How Long Can You Drive with a Bad Starter?

driving with a bad starter

Join us as we delve into the intricacies of the car starter, a key component of your vehicle’s engine. This guide will illuminate its function, the signs of a faulty starter, the reasons behind its failure, and how to troubleshoot it. But the burning question on your mind is probably, ‘how long can you drive with a bad starter?’ We’re addressing that right off the bat, so stay tuned.

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill technical guide. It’s a blend of in-depth knowledge and easy-to-grasp information, equally beneficial for the weekend DIYer and the seasoned pro. So, let’s get this show on the road and uncover the mysteries of the car starter together.

The Car Starter: Sparking Your Engine to Life

Think of the car starter as the unsung hero of your vehicle’s engine. It’s the spark that sets everything in motion, the first domino in the chain reaction that powers your journey. The starter motor, juiced up by your car’s battery, engages the ring gear mounted to the flywheel, and voila, your engine roars to life.

There are two main types of starter motors that you’ll find in vehicles: gear reduction and planetary reduction segment (PS) starters. Both types come equipped with a one-way, over-running clutch to prevent any damage when the engine starts.

The starter motor is a crucial component in a car’s engine starting system. It provides high torque to turn the engine and has mechanisms to engage and disengage quickly. Troubleshooting starter problems involves checking the battery, connections, and mechanical parts, and auto parts stores can test the starter for confirmation.

starter motor internals and how it works

Spotting the Symptoms of a Bad Starter

If your car is acting up, it’s not just being temperamental. It’s trying to communicate with you. Here are some symptoms that could indicate a bad starter:

  1. Engine won’t start or crank: This is the classic “silent treatment” from your car. It could be due to a burned-out starter relay or motor, electrical issues, a dead battery, or other problems.
  2. Grinding noise: If you hear a grinding noise when starting the engine, it’s like your car’s cry for help. This could indicate damaged pinion teeth, slow retraction, or damaged flywheel/flexplate teeth.
  3. Freewheeling: This is when the starter produces a whining sound without engaging with the flywheel. It’s like the starter is spinning its wheels, but not getting anywhere.
  4. Smoke coming from the car: . If you observe smoke, it’s crucial to stop trying to start the engine and call a mechanic immediately.
  5. Engine oil leaks: An oil-soaked starter can lead to malfunction. Oil and electricity don’t mix, and this can cause your starter to fail.
  6. Slow cranking: If your engine cranks slowly, it’s like it’s trying to get out of bed on a Monday morning. This could indicate an internal problem with the starter motor. A weak battery or engine issue can also contribute to this symptom.
  7. Intermittent starting issues: If the engine doesn’t start instantly but starts fine upon retrying, it may be a problem with the starter relay. Damaged relays can cause clicking sounds during ignition, like a drummer practicing a new beat.
  8. Starter stays on after starting: A continuous grinding noise after the engine is running may indicate a stuck starter relay. This can cause damage to the starter system and flywheel, like a guest who overstays their welcome.
  9. Starter engages but motor won’t start: If the starter activates but the engine doesn’t crank, it could be due to a mechanical issue with the gear connected to the flywheel. It’s like the starter is trying to start a conversation, but the engine isn’t responding.
  10. Battery-related issues: Lights and headlights may work, but if the engine doesn’t turn over, it could indicate a weak battery. Insufficient power from the battery can prevent the starter motor from cranking the engine.

Remember, some of these symptoms may have overlapping causes or be influenced by factors other than the starter motor itself, such as the battery or ignition switch. Regular car maintenance can help prevent many of these issues. If you’re ever in doubt, it’s always best to consult with a professional.

What are the Causes of a Bad Starter

A bad starter doesn’t just happen out of the blue. It’s usually the result of a series of unfortunate events, like a domino effect. Here are some common culprits that can impact How Long Can You Drive with a Bad Starter:

  1. Loose wiring around the starter: Loose wires can disrupt the electrical flow, causing starter problems. It’s like trying to have a conversation with someone who’s not really listening.
  2. Corroded or dirty connections: Corrosion or dirt can impede electrical connections, leading to starter malfunctions. It’s like trying to run a marathon with a backpack full of rocks.
  3. Worn out starter parts: Over time, the components of your starter can wear out, leading to starter failure. It’s like an old pair of shoes that’s lost its sole.
  4. Oil leaks: An oil-soaked starter can cause the starter to malfunction. Oil and electricity are like water and oil – they just don’t mix.
  5. Fuse issues: A blown fuse can disrupt the electrical flow to the starter, preventing it from operating. It’s like a traffic jam on the highway to your engine.

