Diagnose the Noise: Car Won’t Start but Makes a Clicking Noise (with Audio)

Young couple examining a car engine.

You know the moment: you’ve been rushed all morning and you’re running late for work. You dash to the car, buckle up, and turn the key. Click, click, click. Then nothing. The car won’t start.

Even if you don’t fancy yourself a DIY Mechanic, it’s always better to be armed with some details about your car issues to better communicate with your mechanic. I personally 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 put together 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 your car won’t start but makes a clicking noise. 

One Single Click Versus Rapid Clicking

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

Most often, car owners 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 a slow one can give us some clue about the issue and it’s potential severity.  

Car Makes a Series Of Rapid Clicks 

Is your car making a series of rapid clicks like this when you turn your key in the ignition?

The good news is: this could be a simple problem to fix. Usually a rapid clicking noise is a good indication that your starter 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 because of a failing battery, a bad connection at the battery or even a bad alternator that isn’t properly recharging your battery. Best case scenario, your 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 drained battery. A series of slow clicks (like below) may be an indication of this.   

This could be the case even if some of your vehicles 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 a number of malfunctioning parts. My general rule of thumb is: 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 and gunged up, the issue is likely that your battery is unable to connect to your starter because of the grime. Ensure you clean these connections carefully: ensure your car isn’t running, disconnect the clamps from the battery terminals, 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 water solution with the toothbrush. Once they’re clean, rinse the terminals and dry with a rag.  

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 mulit-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 it: 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 than what?

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

Revolution Motors’ technicians are well-seasoned when it comes to diagnosing and fixing electrical engine problems. Give us a call or book your appointment online. Our shop is open Monday to Friday, 7:30-5:00pm. Contactless and secure drop off is also available.

Posted 01/15/2021 by in Auto Advice

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