Tips for Troubleshooting Starters

Most DIYers know that engaging the starter while the engine is running could be damaging, but did you know that cranking the starter continuously for long periods of time is bad, too? Ideally, if you are having trouble getting the engine to start, crank for 30 seconds, then wait 30 seconds to avoid overheating and damaging the starter. The length of time should be shorter with Chrysler gear-reduction starters.
Noisy Starter
If a starter is noisy when it cranks, the most likely culprits are improper alignment of the starter or improper engagement between the starter pinion and the flywheel ring gear.
To repair this condition:
  • Loosen the starter mounting bolts and realign the unit if necessary. Be sure all bolts are torqued properly (loose mounting bolts can allow for noisy vibration.) 
  • Recheck any mounting shims and see that the correct number are present and properly positioned. If in doubt, consult a service manual. 
  • Recheck the starter pinion and flywheel ring gear for worn or damaged teeth, which also can cause noise.
Freely Spinning Starter
If the replacement starter spins freely, a possible cause could be misalignment of the new starter, with the pinion not meshing with the flywheel ring gear. Check and realign as needed. Another problem could be that either the pinion or the ring gear might have broken teeth. Again, check and replace as necessary. 
Also, it might be necessary to check for a faulty starter drive. Remove the starter from the vehicle and energize it with jumper cables to determine if the starter drive is properly moving the pinion gear into the cranking position. If the starter engages and cranks the engine, then skips and spins freely, there are two likely causes: 
  1. Misalignment of the replacement starter. 
  2. The overrun clutch on the replacement starter may be malfunctioning. The clutch may have been damaged during shipping or installation.
Slow Crank Condition
The starter motor is not receiving enough voltage, check (in order): 
  1. Battery terminals for corrosion or loose terminals 
  2. Battery charge 
  3. Wires in starter circuit could be loose, corroded or damaged 
  4. Current draw. 
  5. Starter surface to surface mating area.
To check current draw, perform a starter current draw test with an ammeter. If the current draw is higher than it should be, look for mechanical resistance in the engine that would make the starter work too hard. Improper timing, badly sludged oil or excess carbon in the cylinders could cause this. If the current is too low, look for voltage drops in the starter circuit. Include the ignition switch, neutral safety switch (if present), starter relay (if present) and fusible link (if present).
No Crank Condition
If you hear a clicking or a chattering noise when the ignition key is turned, the problem is either the solenoid or a weak or dead battery. Check the battery and recharge or replace. 
If you get no sound at all when trying to start the engine, the starter motor is not receiving any voltage. Check the battery and all wires/connections. Then evaluate the starter circuit for voltage drops. 
Courtesy of Recon Automotive Remanufacturers as published in Underhood Service.
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