You may have heard that tapping on your car’s starter can help if you’re having trouble getting it running. If you are wondering how, I can show you. It’s pretty simple and can be handy knowledge to have.
Tapping on a faulty starter can get your car running, especially if the starter makes a loud click sound when you turn the key. Worn-out internal electrical components are often the cause of a bad starter. The shock of hitting the body of the starter with a hammer can help it make better electrical connections inside.
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Before getting started, I want to point out some safety rules to remember while you do this. Be careful of any parts that will start moving when the engine starts. Keep your hands, loose clothing, and any tools out of the way of all fans, belts, and pulleys.
Since the starter is electrical there is a possibility of arcing or shock. Keep any metal tools away from all wires and their contact points. It can be very easy to accidentally cause a short.
What Does a Starter Do?
The engine needs something to spin it at a certain speed before it can run on its own. The starter does just that. When you turn the key, a little gear pops out of the starter and spins the engine.
How It Works
Inside the starter are an electric motor, a gear, and a solenoid. A solenoid is just an electrical part that converts electricity to back and forth movement.
Starter solenoids have two jobs. They pop the gear out that contacts the engine, and they make a connection to give power to the electric motor that spins that gear.
Once the gear contacts the engine, and the electric motor has power, the starter will spin. It usually only takes a second or two for the engine to start after that.
What Causes a Starter to Wear Out?
Starters are very large electrical loads, and they generate a lot of heat. This heat will wear out the contacts inside the starter over time. This can mean a problem with the solenoid or with the electric motor.
Heat and arcing can burn up the solenoid’s contacts. If they don’t have a good connection, the motor doesn’t get power and won’t spin. This is the most common reason for the single loud CLICK sound when you turn the key, but the engine doesn’t start.
There could also be damage to the electric motor. The stator, the armature, and the brushes are the main parts of the motor. All of them can be affected over time by heat and arcing as well.
How & Where to Tap on the Starter
Tapping sends a small shock through the starter. This can help the solenoid’s electrical contacts settle and make a better connection.
Sometimes, the motor can have a dead spot and get stuck. The shock will help it shift out of that dead spot. A mechanical issue inside, such as a stuck lever, may also benefit from the shock.
Locating the Starter
The starter looks like two cylinders stuck to each other. One of them is much smaller (about one-third the size) than the other. Starters are generally located near where the engine and transmission bolt together.
To find exactly where it is, follow its cable from the positive battery terminal. There are usually two cables coming from the positive terminal, one for each the starter and alternator. If the first cable leads you to the alternator, follow the other one to find the starter.
Remember, no metal tools should touch any part of these cables!
How to Get the Starter Working
Now that you’ve found the starter, get your hammer ready. While you tap on it, you’ll also need a friend to be turning the key. Once the engine starts to crank, you can stop tapping.
You can tap anywhere on the body of the starter, just keep away from the electrical connectors and cables. You don’t need to tap very hard. Tapping in several different spots can target different potential problem areas.
You may need a long pry bar for hard-to-reach starters. Put the metal end of the pry bar against the starter, hold it firmly in place, and tap on the opposite end. Remember to keep away from the starter’s connectors and cables.
If you’ve been tapping on it while your friend is turning the key and the car still doesn’t start, the starter may be too far gone for this trick to work. It is also still possible the battery is too weak to power the electric motor.
If you get the car running, congratulations! Remember that you most likely will still have to tap on it for it to start again, and the starter still needs to be replaced soon.
Once more, I’d like to remind you to be cautious when doing this. Watch out for anything that will start moving when the engine starts. Make sure that if you use a long tool to reach the starter, it does not touch the electrical contacts.
Remembering these guidelines can help you get your car started and keep you from getting hurt in the process.