9 Strategies For How To Start A Car With A Bad Starter

how to start a car with bad starter

Many car owners face the challenge of having a bad starter in their car. 

If you’re having a problem with your car starter, whether you own a manual car or a car with an automatic transmission, and you’re wondering how you’re going to get your car started, are a few strategies you can try.

9 Strategies For How To Start A Car With A Bad Starter

StrategySkill Level RequiredEngine TypeTools Required
Push to startnone ***EASIEST***manualNone, but you need 2 people
Test Run the Starter Motornonemanual, automaticmechanic can do a test run to identify problem
Check for Corrosionbasicmanual, automatichot water, sodium bicarbonate, hose, Vaseline
Inspect the Wiring Connectionsbasicmanual, automaticwrench, battery voltage load tester
12V cable directly from the battery to the starter and solenoid connectionintermediate to advancedmanual, automaticwrench, battery load tester, jumper cables
Tap on the Starterintermediate to advancedmanual, automaticlong prybar or a ratchet extension bar
Bypass the Starter Relayintermediate to advancedmanual transmission, automatic transmissionscrewdriver
Assess the Engine Flywheelintermediate to advancedmanual transmission, automatic transmissionnone
Assess the Solenoid Wire and Jump Start the Solenoidadvanced ***DIFFICULT***manual transmission, automatic transmissionLong screwdriver with rubber handle or insulation, 2nd set of hands to turn on the ignition

1. Push to start

  • Skills required: Basic
  • Tools required: none
  • Vehicle type: manual transmission

Solution Overview:

If you have a dead battery or a starter problem, push to start is another way of starting your car.

However, this method only works for manual transmission vehicles. 

How to:

For push-to-start to work, you need someone else to push the car while someone is in the driver’s seat. Put the car in the drive position, in either first or second gear. Push it up to 10mph and then release the clutch.

Upon releasing the clutch, the engine should fire, and if it doesn’t, repeat the process until you are successful.

If you are on your own, open your door and put your foot on the ground, and move the car by rocking it back and forth. Turn the ignition. If the car doesn’t start, do it again. It might take 3 attempts at turning the ignition while rocking the car but if your problem is truly the starter, this should work.

2. Test run the starter motor

  • Skills required: none
  • Tools required: none
  • Vehicle type: manual transmission

Solution Overview:

Once you’ve assessed your starter and made some of the necessary changes, try a test run by taking your vehicle to a mechanic and ask them to do a test run.

It’s a simple and quick process, and some of these shops might not charge you for it. The test run will check for:

  • No cranking
  • Old and haggard shaft
  • Sluggish armature and brushes
  • Bac current transmission

Conducting a test run ensures that all of these problems can be found easily. It also ensures that you learn about the state of the starter motor, and helps you to determine whether you need a replacement.

3. Check for corrosion

  • Skills required: Basic
  • Tools required: (hot) water, sodium bicarbonate
  • Vehicle type: manual transmission, automatic transmission

Solution Overview:

If it seems that your starter isn’t working, corrosion can be one of the major problems that can prevent your car from starting because it can cause poor electrical conductivity, and lead to problems. 

Look for corrosion in areas like the battery terminals, the battery cables, the solenoid connector, and all wires.

Solution Overview:

Clean the battery terminals to help ensure that your starter gets enough power to start the car. 

How To:

Clean the battery terminals by soaking them in a mixture of equal parts water and sodium bicarbonate.

Pour the mixture over the terminals, solenoid connector, and cables. Let them soak for a few minutes, longer if there is a lot of corrosion, and then use clean hot water to clean and rinse. Be sure to remove all of the water / sodium bicarbonate mixture.

Some mechanics recommend just spraying everything with water from a hose that has a decent amount of pressure. Doing it this way means you don’t need to worry about leaving behind the residue from the sodium bicarbonate.

It’s also recommended that you apply Vaseline to the terminals, connectors, and cables which will help prevent build up and corrosion.

4. Inspect the Wiring Connections

  • Skills required: Basic
  • Tools required: wrench, battery voltage load tester
  • Engine type: manual transmission, automatic transmission

Solution Overview:

For your car starter to work properly, it requires adequate power. Faulty connections can lead to problems with your car not starting, including the starter not working.

Check all the battery terminal connections and all wire connections, including the wire that connects to the alternator and the one that connects to the starter, and be sure that they are good.

