Starter Not Engaging: 7 Prominent Sounds to Watch out

(Last Updated On: March 23, 2023)

Do the sounds produced during a failed ignition leave you puzzled? Worry no more as I’ll take you on a journey that’ll settle all your doubts.

Chances are high you have encountered either of the seven familiar sounds that indicate an underlying issue preventing your starter from engaging.

This post will dive into the nuts and bolts of car sounds and their meanings. By the end, you are likely to encounter something you have heard before. The takeaway? I might save you the trouble of a trip to the mechanic leading to a needless expensive fix. Read along!

Listening to the sounds when starting your car is a good way to find the causes.

What the sounds mean when the starter is not engaging

No Sound

You may turn the ignition key or push the ignition button of your car, yet there is dead silence. During such instances, there are three possible scenarios:

There is an open circuit in the starter system. An open circuit may result from broken wires connecting the battery with the starter solenoid. Rule out the underlying issue by testing for continuity of current and resolve it by replacing the wires. 

Other times a loose connection at the terminals is causing mayhem. Tightening the bolts at the end of the terminals resolves the problem.

A faulty safety switch or a relay may be the cause of your turmoil. The easiest way to identify a defective relay is to replace it with another functional relay of the same rating. If the problem persists, the safety switch might be faulty. All in all, replacing the damaged safety switch or the relay will solve your problem.

A damaged solenoid is the last possible problem in your starter system. It would be best if you had it replaced.

A discharged battery or a dead battery may be the cause of all the havoc. A starter motor requires 12 volts of current to generate enough power to turn the Bendix gear. The Bendix gear won’t engage the flywheel or the flexplate to crank up the engine whenever there is insufficient power. You will need to check the battery voltage using a voltmeter or a multimeter.

Under normal circumstances, battery’s voltage should range between 12.4 volts and 12.6 volts. A simple jumpstart will solve problems associated with a dead or a discharged battery. If the fluid level in your car’s battery is down, adding distilled water to the recommended height will often solve your issue.

Corroded battery terminals are another possible reason you won’t hear a sound when you start your car. Often, you will see white and green deposits at the corroded terminal. Your car will not start as insufficient current would flow from the corroded terminals. Cleaning the terminals with steel wool is one viable option for removing the corrosion.

The next could be to pour carbonated drinks such as soda or a solution of baking soda and water on the corroded terminals. Ensure that the solutions don’t go past the filler caps to prevent a short circuit.

A loud click

When the starter circuit receives sufficient current, you might hear a loud clicking sound, alerting you that there is either a faulty solenoid or a lousy starting motor. A similar incident may also happen whenever there is an engine mechanical failure.

A lousy solenoid fails to actuate the contactor which connects the battery and the starter motor. Therefore, the Bendix gear’s plunger mechanism enabling meshing with the flywheel’s ring gear does not receive the necessary power to enact this. The faulty solenoid may require a complete rebuild by a mechanic or a replacement with a functional one.

A starter motor may not entirely be faulty. However, it may fail to spin the Bendix gear due to loosen connections on its terminals. Tightening the connecting wires eradicates this issue.

Moreover, the loud click sound may indicate that the starter receives the required current to actuate the engaging mechanism but it is not responding correctly. The most viable option is having your mechanic look at the starter motor and guide you on whether to rebuild or replace it.

An engine mechanical failure may result in a loud clicking sound. Low oil levels are a likely cause. Although you should check why the oil level is dropping, filling it up addresses the matter. Nevertheless, if the oil levels are okay, you probably have a faulty valve train which you should have fixed.

Buzzing Sound

Insufficient electrical current may cause this buzzing sound. This results from the starter solenoid being unsuccessful in activating the solenoid plunger to engage the flexplate with the pinion gear of the starter motor. The most likely causes are;

Having a low battery power supply will result in the solenoid receiving inadequate current. Therefore, the solenoid is unable to supply sufficient power to the starter motor. Jumpstarting that battery is the best solution. If the battery’s fluid level is the problem, adding distilled water to the appropriate level will solve this.

Corrosion along battery terminals may result in the starting circuit having a poor connection. Consequently, less power is received by the starter solenoid. Cleaning the terminals with steel wool or pouring solutions rich in carbonic acids, such as water mixed with baking soda or carbonated drinks, will remove the corrosion.

Sound of the starter spinning

An incorrectly working solenoid will cause the armature in the starter to rotate yet fail to engage the flywheel. Possible reasons for this are: – insufficient power in the solenoid coil, burnt coil, incorrect amount of voltage supplied, vital parts of the solenoid valve may be missing or damaged. Having a replacement or having your mechanic rebuild your starter solenoid is the best chance you have on your car running smoothly again.

