Auto Repair Q&A



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Car Fails To Turn Over, Starter Whines

Starter motor

On a vehicle on which turning the key sometimes results in a start and at other times results in just a click or a whine, the intermittent problem can be frustrating to solve. This is one of those "ghost" problems many mechanics face when a customer tells them something is wrong, but the mechanic cannot reproduce it in order to verify and diagnose. In the case of the intermittent starter, diagnosis is a simple set of steps that require diligence and a multimeter.

Two things are likely happening. The circuit from the battery to the starter solenoid may be broken or loose or the solenoid itself may be malfunctioning. In the case of the former, checking that circuit is the key and in the latter, replacement of the solenoid is required. A whining starter is a sign that the starter's shaft teeth aren't meshing with the transmission (ala the "flywheel") to turn the engine over for a start. This is a separate problem.

Solenoid Circuit Check

Start by using a volt meter to check the actual charge of the battery (check voltage and output) rather than relying on the vehicle's system to do it. It sounds like your battery is OK, but it's the first step in the circuit, so it should be checked regardless.

Next, check the line from the positive side of the battery to the starter solenoid (the "hump" on one side of your starter). If you have near-full voltage and amperage at the solenoid connection, then make sure the connection itself is solid. Remove it, clean the bolt and wires, and put it all back together. This is just one bolt and it should be easily accessible, even on a Chrysler product (haha).

Now trace the grounding (negative) wires the same way.

Finally, if none of the above has found the problem, check the keyswitch and starter switch connections and power supply.

Spinning Starter Check/Fix

If the starter is spinning, but not engaging the engine, then it's likely come loose and the teeth from the starter's shaft aren't meshing. In this case, the starter will "whine" (spin), but not engage. Try tapping the starter body (case) with a rubber or wooden hammer to see if it engages as someone turns the key to start. If this works or results in grinding as the gears attempt to mesh, you've found your issue.

The fix is to re-mesh the starter's gearshaft with the flywheel or replace worn parts, depending on how severe the problem might be.