A starter is a small car part which is used in conjunction with the engine to provide a vehicle with power. The internal workings of a starter are slightly complex. But all you need to know for now is that without it, you wouldn’t be able to start your engine.
Over time, car starters will eventually experience signs of aging. When this happens, the car may be rendered completely unusable until the starter is repaired or replaced.
Strap yourself in and get ready to go on a wild ride as we discover more about how car starters work, the engine starter replacement cost, what to do if it stops working, and how to save money when having it serviced.
What’s the Cost of a New Starter?
Starters come in all shape and sizes, brands and types. As with most car parts, you can buy generic or ‘universal’ starters, OEM specific starters, and replacement performance starters.
Universal starters typically have the lowest cost, starting at around $10 apiece. Original equipment manufacturer quality starters will max out at around $1,600.
The expense of the engine starter replacement also varies depending on whether it has an attached solenoid or is sold separately from the solenoid. The exact price depends on the brand, purchase location, and the year, make, and model of your car.
For example, a Remy car starter for 2015 BMW 6-Series costs $115 at one outlet, while the same part for a 1982 Alfa Romeo Spider costs only $50.
Since there are so many different car starter varieties available on the market, here’s a list of prices sorted by popular brands to help give you an idea of the cost to replace a starter:
- ACDelco: $20 – $350
- BBB Industries: $20 – $180
- Bosch: $35 – $1,650
- Crown: $100 – $250
- Denso: $10 – $300
- Hitachi: $80 – $360
- Mitsubishi Electric: $80 – $240
- Mopar: $65 – $900
- Motorcraft: $60 – $500
- Remy: $25 – $525
- Valeo: $100 – $500
Here’s a quick list of total estimated starter replacement costs for various makes and models. These figures include the cost of the part and the labor:
|2004 Lotus Esprit||$231|
|2014 Hyundai Elantra Coupe||$292|
|2009 Hummer H3||$497|
|2014 Cadillac Escalade ESV||$265|
|2004 Land Rover Freelander||$474|
|2013 Porsche Cayenne||$1785|
Where to Get A Starter Replaced?
Getting a starter replaced is easy – but finding a place to get the labor done at a good price is perhaps not.
Auto repair shop rates largely depend on the technician’s hourly fee, so expect the replacement time to play a role in the total overall cost.
Auto centers are numerous and largely divided into two categories: brand dealerships and local repair shops. Chevrolet, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz are an example of some dealerships that also have auto service centers. If you bring your car to one of these, expect high prices and high-quality service.
Top local repair shops include O’Reilly Auto Parts and Meineke. The estimated labor cost for a starter replacement is $60 to $210.
Alternately, you can just replace the starter by yourself. It’ll save you the hassle of bringing the car to a shop and waiting for a couple of hours and you’ll keep a nice chunk of change in your pocket as well.
What’s a Starter?
A starter is also called a starter motor, cranking motor or a self-starter. The starter’s objective is to allow the engine to begin operating using its own self-generated power. It does this with the help of a powerful motor.
There are three main types of starters: electric, pneumatic, and hydraulic. The majority of automobiles that are manufactured for personal use employ electric starters; with pneumatic starters being seen primarily in aircraft, on ships, and used with diesel engines on some large trucks.
Hydraulic starters are typically only found on generators, lifeboat engines, hydraulic fracturing rigs, and offshore fire pumping engines.
An electric starter is supplied with power from a car’s battery when the ignition key is turned. Some newer-model vehicles come equipped with a push button instead of an actual keyhole. The electrical signal is sent to a solenoid which in turn activates the motor inside.
The solenoid is attached to the outside of the starter. The purpose of the solenoid is to receive the heavy electric current coming from the battery while avoiding any sparking using an electromagnet.
The motor, now powered up, will spin a gear called a Bendix which connects and turns a flex plate or flywheel bolted to the rear of the crankshaft.
The starter is also equipped with a means to shut itself off after its initial function has been fulfilled and the engine has already turned on.
