Starter Not Cranking

Easy step by step guide on how to repair an automotive engine that will not crank over (starter will not work), steps are presented in order of popularity, this article pertains to most vehicles.

Difficulty Scale: 4 of 10

Begin with the vehicle on level ground, in park with the emergency brake set.

Step 1 - Check for terminal/cable corrosion or loose cables, terminal or cable corrosion can hinder electrical flow not allowing the starter to pull a sufficient amount of amperage/voltage. Learn more

Clean Battery Cable Ends

Step 2 - Check the battery for proper voltage, low voltage will also cause the starter solenoid to not engage or engage and disengage rapidly which creates a machine gun sound. A starter motor must operate on a sufficient flow of electrical power, the battery must be in good working order to supply this voltage. Learn more

Automotive Battery

Step 3 - Use a test light to inspect PDC (power distribution center) starter system fuses and replace as needed. Learn more

Test Fuses

Step 4 - Use a test light attached to ground, have a helper turn the key to the start position while testing the small trigger wire on the starter solenoid, it should light up, next test the large power terminal which should also have power (light up). If both terminals have power the starter has failed and replacement is required.  (Note: Use caution when testing as to not connect the test light probe to ground while checking for power.) Learn more

Start Motor Trigger and Power Wire

Step 5 - If there was no power observed at the small trigger wire of the starter solenoid, a malfunction in the starter trigger system is not allowing electrical flow. Most vehicles have a security system which is built into the starting system, sometimes the system will simply become confused due to a glitch. If the security light is flashing while the starter is being engaged the system is malfunctioning. First, try to lock all doors of the vehicle and wait ten minutes, then unlock the doors and try to start the engine. The next step is to disconnect the battery for ten minutes, and reconnect to retry. Also, the frequency chip located inside the ignition key can be a problem, test this problem using a spare key.

Security Indicator

Step 6 - The neutral safety switch is designed to stop the starter from operating while the automatic transmission is in drive, or reverse. If this switch malfunctions it will cause the starter to not engage.

Step 7 - The clutch pedal position sensor is used to stop the starter from operating while the transmission is in gear, if this switch fails or becomes maladjusted the starter while not operate.

Step 8 - An engine must be in good working order for the engine to start. Malfunctions such as a blown head gasket or other internal failures can cause the starter not to operate.

Helpful Information

There are some easy fixes that are attributed to this problem, one is that the gear selector has not been pushed fully into park (automatic transmission) or the clutch is not fully depressed (standard transmission.) Also, some vehicles need to have the brake pedal depressed before the starter will operate. A starter is designed with a bendix which engages into the flywheel to crank the engine over. If this bendix fails it will allow the starter motor to turn, but not engage. When this condition occurs the starter will "freewheel", allowing the starter motor to turn without engaging into the flywheel.

An engine flywheel/flex plate is used to work with the starter and is connected to the engine crankshaft. If this part fails, the starter will operate, but the engine will not crank over. Disassembly is required to inspect for the condition. Usually this problem is accompanied by a strange noise while the starter is operating.

Tools and Supplies Needed

  • Wrench set
  • Socket set
  • Flashlight
  • Voltmeter or test light
  • Battery terminal cleaner
  • Protective eyewear and gloves


Written by
Co-Founder and CEO of
35 years in the automotive repair field, ASE Master Technician, Advanced Electrical and Mechanical Theory.


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Article first published