Sound of the starter spinning and there’s a whirring sound

A faulty solenoid generates this sound. The armature makes the whirring sound in the starter, which rotates independently, unable to crank the engine. Have your mechanic look at the solenoid starter. The mechanic will advise you on whether to replace the solenoid or rebuild it.

Starter spinning, and there’s a clicking sound

The rotating starter motor will produce the spinning sound. This clicking sound arises if the starter motor cannot rotate at the required rpm to crank the engine. This fault is caused by either low battery power or loosen connections in the battery terminals or the terminals at the starter solenoid.

Low battery power may be the leading cause of the issue. Jumpstarting the battery will ensure that the starter motor receives sufficient power to engage the flywheel.

Loose connections in the terminals may result in a weak click. You can resolve the problem if you tighten the wires connected to the starter solenoid and the battery.

Starter spinning, and there’s a grinding sound

A grinding sound is produced whenever there is a failed mesh between the flywheel and the Bendix gear. A failed mesh may result from the following;

A failed engaging mechanism is often experienced in refurbished starters if either the engaging mechanism of the starter motor is incorrectly adjusted or mounted. This causes the Bendix gear to either spin too early or too late, thus resulting in a failed mesh between the Bendix gear teeth and the flywheel’s ring gear teeth.

A grinding sound is then produced as the Bendix gear teeth grind onto the flywheel’s ring teeth. Having your mechanic rebuild the starter motor or replacing it will fix the problem.

Wearing out of the Bendix gear teeth or the flywheel’s teeth is inevitable due to the wear and tear that results from the friction enabling the motion of the two. Replacing the faulty component, either the pinion gear of the starter motor or the flywheel is the way to go.

How to start my car in a pinch?

Often, you don’t have to be stuck by the road or miss an appointment just because your car won’t start. For a manual transmission, you are in luck as the process to start these vehicles is way easier than an automatic one.

Let get a closer look at how you can start the two vehicles!

For Manual Transmission

Whenever a vehicle moves, the engine drives the transmission, which drives the drive shaft. The drive shaft’s motion is translated to the axle shafts through the differential unit. The axle shafts are responsible for rotating the wheels. 

In vehicles with a manual transmission, the reverse process is possible. If you are suffering from a failed start situation, you can follow the procedure indicated below:

  1. First, get some muscle to help you push the vehicle. You may require a friend or two, depending on the car’s weight. A better option would be to get another vehicle to tow yours.
  2. Sit in the driver’s seat and turn the ignition switch to the on position.
  3. With the parking brakes still engaged, push the clutch all the way down before shifting to the second gear. The second gear is preferred as it prevents the vehicle from jerking forward.
  4. Hold down the brake pedal and release the parking brakes.
  5. Release the brakes and request the car to be pushed or towed.
  6. Once the car gains some momentum, abruptly release the clutch. Releasing the clutch engages the engine, which may flicker slightly as it starts.

In case the start is unsuccessful, try the above procedure at higher rpm.

Bendix gear not engaging with flywheel is the main cause of starter not engaging.

For Automatic Transmission

Automatic transmissions will require a jumpstart before the vehicle can move. Below are the steps:

  1. Ensure the two vehicles are near and facing each other before shifting their gears to neutral and engaging the parking brakes.
  2. Turn off all the electronic components in the two cars, including the radio and the vents. This step protects your devices from a short circuit that results from a power surge during the jumpstart.
  3. First, connect the red clamp of the jumper cable to the battery’s positive terminal (+) of the dead car, then to the positive terminal (+) of the vehicle with the good battery.
  4. Initially, connect the black clamp of the jumper cable to the car’s negative terminal (-) with a good battery.
  5. Clamp the remaining plug of the black jumper cable to an unpainted metallic object, probably a bolt far off the dead battery to act as the ground.
  6. Start the car with a good battery first, and then the car with a poor battery.
  7. Allow both engines to run idle for a few minutes before disconnecting the plugs of the jumper cables in reverse order.
  8. Finally, take a 15 minutes drive and then bringing the car to a halt and killing the engine. This will ensure the battery is fully charged to be used during the next startup.

You should consider replacing the battery in case the car’s battery discharges once more.


  • Randy Worner

    My name is Randy Worner and I am the founder of I have been working on cars and trucks for almost 45 years. For the last 36 years I have taught Automotive / Diesel Technology classes for UTI, Snap On Tools, Chrysler, Pepboys, Lone Star College, NAPA and TBC Corporation.I also own a technical writing company known as Supreme Technical Services. It is ASE Gold Seal certified and Blue Seal Certified Author of auto/truck repair information.

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