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In most situations, the starter breaks with no previous warning. And it may leave you stranded.
If you’re in this situation, you might want to learn how to test a starter with a multimeter.
Here, we’ll explore most scenarios and culprits you must test to get your vehicle back on the road. For example, your problem could be a blown starter relay, which you can easily replace. Or you could have a faulty neutral safety switch.
5 Common Signs of a Bad Starter
If you suspect that your starter is no longer in great shape, consider the following symptoms:
Dashboard Lights Up But Car won’t Start
Tried starting up the engine, but it just wouldn’t run even though the dashboard lighted up? Well, you might have a problem with your starter.
While you might think that this problem is related to the battery, there is a high chance it is not. Here’s the thing: your battery is charged, but the starter is messing up the engine.
This means that you won’t be able to start the vehicle unless you replace the faulty alternator.
Smoke Coming From the Vehicle
If you’ve been trying to start up the vehicle but to no avail and now noticed that white smoke is coming from the car, your starter could be overheating.
When this happens, white smoke will come from the vehicle. To stop all this pollution from being released into the environment, avoid starting up the engine. Instead, get in touch with a certified professional. Any further attempts could result in costly repairs.
Heard a terrible metallic grinding noise as soon as you started up your car? Well, you might have a problem with the starter.
If that’s your problem, consider replacing the starter as soon as possible. If you let it go by, it might permanently damage the engine flywheel. This is a costly repair, and you could be looking at $1,000 worth of damage.
Starter not Disengaging
If your starter stays on, it could be related to the switch or solenoid. To avoid permanent damage to the starting system, hit up your local mechanic.
Engine Cranks Extremely Slow
If you have a damaged starter motor, it can cause the vehicle to crank slowly. However, this might not be your only problem. You could also have a bad battery, which is messing up your car.
How to Tell if Your Starter Solenoid Is Bad With a Multimeter
Don’t know how to test a starter solenoid with a multimeter? Here’s how to diagnose a faulty starter solenoid with a multimeter:
1. Set the Meter to ohms
To start, insert your multimeter probes into the appropriate sockets. The black probe should go where it says “COM,” and the red lead into the socket labeled “VΩ.” After that, turn the meter to ohms.
2. Hook up the Leads to the Starter Solenoid
Attach the black lead to your ground, and red lead to your positive. Your multimeter will display the ohms on the screen.
If you’re getting close to 5 ohms, it means the start solenoid is still working. But we still need to check the voltage to make sure that we’re not overlooking anything.
3. Check Voltage
Put the red lead on the negative terminal, and then put the other lead on the solenoid wiring. Now turn your engine to the crank position. The multimeter should now read some voltage.
If you don’t see any battery voltage, check the neutral safety switch and starter relay. If there’s something wrong with those two, perhaps that’s your problem.
How to Diagnose a Starter Relay With a Multimeter
Before replacing the starter, you have to diagnose the starter relay as it might be your problem. That said, here’s how to test a starter relay with a multimeter:
1. What You Will Need
Get these tools before getting started:
- A 12-volt battery — to test your starter relay, get a power source.
- Alligator clips — to properly diagnose the starter relay, get some alligator clips.
2. Set up Your Multimeter
As we noted before, insert the black lead where it says “COM” and the red one into the “VΩ” jack. Now set the multimeter to the Wi-Fi symbol.
To make sure the multimeter is working, put the two leads on top of each other. Your meter should beep, indicating it is working.
3. Locate Your Starter Relay
Pop the hood of your vehicle, find the fuse box and remove the starter relay.
If your fuse box is not under the hood, look underneath the dash and find the small cover hiding the fuse box. Now remove the plastic cover holding the fuse box together, and then pull the starter relay.
4. Set up Your Power Source
To test the relay, attach the alligator clips to your power source and prompts on the starter relay.
If you don’t know which prompts to touch, attach the alligator clip to every single prompt until you hear a clicking sound. If the switch inside the relay clicks, it means that the relay is energized.
This is an excellent sign that your starter is working, but we still need to test for continuity.
5. Continuity Test
Attach the multimeter leads to the remaining prompts on your starter relay. It is safe to assume that the starter relay is still in great shape if you’re getting continuity.
Having trouble getting through these steps? Then watch this short video:
How to Diagnose your Starter With a Multimeter
To test a starter motor, you will need a friend to start up the vehicle and a clamp meter. That being said, here’s how to bench test a starter with a multimeter:
1. Locate the Starter
First, locate your starter motor. In most vehicles, it is underneath the car, somewhere near the engine and transmission.
Depending on your vehicle, the solenoid might come with the starter. If you have an older car, it might be separate from the starter.
2. How to Test a Starter Motor With a Multimeter
Clamp your multimeter on the power wire at the starter. Now turn on your clamp multimeter, and then put it on resistance.
After hooking the multimeter, have somebody start the engine. Your multimeter will pick up and display the results. Compare your results with your manufacturer’s specifications.
If the resistance reading is off the charts, replace the cable.
3. Start the Vehicle
If you still can’t figure out why the vehicle won’t start, and you really need to start up the car, get underneath the car and hit the starter with a hammer as somebody is trying to start up the engine.
Your car should now start. This is a temporal fix, but it’s more than enough to get you going for a while.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Couldn’t find what you were looking after going through how to test a starter with a multimeter guide? Here’s are some questions and answers you might have:
How much does it cost to install a car starter?
The average cost for a brand new starter ranges from $200-$300. Labor costs can go anywhere from $120 to $150. But keep in mind that this might change depending on your location and vehicle.
Can I replace a starter myself?
Yes! You can replace a starter yourself. There are many videos available on YouTube for this simple job. However, we suggest testing the starter with a multimeter before you throw it away.
How many years does a starter last?
It’s pretty hard to tell how long the starter will be by your side as not all parts are made equal. However, if you take care of your vehicle, expect the starter to last up to 200,000 miles.
How much it costs to replace a starter relay?
The part itself costs about $30, while the labor costs can go anywhere from $30-$40. Replacing the starter relay is extremely easy, and it only takes a couple of minutes.
Learning how to test a starter with a multimeter can be overwhelming, but with a little bit of effort and willingness to step outside of your comfort zone, you can quickly find the culprit and save some money.
This might take some time for some folks, but you’ll be OK as long as you follow the steps we covered above. But remember, check every possible scenario before replacing the starter.
Just because your vehicle doesn’t start doesn’t mean you have a problem with the starter. It could be something unrelated.