Starter Troubleshooting Tips

Signs Your Starter Isn’t Working Correctly and How to Replace It on Your Own

Car won't start? There’s a myriad of possible reasons why you're not able to back out of your driveway. Nevertheless, a bad starter could very well be the culprit.

The starter gets its power from the battery when you push the ignition button or turn your key. If your starter isn’t working correctly, you'll get zero electrical energy from the battery to turn on the engine.

Luckily, there are a few steps you can take to narrow down the problem and save yourself an expensive diagnostic bill. Although the signs of a faulty starter are easy to identify, they may be confused with those of a bad battery or alternator, which are similar.

All three of these components collaborate to keep your car running. While a dying battery will produce inconsistent starts and require a jumpstart, a failing alternator will cause your vehicle to stall even after a successful jumpstart.

Continue reading to learn how to distinguish a bad starter from a bad battery or alternator.

Characteristic Symptoms of a Bad Starter

A bad starter may cause any of the following:

  • A Clicking Noise: When you turn the key or push your starter button, you may hear a clicking noise that rhythmically turns over and over. Don't be fooled: A deficient starter can produce zero noise as well. The clicking sound just happens to be the most prominent and common sign that you are dealing with a failed starter. Listen also for a grinding noise or an airy whining sound when engaging your ignition, as this may also indicate a bad starter.
  • Working Dashboard Lights: You turn the key and the dashboard lights come on. Unfortunately, the engine won't turn over. There's nothing more frustrating than working lights on an immobile car.
  • Jumpstarting Doesn’t Help: If jumpstarting won't get your engine going, there's a good chance your starter is history. If that’s the case, it's time to visit to look for a replacement.
  • Smoke: Continually attempting to start your car can cause your vehicle's electrical system to blow a fuse or short circuit. As a result of the overheating this causes, you may see or smell smoke. To prevent further damage, don’t attempt to start your car again.
  • A Pesky Oil Leak: If you've recently noticed an oil leak but haven’t done anything about it, look under your hood to see if your starter has been doused in oil. You'll find the starter on the driver's side of the motor under the left bank of cylinders.

How to Find Your Starter in Fourth- and Fifth-Generation Ford Taurus Models (2000­–2009)

You'll find the starter located on the front of the engine, close to the radiator. On current models (2010–2020), the starter is behind a plastic shield that will have to be removed. On older model Tauruses (first through third generations, 1986–1999), you’ll find the starter at the rear of the engine, close to the firewall.

If you’re not sure that you’ve found the starter, look for the thick red cable that runs from the battery’s positive side to below the engine. You’ll find the starter connected to the other end of the red cable. Measuring approximately 5 to 7 inches long and 3 inches in diameter, the starter is a metal cylinder secured with three bolts to that engine. Now that you know how to find and identify a faulty starter, it’s time to order a new starter from and save yourself a repair bill. Fortunately, this easy fix can be completed under an hour with standard garage tools.

Here’s the Fix:

Fortunately, it can take less than an hour to replace a starter with standard garage tools.

  1. Remove the negative battery cable from your car's battery. Then remove the positive cable from your starter. The larger cable that runs straight to your battery is the positive one. Unhooking these cables is easy with a pair of wire pliers.
  2. Use a universal ratchet and disconnect the bolts from the block that holds the starter in place. Remove all brackets and bolts supporting the starter. If tight bolts make this difficult, loosen the hardware with grease or another type of garage lubricant.
  3. Remove the starter.
  4. Attach the new starter to the block with the bolts. Don’t tighten the bolts until you have reconnected the battery cable back to the starter. Remember, it’s the larger cable. Once the cable is reattached, securely tighten the bolts.
  5. Reconnect the negative cable to your battery. Make sure all connection points are tight and ready to make contact.
  6. Fire your engine up and roll!

Once you’ve finished this repair, you’ll jumpstart your own mechanical confidence to fallback on for future maintenance repairs.