Instrument lights would kind of go on and off and when I removed the key the sound continues. Again, I had to disconnect the battery cable to make it stop.

Now when I re-connect the battery cable the sound returns right away with no key in the ignition.

It seems to be coming from the starter because I can feel vibration coming from it, but I can’t figure out why that would be with no key in the ignition. Before I start replacing stuff I wanted to see if anyone here has had similar experiences and how it was fixed. Battery voltage is fine. No engine code is set.

Seems I can’t attach video clips, so I posted it on youtube:

Have battery tested. Sounds to me like it may have went bad causing the starter to go out due to trying to start engine without battery having sufficient amps. Have seen starter contacts welded together due to this phenomenon.

Thanks, battery should a little over 12v, but will look into it anyways and measure amps.

I’ve seen starter relay contacts weld themselves together for the same reason that pete mentioned poor connection or weak battery. Check the relay with your ohm meter.

The starter cut relay is probably defective.

Unplug the relay and if the noise stops, that’s the problem.


I have not ignored your suggestion. Unfortunately I have not been able to find the darn thing yet. All pictures/photos/diagrams I found on the Internet so far do not match with what I have under the steering column.

Taking a break right now and waiting for my son to come over. After spending hours in that confined space I feel like a gymnast ready to join circus de soleil.

Theres probably at least one fuse/relay box under the hood. Flip the lid over and see if theres a diagram.


you are correct, there is a fuse box under the driver’s side dash. None of the fuses there are relays. Then there is a blue box above it and I can’t figure out what that possible would be. Above that box are three relays, but they are for something else, blinker, defroster and something else.


yes, I used this photo to search for the relay, but there is nothing I can see besides the three relays I already mentioned. I assume by looking at new relays for this model that it must be a decent size because of the various connection it makes when active, fuel pump, battery, ignition and so on. There should be 8 contacts.

This thing is driving me nuts. I wonder what it costs to see a chiropractitioner once I get done. I am contemplating of just getting a new one from the dealer and see for myself what this thing looks like. Not too expensive and I have a feeling you were right in your assessment.

The left side of the photo is “up”

From the image I provided, I can see the switch for the moonroof.

And it looks like the lower dash panel is removed.


I removed the kick panel and some metal bracket to get a better view, but still nothing. The attached photos are taken from the same perspective as the one you posted. Taking a closer look at your image, doesn’t it seem that this might be a different model car or year?

The image I provided was from a 97 Acura.

Otherwise, I wouldn’t have posted it.


I have a 97 Accord in the shop.

Once I replace the wheel bearing and get it off the lift, I’ll see if I can locate the starter cut relay.


If I couldn’t reach or find the starter-cut relay in a few minutes I would unplug the wire from the starter solenoid to determine the cause of the problem. I work flat-rate, time is important to me.

thanks, that would be great and thank the customer for breaking his car and bringing it to you :slight_smile:

thanks, I will look at it tomorrow, too dark now.

Update: In order to get to the wires I need to remove the air filter box, lower water hose and a bunch of other things, I leave this test until after I check the relay because I might as well remove the starter by the time I get all those things removed. Easier to bench test anyway.

I have plenty of time, it’s a spare car and I am retired :grin:

I think I found the darn relay. It’s located behind and to the right of the steering column. It’s held in place by one bolt that is almost impossible to get to.
I am still going back and forth between the starter and this relay. When I connect the battery cable the starter or starter solenoid makes this whirring noise, like something is turning inside. I can feel the vibration with my hands. Today I slightly bumped the solenoid with a metal rod and the noise stopped. When I remove and reconnect the battery cable the noise starts again. All this without a key in the ignition.

I have a diagram out of a Chilton manual and according to it the starter solenoid should not get any power unless the relay is engaged. That’s why I am going back and forth between relay and starter. Seems I need to figure out a way to test the relay while it’s mounted.

The relay is mounted in a socket.

Remove the relay from its socket.

If the starter continues to operate, the problem is the starter motor/solenoid contacts are stuck closed.

If the starter stops operating when the relay is removed, it means the starter cut relay contacts are stuck closed.

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thanks, I am already looking at new starters. Appreciate the help from you and others.