Diagnosing the Noise: Car Won’t Start Just Clicks

Couple checking why their car won't start but makes a clicking sound.

You know the moment: you’ve been rushed all morning and running late for work. You dash to the car, buckle up, and turn the key. With a series of clicks, your car fails to start.

Even if you don’t consider yourself proficient in automotive repair, possessing some knowledge about your vehicle’s issues is advantageous to effectively communicate with your mechanic. I appreciate it when my clients can describe their engine issues so we can be prepared and understand the severity of the issues ahead of time. 

And, while I do appreciate it when clients attempt to ‘mimic’ the sounds that their car is making  (for my own entertainment purposes), a lot can get lost in human translation. 

With that in mind, we have this helpful guide to help our clients understand and diagnose some common noises and problems with your engine. Today, we’re starting with the most common: when you hear a car clicking noise when starting your car.

Additionally, you can refer to our blog post on Troubleshooting Car Noises When Turning.

One Single Click Versus Rapid Clicking

Generally, a click will indicate an electrical issue. The problem is: that there are a lot of different parts in your engine that can be causing that electrical issue. 

Car owners often identify two distinct types of clicks: one single click with no engine turnover and one rapid clicking. While it’s not a simple “diagnose from the noise alone” situation, the difference between fast clicking and slow clicking can give us some clues about the issue and its potential severity. 

Car Makes a Series Of Rapid Clicks 

Is your car making a sequence of rapid clicking sounds similar to this when you attempt to start the vehicle by turning the key in the ignition?

The good news is: that this could be a simple problem to fix. Usually, a rapid clicking noise indicates that your starter’s motor isn’t getting enough electrical current to engage – basically, your solenoid is trying to engage but can’t make the connection. This lack of electrical current could be a sign of a failing car battery, a bad connection at the battery, or even a bad alternator that isn’t properly recharging the battery. Best case scenario, your car battery or posts need cleaning.

Car Makes a Single Click When Trying To Start

Does your car make a single loud click like this when it tries to start?

Especially if you’re hearing one single click, some mechanics would immediately jump to your starter engine being the culprit. However, there is still a strong possibility that the issue could be simply a dirty, corroded, or car battery drain. A series of slow clicks (like below) may be an indication of this.  

This could be the case even if some of your vehicle’s other battery features seemed to be charged. This is because most vehicles require at least 12 volts to start, however, your radio and interior lights can happily function with less than that.

Where to Start In Both Situations

A clicking engine (regardless of speed or noise) could be traced back to several malfunctioning parts. My general rule of thumb is: to start with the easiest and least expensive options first and then slowly move up the complicated ladder.

First things first, start with your battery: 

So here’s how to check if your battery is the problem:

a.) First, do a visual check of your battery. Ensure that your battery and PST are clean and free from any major corrosion. 

b.) Then, check your battery terminal connectors — if these are dirty, the issue is likely that your battery is unable to connect to your car starter because of the grime. Ensure you clean these connections carefully: ensure your car isn’t running, disconnect the car battery clamps from the battery terminals, and then begin cleaning with something like a wire brush or an old toothbrush. 

If you have a lot of caked-on grime, you can use a baking soda and water solution with the toothbrush. After cleaning, proceed to rinse the terminals thoroughly and then dry them using a cloth.

c.) If your battery, posts, and connectors appear to be clean and functioning, you may just have a dead battery. Short of having specialized equipment such as a multi-meter or battery load tester, the easiest way to check your battery is by seeing if it will respond to a jump start. 

You can follow our step-by-step guide to safely jumpstart your vehicle > 

Last but not least: check your cabling. 

The next area to troubleshoot is the next step in the starter process: your engine cables. Most starters will have three cables connected to them: two from the battery (to the solenoid and the starter itself) and one from the ignition to the solenoid. Again, you should take the same checks as you did with your battery: check for any fraying or corrosion along your cable lines and check the ports for cleanliness.


If not my battery then what?

Once you have gone through your car battery and cabling check, the problem gets a little more complicated. Diagnosing a specific issue in your car starter or alternator requires several specialized tools and levels of knowledge. Unless you are a seasoned home mechanic, we recommend reaching out to your trusted car mechanic at this point. 

Revolution Motors’ technicians are well-seasoned in diagnosing and fixing electrical engine problems and car battery replacements. Give us a call or book your appointment online. Our shop is open Monday to Friday, between 7:30 AM and 5:00 PM. Contactless and secure drop-offs are also available.

Posted 01/15/2021 by in Auto Advice

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