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How to tell if a starter is going bad?


Obi Wan
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64 BJ8. Original starter. Every once in a while when starting the car, cold or warm, the starter will turn over once then stop. Try again, turns over once, maybe twice then stops. Try again, then maybe it starts or have to do it again. But always starts within 3-4 tries. It starts within one or two cranks. Never just turns over and over, etc till it starts. Cars starts immediately, first or second crank almost all of the time.

Yesterday, different situation. Car was cold, started first crank. Drove it to a restaurant, 15minutes. Three hours after dinner, started right up. Drove it to a friends house, 15min. Parked it, turned key off. Noticed I parked to close to another car. Turn key cranked once didn't start. Tried again, will not turn over. Just click sound. Tried 3 times, would not turn over. 3 hours later, turned the key started right up. Turn it off, tried again, started right up, drove home. This morning, turned the key, started right up. I put the trickle charger on the battery to find out how charged up it is. 15 minutes later showed it was fully charged.

The battery seems fine. Why does the starter sometimes act like it's not going to start the car? It seems like the battery isn't providing enough current, but it does. I've checked that all cables are tight to the starter and solenoid. Last nights example of only getting a click, 3 times starter not turning over, then 3 hrs later, starts no problem?

Healey Nut

Luke Skywalker
Country flag
How old is the battery ?
More than 5yrs and I would be questioning the battery .
Put a GR starter on it and your starter problems will be gone for good .


Darth Vader
Hi Roger,

I had a similar issue with my original starter (still in use) and pulled, dismantled, and cleaned the starter's internals. I also replaced the brushes and the engine turned reliably but slowly. Using 20W50 Racing Oil and powered by a 10 year old Optima battery, I felt the battery was probably my issue but many seemed to think my cold oil was too viscus and recommended I change to a gear reduction starter. Wanting to go 20W50 Synthetic Racing oil but not willing to pay the price, I found Mobile1 15W50 at a good price at Walmart and decided to try it. My starter spun the engine faster then it had for in decades and I have kept my battery, starter, and changed to Mobile 1 … now changing oil less frequently (once/year).

I would suspect your starter may need cleaning and servicing and/or the solenoid replaced. Also, check your ground (engine, battery switch) as heat could push an electrical contact fault over the edge when marginals.

Good Luck,


Jedi Knight
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The intermittant nature of this issue makes it hard to pinpoint a problem. All of the suggestions are possible issues. In addition to what has been suggested, you may troubleshoot the battery by simply looking at the voltage drop when you engage the starter. If you are dropping to 7- 8V (just my personal number) it may mean that even though your charger says it is fully charged, it cannot supply the amperage for a useful length of time. I would also make sure you have an excellent clean ground for the start circuit. I've got a geared starter but before I did I had added a separate ground strap on one of the starter bolts to the frame. I've also added a digital volt meter to a spot just under my dash. If the battery really is good, then just see what happens if you bypass the start solenoid by clipping some jumper cables direct from the battery to the post on the starter and a good chassis ground, dependant on the polarity of your electrical system. Or, if you have small enough alligator clips you could just by pass the solenoid by clipping to the hot side and direct to the starter. Please check for neutral before you do this......(I don't know why I mention that except that you will thank what ever you pray to that the car didn't happen to move because you forgot). Also, good tight and clean battery connections are often overlooked if there are no visible signs. It never hurts to clean and tighten them. If you have the original solenoid, like the battery cutoff switches they can be finicky and work fine sometimes and not other times; if the problem persists (and note that you have not spent a dime) I'd take a good look at the starter , starting (no pun intended) with a check of the brushes, commutator and bearings; obviously removed from the car. If you want to have some excitement, secure the starter to a bench and put power to it with no load. A good starter will try to torque itself free from your bench with some pretty high RPMs like right now. Mind your necktie or gold bling and the Bendix drive if you do this. After all that I have to say I love my geared starter and do not miss the slow to no cranking I used to get once in a while. I'm keeping my old starter for the next owner.
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Country flag
"I'm keeping my old starter for the next owner."

Yes, I have the starter that was on my car when I bought it 20 years ago, along with the starter I bought 19 years ago to replace THAT starter, in a box for god knows what reason.

Get a gear reduction starter in any case--and do check all the grounds. I use tinned terminals.
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Darth Vader

One last point. Depending on what you are using to maintain your battery over extended periods of vehicle inactivity, low amperage (2-amp) charger/maintainers could create a chemical condition that actually blocks the battery from gaining a deep charge but may indicate being fully charged. To brake this chemical block, I was instructed to charge my Optima non-liquid battery at 10-amps for an extended period. As a result, my Optima is now going strong at its age of beyond 10 years. I was also told this process could be used on a liquid battery but it must be monitored closely to assure that fluid does not fall below the plates. Since I have only had experience with this process on Optima batteries, I can not recommend using it with other types.

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John Turney

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Check your battery cutoff switch if you still have it. Mine acted like that when I first got it. Changed the switch (they can be disassembled and cleaned) and no more problem.
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John is correct and I keep my old cutoff switch--replaced with a modern equivalent made by Hella--in the box with the old starters.

Bob Hughes

Luke Skywalker
Country flag
I am with Roscoe on this, a heavy draw on the battery sorts the good from the bad, and the Starter solenoid could be on the way out.

You have checked all the main leads for tightness, but are the actual connections clean and what about that earth strap from chassis to engine? It is an intermittent problem which could be symptomatic of a wire going down, possibly at the terminals, though I have never heard of that other than in house wiring in a double pole switch. (don't ask me how I know about that)

Have you checked the brushes. I had a wiper motor that worked perfectly until I decided to inspect it and then it did not - turned out that the brushes had worn completely away, the brush holders were nicely profiled to the commutator and the commutator was nicely re-profiled to the extent that I needed a replacement wiper motor or at least a replacement armature.



Healey 100

Jedi Warrior
Agree with most everything, especially cleaning up the wiring, connections and grounds. An analog voltmeter applied to various terminals during cranking can be invaluable to id voltage drops between battery and starter. Should not be more than a volt across a connection during cranking..
An inductive meter can measure the current draw during cranking. Coked up pistons and heads can drive up compression and stall a starter. Compression test helps spot this.
Suspect your problem is the battery, especially if your car is parked a lot. Those old Lucas starters are tough. I've had an original in mine for years and it cranks slowly but surely still.
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