In vehicles with engines in the front, the starter is usually located mounted down low near the back of the engine. Failure of any one of these functional parts can spell bad news for the starter.
How to Identify a Bad Starter?
When a car fails to start or is making strange noises while failing to start, most people tend to assume that the starter is the problem. This, however, isn’t always the case.
There are many different issues that can cause a car to fail during ignition, but a bad starter is definitely one of them. What then, are the symptoms that are the most likely to give away a busted starter?
The best way to diagnose the issue is to use your ears and eyes. When starting up the car, ask a friend to keep an eye on the headlights while you keep an ear out for sounds coming from the starter. You may hear or see one of the following signs:
- Clicking sounds – If you hear a clicking sound when firing the ignition, it means that the starter may have a bad motor or a bad solenoid.
- Buzzing sounds – A buzzing sound is an indication that a weak current is running to the solenoid. It may be caused by a low battery charge or an electrical connection issue. Check the battery and its terminals for any corrosion or damage before continuing to troubleshooting the starter. If the battery is the issue, you might need to look at the cost to buy a new battery.
- Whirring sounds – Here’s one possible explanation for the whirring noise. If the pinion gear inside the starter is too worn down to move the flywheel, it might spin by itself and produce a soft whirring noise. This sound is an indication that the solenoid is dying and needs to be replaced.
- Grinding sounds – There’s a couple of possibilities for this one. Grinding noises could be caused by a starter motor that’s not bolted in securely, a flywheel or gears with damaged/worn out teeth or if the gears aren’t able to connect properly. Everything points towards a bad starter, though.
- No sounds – You might not hear anything at all. This could mean that the car battery is dead or has a problem, a different system component such as a relay switch has failed or some electrical connections have become corroded. The indication is that the electrical current is not reaching the solenoid.
- Headlights don’t turn on – When turning the ignition key, if you don’t hear any sound AND the headlights won’t turn on, then the culprit is either the car battery/battery terminals or the starter. An open circuit in the starter could be causing the problem. Electrical current is not able to reach the starter motor.
- Headlights are dim or turn off when starting the car – Make sure the car battery is fully charged. If it is, the problem could be a short circuit in the starter motor that’s causing an overdraw of current. If all other components are working correctly, there’s also a possibility of the engine causing the problem.
- No problems with the headlights but the car won’t start – If the headlights are perfectly fine but the car doesn’t make a sound while failing to start, there’s most likely an open circuit at one of the system circuit connections or battery terminals.
How to Prevent Starter Issues?
The starter is an integral part of the car as it can’t run without it. That’s why it’s important to take care of it in order to prevent any of the problems above from happening.
In most cases, good preventative measures can make the difference between a long-lasting and healthy starter motor and one that dies prematurely after only a year or two.
It’s important to keep the electrical current flowing freely from the car battery to the solenoid. The conduit between the two parts is created by special connector wires. If these wires become corroded due to dirt or damage, the starter motor won’t receive enough power to crank the engine.
It also has an added negative effect of wearing out the motor unnecessarily. Inspect the wiring often to fix any issues before they happen.
The starter motor is located on the chassis and bolted in place to keep it secure during bumpy travels. Remember that a flywheel is bolted onto the crankshaft and connects to the Bendix drive on the starter.
If the bolts that are keeping the starter in place become loose, the gears will fall out of alignment and nothing will happen when you turn the ignition key, except for perhaps a grinding sound. To prevent this, simply check the bolts every so often and make sure they’re in tight.
Take a look at the solenoid and clean it regularly. Since the solenoid is responsible for directing power into the starter motor, it needs to be maintained on a regular basis.
One of the best ways to prevent starter failure is to keep the battery clean. Over time, corrosive materials form on the outside of car batteries which will weaken the electric current that’s being sent to the starter. Cleaning the battery terminals at regular intervals will allow the power to continue flowing uninterrupted to the solenoid.