3 Steps To Test A Starter Solenoid: Tips And More!

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The starter solenoid is a fairly simple mechanism that transmits electrical current from the battery to the starter. When you turn the key, the solenoid engages, using the electric starter in the starter to crank the engine. If the solenoid is not working properly, your vehicle may not start. Continue reading and learn how to test a starter solenoid correctly.

How to test the starter solenoid

Being able to determine if the problem is the starter solenoid, the battery, or the starter motor itself can save you time and money by fixing it yourself and trying to get the repair done.

Test A Starter Solenoid
Test A Starter Solenoid

1. Location of starter solenoid

Start by locating the starter solenoid and narrow down the cause of the problem.

Open the hood of the vehicle.

The starter motor and solenoid are located on your vehicle’s engine. To access it, pull the hood release located near the door on the driver’s side of the vehicle.

  • You will need to release the safety latch located at the front of the vehicle in order to open the hood as well.
  • If you can’t locate the security unlock, check your car’s owner’s manual for instructions.

Find the boot.

The starter is usually located near where the engine and transmission meet. The starter itself is usually cylindrical in shape with a smaller cylinder attached to it. There should be a cable going directly from the positive battery terminal to the starter.

  • Although the designs come in many sizes, they are generally the same shape.
  • Consult your vehicle’s service manual if you are unable to locate the starter.

Identify the cylinder on the starter side.

The smaller cylinder attached to the top or side of the starter or starter motor is the starter solenoid. It’s a fairly simple electrical mechanism that can fail, preventing the starter from engaging and starting the engine.

  • The starter solenoid will have two terminals sticking out of its end.
  • The battery cable connects to one of those two terminals.

Listen for the click of the solenoid when you turn the key.

Have a friend turn the key in the ignition to try to start the vehicle. Listen carefully, as you should hear a click as the starter solenoid engages. If you don’t hear a click, the starter solenoid may be malfunctioning.. If you hear a click, the solenoid may be on, but not enough.

  • An audible click without the starter moving means the solenoid is transferring power, but it may not be enough.
  • If there is no click, the solenoid is not engaging properly, but this could also be due to a dead battery.

If your starter solenoid is bad, you may hear a clicking noise when you turn the key, or your vehicle may not have power at all.

Check the battery.

If your starter fails to make a connection, it may be because the battery doesn’t have enough power to power it. Rule this out by testing the battery with a voltmeter.. Low power can cause the starter to click but not engage. Place the positive (red) lead on the voltmeter on the positive terminal of the battery and the negative (black) lead on the negative terminal.

  • Your battery should measure around 12 volts at rest before attempting to start the car.
  • If the voltage is low, the battery may only need to be charged.

2. Solenoid Current Check

The second step in testing the starter solenoid is to check that there is indeed current to the solenoid.

Connect a test light to the output terminal of the solenoid.

There are two small terminals sticking out of the face of a starter solenoid. One is the 12 volt positive (top) coming from the battery. When the starter solenoid is activated, it internally connects the lower terminal to the upper terminal, connecting the starter motor.

  • There should be continuous power going to the top terminal of the solenoid.
  • Push the red test light wire into the top terminal and hold it in place.

Connect the black wire from the test light to ground.

The black test light lead must be connected to a grounded surface to complete the circuit and check the power passing through it. Any part of the vehicle body will suffice as ground, provided it is bare metal.

  • You can touch the black wire to any bare metal on the car body.
  • You can also touch the negative terminal of the battery.

Observe the light.

If the light comes on when the test light touches the top terminal of the starter solenoid and the other lead connected to ground, it means there is electricity coming from the battery to the starter solenoid itself. This means there could be a problem with the solenoid, rather than just a dead battery.

  • Once you’ve confirmed that there is power going to the solenoid, you can test if the solenoid is transferring power correctly.

Change the red wire to the bottom terminal of the solenoid.

Now that you have confirmed that there is power going into the solenoid, the next step is to determine if the solenoid is transferring power correctly or not. Put the red wire on the bottom terminal which should only have power when the vehicle is starting.

  • Hold the wire in place at the bottom terminal.
  • Also keep the black wire grounded.

Have a friend start the engine.

While you’re holding the two wires in place, have a friend turn the ignition key. This should cause the solenoid bridge to make the connections internally and send power to the bottom terminal of the solenoid.

  • Be careful not to put your hands or clothing in the path of any engine components that could move if the vehicle starts.
  • Do not allow the test light wiring to dangle in the area around the straps.

Look for the light to turn on.

If the test light comes on, the solenoid is transferring power from the battery to the starter. Also, if the starter does not engage even though the light comes on, the starter solenoid may need to be replaced. If the light does not come on, the solenoid is not transferring power and will need to be replaced.

  • You can often buy a starter motor and starter solenoid together, as it can be easier to change both at the same time.
  • Be sure to tell the clerk at your local auto parts store the correct year, make, and model of your vehicle so you can purchase the correct replacement parts.

3. Current withstand test

Now you can test the starter solenoid with a multimeterin case you have one, it will surely be easy for you to use it.

Connect the voltmeter to the positive terminal of the battery.

A voltmeter will show you how much voltage is currently passing through the circuit that the meter is part of. Start by connecting the positive (red) lead of the voltmeter to the positive terminal of the battery.

