Last December, we had an ice storm come through town. Overnight temperatures dropped to single digits. After the ice storm, a snowstorm followed and added a foot of snow.
Now, I hate the snow. It’s part of why I went to college in Pensacola and why I go back down there every chance I get. But life didn’t cooperate, so I was stuck in the Midwest for this disgusting storm.
There I was, curled up next to my fireplace in flannel pyjamas and a cup of hot toddy I was about to enjoy. At that moment, my friend texted. He was driving through town, had stopped for a bite to eat, and his car wasn’t starting. Could I come to jump his battery?
If it had been anyone else, I would have told him to call a tow service. I dislike snow that badly. But for my good friends, I’ll leave my hot toddy and flannel pyjama pants to go into the storm.
We jumped his car, but it still wasn’t starting. “Got a bad starter solenoid,” I mutter. “Got a tire-iron handy?” He rummaged in the back of his trunk for a minute before coming around with short tire iron.
I reached into the hood (thankfully, this was a Honda Civic, so the starter was easily accessible) and hit the solenoid three times.
“Try it now.”
He got in the driver’s seat and tried. His car started instantly.
“Don’t turn it off until you get home,” I warned as I climbed into my own car and got out of the cold.
Car Won’t Start Solutions
If you are trying to start your car and only hear a single, weak “click” (or no sound at all), then it is highly likely that your start solenoid will go bad.
Sometimes a few gentle taps will help to dislodge the solenoid gears and get them to spin freely again. Other times tapping the solenoid helps to restore an electrical connection. Jarring the solenoid a little bit helps the electrical wires make a connection again.
As a mechanic, we sometimes joke about how dropping an object will fix it. (I call it a 12-inch calibration). Tapping the starter is a way to get the starter going temporarily.
Eventually, you will need to replace the starter.
Some other things could be wrong and are worth checking:
If you are getting a rapid clicking from your starter, or no noise, it could indicate a dead battery. See if your radio works. If all of the electronics are dead, your battery voltage may be too low, and you need to jumpstart the car.
Corroded or Loose Battery Cable
Loose battery cables are so easy to overlook. Start by grasping them and trying to wiggle them. If they wiggle, they are loose and may not be getting the connection you need to start. Additionally, if there is heavy corrosion, don’t touch the cables. Instead, pour banking soda and vinegar or soda on them to eat the corrosion away.
Dead Fuel Pump
If your car will turn over but not start, it is probably a dead fuel pump. Have someone turn the key on while putting your ear by the fuel tank. You should hear a slight whine, indicating the fuel pump is primed and ready to start.
Loose Ground Wire
This goes along with the loose cables at the battery terminals. Follow the wire from the battery to where it attaches to the car frame. If it has been cut or is detached, this will cause starting problems.
How A Starter Works
Turning the key into the start position sends electricity into the starter control circuit. This current energizes the starter solenoid. Once energized, the starter solenoid (which is a tiny electromagnet) engages the starter.
The starter spins a gear up into the engine, where the gear teeth mesh with the engine’s flywheel (or flex-plate). After a few quick spins of the engine crankshaft, the engine’s combustion takes over, and you release the key, allowing the starter motor to disengage.
A starter can wear with age. Like most motors, a starter motor uses brushes made from graphite that wear over time. Rust can also accumulate on metal connections inside of the motor housing.
Inside the solenoid, it does not take much rust to interfere with its performance. A few gentle taps on the top of the starter are all that it takes to get the electromagnets moving again.
How To Fix A Starter With A Hammer
When you have a faulty starter, you can often get it to start a few more times by tapping it with a hammer or tire iron.
You are not repairing a bad starter with your hammer. You are just trying to jar it back into working a few more times.
I prefer to tap directly on the solenoid portion to get the electromagnet to engage. Have 3 or 4 taps; I will have someone turn the key into the start position to see if it works. If it still doesn’t work, then I might try tapping on the side of the starter itself.
If that still doesn’t work, have someone try holding the key in the start position while you tap it.
After you start your car this way, it should be driven to a shop for a complete repair. You are dealing with worn-out brushes or a failing solenoid, and the starter needs a mechanic to replace it.
However, in emergencies or when trying to avoid a tow fee, this is a handy trick to have in your back pocket. Any auto shop will be able to install a new starter for you.
Symptoms Of A Bad Starter
- A car that cranks slowly.
- A car that clicks but doesn’t start.
- The interior lights dim when you try to start, indicating excessive draw.
- A grinding noise when you attempt to start the car.
- Whining noise when attempting to start.
- A whining noise after starting as the starter fails to disengage.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long will tapping the starter work?
I have had it last for a few months. Generally, I have to tap it once or twice the first month and then the tapping more and more frequently until it finally stops working. (I grew up really poor, and vehicle repairs got pushed off until the last minute).
Why do I have to hit my starter with a hammer?
A few good taps help to dislodge what is causing it to stick. On a weak starter motor, the vibration can help give the motor the help it needs to get free and start spinning. In some cases, the brushes are worn and need help contacting the commutator bars.
Can you hit your starter with a hammer?
Yes, you can hit your starter with a hammer. However, I recommend doing it lightly and going for some gentle taps to help it get going again.