My starter seems to work, but it’s too slow or dragging. What causes that?
Most likely the battery, but there are other possibilities. All starter and alternator diagnosis starts out the same. It always begins with testing the battery. No matter what the symptoms, no other tests can be performed until the battery is known to be good. If professional test equipment is not in the person’s possession, battery removal and transport to a local battery vender for a thorough charge and check is paramount.
Even if the battery is new, even if the battery is brand new. Starting and charging system diagnosis is a procedure, and the procedure begins with a thorough battery charge and check with professional equipment. It is not possible to proceed with further diagnosis until a charged and checked battery has been established. However, some individuals refuse to take this step. They simply consider this advice, and mentally deduct that this step can be skipped. These people are very foolish. A diagnostic possibility cannot be eliminated without action. If you don’t have battery charging and testing equipment you MUST take the vehicle or the vehicle battery to a local battery vendor for evaluation.
SEARCH FOR HEAT
After the battery state of charge and functionality has been established, we can begin to look for resistance. Nature dictates there is always one thing present when we have resistance :
Heat. Crank the engine several times. If necessary, disable the ignition or fuel to allow a 10 second cranking time. Now check the cables and connections for heat. Start at the battery terminal connections and CAREFULLY SO YOU DON’T GET BURNED run your hands along both cables feeling for a hot spot. Wherever the hot spot is, that’s where the problem is.
Visual inspection for signs of heat is also key. Assess the overall ambient conditions under the hood and undercarriage. Is it generally oily ? Do you see an area like the battery cable ground bolt that is dry but the rest of the car is oily? This is a sign of heat. The connection needs redone. Is the overall ambient conditions under the hood unrusty and clean but you notice an area or connection that is rusty ? This is a sign of heat.
SIGNS OF HEAT ON THE STARTER
A very, very common place for heat and signs of heat can be found with the car up on a lift or on jack stands. It is located on the starter solenoid connection. Not the small ignition trigger connection but on the hi amp connection where the battery cable bolts on. Many times, signs of heat can be visually detected when the solenoid area is dry and rusty looking, and the rest of the surrounding area has no rust and appears much cleaner.
If this scenario is caught in time, the connection can be taken apart, cleaned with a wire brush or metal buffing wheel, and re assembled with new fasteners and a healthy dose of dielectric or with lithium grease. We do not support the use of lock washers in this area as explained in the “ Lock washers “ article. However this situation almost always results in starter removal and replacement because it can be virtually impossible to get the connection apart without breaking the solenoid. Many of these connections have deteriorated so far that the cable end eyelet has to be cut off to expedite starter removal. Then a new eyelet connector has to be installed and crimped or soldered.
Sometimes a new battery cable can be the source of a dragging starter. Some of the cables available at various big box automotive supply houses are mass produced on an overzealous budget. The insulation on the outside of the battery cables is very attractive and appears to be heavy duty. However the copper center is little more than a speaker wire. This seems like an outrageous insult to the auto repair customer, but is actually fueled by consumer choices to be attracted to the cheapest price.
This is an important point to consider when purchasing new cables as well. As is the case in most automotive repair, try to avoid the cheapest purchase for electrical starters and peripheral supplies. Not only do you create more work for yourself in the long run, but you also encourage retailers to inventory low quality merchandise which is damaging to the overall industry.
RELAYS (SOLENOIDS ON THE FIREWALL)
Starter relays or solenoids on the firewall (not mounted to the starter) are common mostly on Ford. Later Ford trucks may have 2 solenoids. One on the firewall and one on the starter itself.
The biggest problem with Ford relays is rampant low quality in the aftermarket. Many well intending but terribly mis- informed back alley mechanics replace Ford relays needlessly. Replacement is usually not such a hard job, but the tragedy is the person removes a high quality relay, and replaces it with junk. Usually discarding the OE.
The mis diagnosis occurs when the solenoid makes a fluttering or growling sound and the truck won’t start. Everybody wants to run out and get a solenoid relay because they think the growling noise from the solenoid means the solenoid is bad. It does not. It means the solenoid has low voltage from the battery. It can be caused by a low battery or bad connections but it does not mean the solenoid is bad. OE relays are practically bullet proof.