How To:

  1. Use a wrench to tighten the battery connections.
  2. Confirm there’s enough current in the battery to ignite the starter by attaching a battery load tester to see if you have a weak battery. If the battery charge is less than 12V, there may not be enough current to ignite the car starter.
  3. Follow the wire that connects the starter and ensure that it isn’t loose.

5. Use a 12V cable directly from the battery to the starter and solenoid connection

  • Skills required: Intermediate
  • Tools required: wrench, battery load tester, jumper cables
  • Vehicle type: manual transmission, automatic transmission

Solution Overview:

It sounds obvious or not so obvious, but to diagnose the problem, turn on the car. It may not start but listen to the sound it makes (or doesn’t) because you will learn about whether you have more problems than just a faulty starter.

If you don’t hear a clicking sound, this means that your car isn’t cranking. This could be the result of a defective starter motor, a faulty circuit, a weak or dead battery.

If you hear a clicking sound, that’s an indicator that the starter solenoid isn’t getting enough power.

How to:

To solve this problem, you can bypass the starter solenoid wire. Run a bypass cable over the solenoid cord of the starter. Connect a 12V battery cable directly from the battery to the point of connection between the starter and solenoid.

6. Tap on the Starter

  • Skills required: Intermediate
  • Tools required: long prybar or a ratchet extension bar
  • Vehicle type: manual transmission, automatic transmission

Solution Overview:

Tapping on the starter might sound weird at first, but it’s one of the easiest ways to start your vehicle and it should be one of the first tricks to try out if your car isn’t starting. Over time, the starter ages and wears out, creating some dead spots between the field coils and armature so tapping or thumping it will help reposition it.

This solution works flawlessly in older cars because the starter is easy to reach but in newer cars, the starter is typically in a place that is difficult to access.

If your car is newer, try using a long prybar or a ratchet extension bar to reach between the intake channels and tap on the starter. It will work sometimes but not all of the time.

How To:

Use a hammer to tap over the frame assists the armature while cranking the car.

This trick works flawlessly in older cars because they have lots of space for you to hit the starter with a hammer. For modern cars, you should consider using a ratchet extension bar.

If your car is newer, one trick you can try is to use a long prybar or a ratchet extension bar to reach between the intake channels and tap on the starter that way. It will work sometimes but not all of the time.

7. Bypass the Starter Relay

  • Skills required: Intermediate
  • Tools required: screwdriver
  • Vehicle type: manual transmission, automatic transmission

Solution Overview:

Bypassing the relay is another effective trick, similar to tapping the starter but it’s only effective if your car has a faulty starter relay or ignition switch. 

This solution works best on an older model of the car where the starter is easily accessible with a screwdriver.

How To:

Use a big screwdriver to touch the positive starter terminal and the solenoid terminal at the same time and this will send a direct 12V current to the starter’s solenoid terminal and the starter’s positive terminal to create an electric connection. The connection sends 12V of power to the solenoid and starts your car.

8. Assess the Engine Flywheel

  • Skills level: Intermediate – Advanced
  • Tools required:
  • Vehicle type:

Solution Overview:

An engine flywheel that has lost some of its teeth, can be another cause for a bad start. 

The flywheel connects the transmission to the engine by attaching the starter gear whenever you want to crank the engine and spinning the crankshaft’s center bolt allows you to assess it and know whether this might be the cause of your problems.

How To:

To move the flywheel to a section with some teeth, just move the car a bit and release the clutch while in gear to rotate the engine and flywheel. Once the engine is spinning, the starter will probably be able to span the gap with the missing teeth and crank the engine enough to start it up. There will be a grinding noise as the starter grabs the first teeth after the gap – taking pieces of them off the flywheel.

9. Assess the Solenoid Wire and Jump Start the Solenoid

  • Skills required: Intermediate – Advanced
  • Tools required: Long screwdriver with rubber handle or insulation, 2nd set of hands to turn on the ignition

Solution Overview:

The solenoid connects the starter with the transmission. It also functions as the ground and positive connection. 

If you hear a cranking sound, it can be an indicator that your solenoid is faulty. When assessing the solenoid, you should be on the lookout for rust and grime. 

Bypassing a cable over the solenoid provides you with a better way of starting the car. If you hear a click sound, you did everything correctly.

Before Jump-Starting the Solenoid:

Check your battery charge

Before jump-starting the solenoid, confirm that your car battery can supply enough current to start the solenoid and turn over the engine.

The best way to check the strength of your battery is with a battery load tester. If the charge is less than 12V, you might need to charge or replace your battery.

Check your starter solenoid charge:

Not a mandatory step, but it’s also a good idea to test the starter solenoid and make sure that it’s getting enough power from your car battery.