Troubleshooting Starter Problems

If you suspect you’re dealing with a bad starter, don’t panic. Here are a few things you can do to troubleshoot the problem:

  1. Check under the hood: Look for loose wires or corroded connections, a task made easier if you know how to use a socket wrench like a pro.. A bad battery connection could be the culprit.
  2. Tap the starter: Sometimes, a gentle tap can get a stuck starter motor moving. But remember, this is a temporary fix.
  3. Adjust the transmission: If your car is in park or neutral and it still won’t start, try moving the shifter. Your car might not be in the correct gear.
  4. Jumper wire test: Disconnecting the signal wire and connecting a jumper wire from the starter to the negative battery terminal while turning the key can help determine if the starter is functioning properly. If the test light illuminates, the power, ground, and signal wires are all functioning correctly.
  5. Emergency starter solution: In an emergency, tapping the starter with a hammer while someone turns the key can help improve contact between the brushes inside the starter. This may temporarily resolve the issue.
  6. Additional troubleshooting: If the vehicle starts in neutral but not in park, there may be a problem with the range selector switch. In manual transmission vehicles, a faulty clutch switch can cause a no-start situation.

Beyond the Starter: Other Reasons Your Car Won’t Start

Sometimes, a bad starter is just one piece of the puzzle when considering ‘How Long Can You Drive with a Bad Starter’. Here are some other common reasons your car might not start, along with their respective fixes:

Dead BatteryThe most common reason a car won’t start. If your battery is dead, you’ll need to jump-start your car.
Bad AlternatorIf your alternator is bad, it won’t charge your battery, even if the battery is new.
Faulty FuseA blown fuse can disrupt the electrical flow to the starter, preventing it from operating.
Bad Fuel Pump RelayIf your fuel pump relay is bad, it won’t send fuel to the engine, and your car won’t start.
Issues With The Ignition SwitchIf your ignition switch is faulty, it won’t send the signal to the starter to start the engine.

Remember, regular car maintenance can prevent many of these issues. If you’re ever in doubt, it’s always best to consult with a professional.

How Long Can You Drive with a Bad Starter?

If you’re wondering, “How long can I drive with a bad starter?” the direct answer is – not long. Driving with a faulty starter is a gamble. It’s not just about the risk of getting stranded; it’s the potential damage to your engine that’s the real concern.

A bad starter can wear out your flywheel prematurely and drain your battery, leading to costly repairs. So, as soon as you spot symptoms of a bad starter, it’s crucial to get it checked and resolved. Ignoring the problem will only escalate the potential damage to your vehicle.

The Cost of Replacing a Starter

The cost of starter replacement can vary, depending on the make and model of your car and whether you opt for a new or remanufactured part. On average, you can expect to shell out anywhere from $200 to $800. Remember, it’s an investment in your vehicle’s longevity and your peace of mind.


We’ve compiled some of the most common questions we get about starter issues and car troubleshooting. Here are the answers to help you navigate this tricky terrain:

How long do starters typically last?

Starters are built to last. With proper car maintenance, a starter can last anywhere from 30,000 to 200,000 miles. That’s a lot of road trips!

Can a car with a bad starter be jump-started?

Yes, it’s possible to jump-start a car with a bad starter. However, this is a temporary solution and should be used to get you to your nearest mechanic.

What happens to a car when the starter goes out?

When the starter goes out, your car won’t start. You might hear a clicking noise or see your dashboard lights come on, but the engine won’t turn over.

How to identify a bad starter?

Listen for unusual car sounds, like a grinding noise when you turn the key. Look for physical signs like smoke from the engine or an oil-soaked starter. And pay attention to electrical issues like a non-responsive ignition.

Can you drive a car with a bad starter?

While it’s technically possible, it’s not recommended. Driving with a bad starter can cause further damage to your vehicle and potentially leave you stranded.


Addressing a bad starter promptly is crucial to maintaining your vehicle’s health and your safety on the road. While it’s possible to troubleshoot some starter problems at home, we always recommend seeking professional help when dealing with significant car repair issues. Remember, your car is an investment, and taking care of it will ensure it takes care of you.

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