Car Starter Motor

5 Causes Why a Starter is Not Engaging

In Engine by 12 Comments

Picture this… You have an early morning presentation with seed investors. It is a meeting that is going to change your life.

You pop into your garage in a hurry, but the car will not start when you turn on the ignition key.

You can hear the starter spinning, but it’s not engaging with the flywheel. What could be wrong?

The most common causes why your starter won’t engage with the flywheel is low battery voltage, a faulty starter solenoid, faulty starter motor, and wiring problems.

Here is a more detailed list of the 5 most common causes why your starter won’t engage.

1. Low battery voltage

Bad Car Battery

When you are experiencing battery problems, the first culprit is your battery voltage, so you should check this first. The battery powers the starter, and if it is not working, the starter will fail to engage completely.

Charge your car battery fully, and you can even try to replace the car battery if you have another one you know works. You can also try jump-starting your car from the car battery of another car if you have the knowledge.

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Next, check out whether your battery terminals are corroded. For this, you will notice a whitish or greenish substance on the terminals.

If you notice any corrosion on the battery terminals, you should remove the battery cable clamps and remove the terminals carefully.

2. Starter solenoid

Starter Solenoid

The starter solenoid is located on top of the starter. When you turn the key, it is the starter solenoid that pushes a plunger inside the starter motor, pushing the pinion towards the flywheel.

Use a jumper wire to ground the solenoid to a bolt. Start the ignition and listen for sounds coming from the solenoid. If the click is loud and solid, then the solenoid is working fine but if you hear a weak click, then recheck the wiring between the solenoid and starter. Electrical wires can, with time, become dirty, loose, and broken.

3. Starter motor Plunger or Pinion

Starter Motor Diagram

If your starter solenoid seems to be fine, there might be another problem inside your starter motor. The parts that can accomplish this is the starter plunger or the starter pinion.

It is time to dismantle the starter and check inside for the pinion gears. These are often placed at the front of the starter. The pinion gears engage the flywheel in firing up your engine.

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With time, these gears get worn out and cause problems with the starter engaging. It is time to purchase a new piston gear if it moves in both directions when you try to rotate it.

4. Faulty Wiring to starter

Corrosion On Cable

There may also be a situation when the starter gets electrics to make a sound, but not enough to actually turn the starter. This can happen if there is a bad starter cable between the car battery and the starter or corrosion at any connection.

Clean all connections both at the starter and the battery to ensure there is no bad connection. You can often locate bad connections by feeling on the cable connection; it will create a lot of heat if there is a bad connection.

5. Flywheel damages

Car Flywheel

You can identify the flywheel as the large wheel that is located between the engine and transmission. The starter pinion gears engage it to start the engine. What you should be looking for in a faulty flywheel are worn or damaged gears.

While the car is on neutral, rotate the crankshaft using a ratchet. As you move it, watch the behavior of the flywheel. You will need to replace it if you notice that the gears are damaged.

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It would rarely happen suddenly; it is more common to have a wrong flywheel installed on the car.

12 thoughts on “ 5 Causes Why a Starter is Not Engaging ”

  1. i have a 98 chevy k2500 4×4. i have replace battery, starter, all relays and fuses in engine fuse block, new flywheel. now the problem still exists. my brother like you has been a mech for all his life and is very good, but is not here with me and trying help me. he suggested to use a start button to bypass the relays. i am to that point. what r ur suggestions to fix the problem. we jumped the starter with the key on and it started. can you help me? has a 350/ 4l80e trans.

  2. “You can hear the starter spinning, but it’s not engaging.” Did I miss where you explained what this might be? I just replaced my dead starter and the new starter is doing this. I turn the key and I can hear it whirring like a shop vac, but that’s it. I’ve cleaned the posts on the battery. I’ve taken sandpaper to the inside of the leads and the the leads on the starter. I’ve tried hooking up another vehicle for extra juice. I’ve inspected the flywheel and the sprocket on the old starter for damage… nope. I took the starter back out, back to the shop to have it tested and it works fine there. I put it back in and just the whirring. Thoughts? 2005 Ford Explorer XLT 4×4. 4.0

    1. Hi, Wondering if you have found an answer to your starting problem, I’ve got the same problem going on for me too on a 2013 equinox.

      1. I have the same problem on my 05 honda polit…i have no clue. Replaced starter,neutral saftey switch. Neg terminal, ground.

  3. I have a 2012 Dodge Charger it won’t start. I changed the starter,and battery,but still not day I was driving and it sounded like metal was rubbing together,I pulled over and cut the car off and it had white smoke coming from the passenger from under the hood,with a metal burning smell,ever since the car doesn’t won’t to start. I checked the motor,it’s not locked up because I can turn it in front.can you please help me.Thanks

  4. I can hear my starter motor turning .it will not go forward to engage the flywheel ??? It is 6 months old done about 1000 klms

  5. have a 2009 honda pilot touring. new battery,new starter, still will not crank. have dash lights, no lights in window for (P,R,N,D). crossed jumper from sylonoid to pos terminal and starter spun, not connecting to flywheel.what do i look for next?

  6. Hello. My car will not start or turn over. I’ve replaced the ignition switch and the starter itself, still… nothing. I checked the battery voltage which is good and my lights and windows work. The terminals aren’t corroded either and the coils were just replaced with no wire damage also i checked the fuses. Any idea as to why the car wont start?

    1. What make and model? You could have a key problem. There is an immobilizer chip in keys starting in 2000 year model. If it isnt close enough to the switch, it won’t do anything. Usually would be a green light with a key symbol on instrument cluster flashing.

  7. I am sitting with the same issue on a Hyundai H100. Second new starter works fine for a week and then just spins when cranking… can hear the Solinoid clicking… ringear is fine… Solinoid and bendix gears are fine…

    What could be causing this?

    1. Hey guys… I found a solution to my issue atleast. Hopefully it can assist somone else.

      The starter I was dealing with had no cap structure covering the bendix gear and supporting the shaft… so 2 new starters eventually a week later …. just started failing to turn the motor over…

      Conclusion: the fact that they didn’t have a cap structure supporting the shaft with a bearing on the opposing side of the bendix gear… lead to rapid bearing wear and shaft play causing the bendix gear to slip and not engage the flywheel.

      Solution: Starter now replaced with a model that has an endcap structure that can support the shaft in a much better fasion.

  8. I have 2007 chevy 6.6 Duramax 3500 classic I drove it having TCM problems I put new TCM not programmed yet and still in limp mode not shifting and now will not start with key.I can jump it fast and easy with screw driver I put 2 new Batterys in yesterday and it started fine? I put test light on starter hot and it’s hot but starter cylinoid is not hot while turning key forward very puzzled?

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