According to Wikihow,

The starter solenoid is a fairly simple mechanism that transmits electrical current from the battery to the starter. When you turn the key, the solenoid engages, using the electrical motor in the starter to get your engine running.

If the solenoid is not functioning properly, the vehicle may not start.

Determining whether the issue is the starter solenoid, the battery or the starter itself can save you time and money when repairing it yourself and seeking to have the repair work done. Start by locating the starter and work to narrow down the cause of the issue.

Wikihow outlines 3 methods for checking your starter solenoid. Here’s 1 method:

  1. Open the hood and prop it up
  2. Locate the starter which is usually located near where the engine and the transmission meet. It’s usually cylindrical in shape with a smaller cylinder attached to it. There should be a wire coming directly from the positive terminal of the batter to the starter.
  3. Identify the cylinder on the side of the starter
  4. Listen for the solenoid click when the key is turned (have a friend turn the key in the ignition. Listen carefully, as you should hear a click when the starter solenoid engages. If you do not hear a click, the starter solenoid likely not functioning correctly. If you hear a click, the solenoid may be engaging but not sufficiently.

How To Bypass the Solenoid:

  1. Locate the solenoid
  2. Locate the 2 metal contacts on the back of the starter solenoid.
  3. Place the metal blade of an insulated screwdriver across both metal contacts.
  4. Have someone turn the ignition with the key and the engine should start. Immediately remove the screwdriver

5 Signs That Your Starter Isn’t Working

Your car starter consists of the solenoid, the electric motor, and the flywheel. For your car to start without any problems, all these components must work properly. Here are a few signs of a faulty starter.

Clicking Sound

You should always expect your car to roar to life every time you turn on the ignition. However, this might not happen, and instead, you hear a clicking sound. The clicking sound might be due to a faulty battery. To rule out any battery problems, turn on the headlights, and if they turn on, the only remaining problem is the starter.

Burning Smell

One of the things that most people dread is a burning smell in their car. However, if the starter is getting too much power, it can overheat and cause a burning smell or smoke. Blown fuses, short-circuiting, and lose connections can also cause the smoke or burning smell. Therefore, if you notice this when you start the car, don’t assume it.


If your car produces a whining sound rather than starting when you turn on the ignition, that’s freewheeling. It indicates that the flywheel and the electric motor aren’t able to connect. Freewheeling is one of the issues where you might need a professional to resolve it.

Dim Interior Lights

If you start your vehicle and your interior lights dim, you might have a short-circuited starter wiring. Short circuited starter wiring means that your starter consumes more power, thus reducing the amount of power available for all the other components of your vehicle.

Vehicle Doesn’t Start

If your vehicle doesn’t start, it can be one common indication that you have a starter issue. However, you only get to make this conclusion if you are certain that your battery is fully charged and in good shape. Before getting to a point where your vehicle won’t start, you should have faced either of the other signs listed above.

Dash lights up but the engine won’t start

If you have a fully charged battery and the engine won’t turn over, then this is an indication that there’s something wrong with the starter. You can verify how much of a charge your battery has with a battery load tester

FAQs For How To Start A Car With Bad Starter

Can you start an automatic car without a starter?

No, you can’t start an automatic car without a starter. It’s only possible with a manual transmission, not with an automatic transmission. To achieve this, you need a minimum of two people. One in the car and the other one pushes the car.

Can you hit a starter to make it work?

Yes, you can. On older cars, you can tap a starter with a hammer. On newer cars, you can use a ratchet extension that should help you reach the starter. Tapping on the starter frame allows the armature to spin up, thus starting the car.

Is it bad to drive a car with a bad starter?

No, it’s not bad to drive a car that has a bad starter.

However, you should test your starter to understand whether you need to replace the starter or whether there are other problems that are actually causing the problem such as loose wires, loose cables or a bad solenoid or a weak battery.

What is the cost to replace a car starter?

A car starter costs between $216 to $399. If you opt to take it to a professional, you can incur an additional charge of between $128 to $163.

How can you tell if it’s your starter or battery?

You can tell if it’s your starter or battery by confirming that the battery has a full charge. Use a battery load tester, to see how much power your battery has. If it shows that your battery has less than 12V, it’s possible that your battery doesn’t have enough power to ignite the starter.

Summary – 9 Strategies For How To Start A Car With A Bad Starter

Hopefully, these strategies that explain how to start a car with a bad starter will be helpful and get you out of a jam.

The easiest and usually most effective is to push start your car and turn the ignition key.