Car Maintenance And Repairs

Why Your Car Starts But Starter Keeps Cranking?

Mike Cross
Updated October 17, 2020

Does your starter continue to crank over, even after your vehicle is running? This can be one doozy of a headache to resolve, but let’s try to break it down so you can better identify the root cause.

There are a few major culprits that you may be dealing with that can cause this to happen. Some are more easily fixed than others, but each one is equally as important in getting your vehicle running as it should.

Let’s cover them one at a time and address the best course of action in remedying your situation.

Car Starts But Starter Keeps Cranking
Car Starts But Starter Keeps Cranking

Binding of the Ignition Lock Cylinder

The ignition lock cylinder is where you insert your key to start your vehicle. You’ll typically see four stages on the cylinder that go into starting your vehicle. The first stage simply unlocks the steering column.

The second part turns on interior accessories, like the radio, power windows, and lights. The third fires up your vehicle’s computer and fuel system. While the fourth stage is where you actually get power to the engine and get your vehicle running.

If your ignition lock cylinder is malfunctioning, you will begin to see irregularities in your vehicle starting. This can eventually lead to the cylinder wearing out indefinitely if not addressed in a timely fashion. One of the first signs of trouble sees you having to play with the key to get the cylinder to crank over.

If you can’t get your vehicle to turn over at all, it’s a sure sign that the cylinder is going bad. The cylinder is connected to an electrical ignition switch. It is vitally important that you have this resolved the moment you notice any trouble starting your vehicle.

If this is the problem, you should first try to rotate the lock cylinder. If you don’t get the proper motion and the starter’s motor stops, you know this needs addressed. There a couple of things you can try to remedy this.

You should try to lubricate the lock cylinder to see if you can get it to turn. The type of lubrication you use is tantamount in getting this to work. Do not use WD-40 or generic lube. You can only use liquid graphite or Teflon lubrication. Anything else will damage the ignition and you’ll definitely need to replace it.

Once you have applied either of those two types of lubrication, try turning the ignition lock again and see if you have success. If not, try this second method.

Find your starter relay’s model number and head down to your local auto parts store. Pick up the same model of starter relay and replace it with your old one. If this was the problem, you’ll have immediate success and your vehicle should crank over like normal.

The more you insert and remove the key, the more wear and tear this causes to the ignition lock cylinder over time. If it gets to the point where your key can no longer be inserted into the cylinder, you will have to get it replaced with a new cylinder.

Starter Relay Contacts Are Stuck

This is when you hear a clicking sound when trying to start your vehicle. This means you have a bad solenoid. Solenoids provide an electrical current to the engine. As you may have guessed, this is a vital component in getting your vehicle running.

To see if this is the problem, you first need to park your vehicle. Depending on what kind of vehicle you have, you may need to get under it to access the solenoid. You’ll want to wait until your engine is cool before attempting to check the solenoid.

Ensure that the ignition switch is completely rolled back to the ‘Off’ position. Once you have located the solenoid, you’ll see that there are both large and small wires attached to it. Remove only the small wires.

You will then need to attach a continuity tester to both the solenoid and small wires. Continuity testers have red and black cables. Red goes to the small wires, while black goes to the solenoid. The tester’s meter will tell you whether the solenoid is working properly.

If you don’t get any feedback right away, tap on the solenoid a few times with the handle of a screwdriver or something similar. Push the starter button and listen for a clicking sound.

If you have success, reconnect all the wires to the solenoid and try starting your vehicle again. If it doesn’t start, you’ll then know that the solenoid needs to be replaced.

Low Voltage

Charging car battery with electricity trough jumper cables
Charging car battery with electricity trough jumper cables

Having low voltage can be caused by a number of things. Your vehicle may have improper wiring that is resulting in not enough juice being distributed accordingly. Bad connections can also mean that electrical components aren’t getting the proper amount supplied to them. A faulty or bad battery can lead to this, as well.

Having the proper wiring installed can make or break your vehicle. Your starter is one of those components that may not be getting enough power. Are you familiar with electrical diagrams and correct wiring placement? If not, it is advised that you let someone who knows what they’re doing look at your vehicle.

A bad battery is an easy enough fix that nearly anyone can replace. It’s going to be the most straightforward job. But before you run out and buy a new one, hook a voltmeter up to it and see if it is still good. If your voltmeter shows it still has life, move on to the next step.

Bad connections aren’t that rigorous of a job, either. Check the parts of your vehicle that you’re most familiar with and make sure all wires are tightly clamped and connected where they should be. If anything is loose, snug it back up. Always ensure that your key is rolled back to “Off” before attempting any retightening.

Once everything is back in place, try starting your vehicle. If it comes on like normal and doesn’t continue clicking, you’ve successfully resolved your problem.

Mike Cross
Life is too short to drive with stock audio

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