  • The positive terminal will be labeled with the letters “POS” or the positive symbol (+).
  • Some volt meters can clip into place, while others may require you to hold them in order to get them to the battery.

Connect the negative cable to the ground terminal.

This test is to determine how much voltage the starter solenoid is drawing from the battery when trying to crank. Place the negative (black) lead of the voltmeter on the negative terminal of the battery to complete the circuit.

  • With the positive and negative cables connected to the battery, the voltmeter should light up.

Look at the voltmeter reading.

Your car’s battery should produce about 12 volts when it’s not running low. Read the voltmeter display so you can make sure your battery is producing an adequate level of power.

  • If the voltmeter reads less than 12 volts, the vehicle may not be starting due to insufficient battery charge.
  • The number may jump as you wiggle the wires around a bit and the meter tries to read the voltage. Wait for it to settle to determine the base voltage.

Have a friend start the engine.

While you’re holding the cables to the positive and negative battery terminals, ask a friend to turn the key in the ignition to try to start the car. Be careful to stay away from anything that might move if the engine does start.

  • The battery voltage reading should drop about a half volt as the jump starter tries to start the car.
  • If the voltage does not drop, there is a problem with the battery connection to the starter.

Move the voltmeter to the starter solenoid leads.

Place the positive lead of the voltmeter on the bottom terminal of the solenoid (closest to the starter). Next, place the negative cable on the highest top terminal coming from the battery. Have your friend turn the key again.

  • Make sure the wires are firmly touching or connected to the terminals coming from the solenoid for a good reading.

Look for an appropriate voltage drop.

The voltage drop you see across the solenoid should match the voltage drop you see across the battery. The voltage drop should not exceed half a volt. If you don’t read any voltage, the solenoid needs to be replaced.

  • If the voltage drops less than half a volt, there is a problem inside the solenoid.
  • If the voltage drops too low, there may be a fault somewhere in the connection, such as a wavy line from the battery to the solenoid.

The starter solenoid is a fairly simple mechanism that transmits electrical current from the battery to the starter. When you turn the key, the solenoid engages, using the electric starter in the starter to crank the engine. If the solenoid is not working properly, your vehicle may not start. Continue reading and learn how to test a starter solenoid correctly.

How to test the starter solenoid

Being able to determine if the problem is the starter solenoid, the battery, or the starter motor itself can save you time and money by fixing it yourself and trying to get the repair done.

Test A Starter Solenoid
Test A Starter Solenoid

1. Location of starter solenoid

Start by locating the starter solenoid and narrow down the cause of the problem.

Open the hood of the vehicle.

The starter motor and solenoid are located on your vehicle’s engine. To access it, pull the hood release located near the door on the driver’s side of the vehicle.

  • You will need to release the safety latch located at the front of the vehicle in order to open the hood as well.
  • If you can’t locate the security unlock, check your car’s owner’s manual for instructions.

Find the boot.

The starter is usually located near where the engine and transmission meet. The starter itself is usually cylindrical in shape with a smaller cylinder attached to it. There should be a cable going directly from the positive battery terminal to the starter.

  • Although the designs come in many sizes, they are generally the same shape.
  • Consult your vehicle’s service manual if you are unable to locate the starter.

Identify the cylinder on the starter side.

The smaller cylinder attached to the top or side of the starter or starter motor is the starter solenoid. It’s a fairly simple electrical mechanism that can fail, preventing the starter from engaging and starting the engine.

  • The starter solenoid will have two terminals sticking out of its end.
  • The battery cable connects to one of those two terminals.

Listen for the click of the solenoid when you turn the key.

Have a friend turn the key in the ignition to try to start the vehicle. Listen carefully, as you should hear a click as the starter solenoid engages. If you don’t hear a click, the starter solenoid may be malfunctioning.. If you hear a click, the solenoid may be on, but not enough.

  • An audible click without the starter moving means the solenoid is transferring power, but it may not be enough.
  • If there is no click, the solenoid is not engaging properly, but this could also be due to a dead battery.

If your starter solenoid is bad, you may hear a clicking noise when you turn the key, or your vehicle may not have power at all.

Check the battery.

If your starter fails to make a connection, it may be because the battery doesn’t have enough power to power it. Rule this out by testing the battery with a voltmeter.. Low power can cause the starter to click but not engage. Place the positive (red) lead on the voltmeter on the positive terminal of the battery and the negative (black) lead on the negative terminal.

  • Your battery should measure around 12 volts at rest before attempting to start the car.
  • If the voltage is low, the battery may only need to be charged.

2. Solenoid Current Check

The second step in testing the starter solenoid is to check that there is indeed current to the solenoid.

Connect a test light to the output terminal of the solenoid.

There are two small terminals sticking out of the face of a starter solenoid. One is the 12 volt positive (top) coming from the battery. When the starter solenoid is activated, it internally connects the lower terminal to the upper terminal, connecting the starter motor.

  • There should be continuous power going to the top terminal of the solenoid.
  • Push the red test light wire into the top terminal and hold it in place.

Connect the black wire from the test light to ground.

The black test light lead must be connected to a grounded surface to complete the circuit and check the power passing through it. Any part of the vehicle body will suffice as ground, provided it is bare metal.

  • You can touch the black wire to any bare metal on the car body.
  • You can also touch the negative terminal of the battery.

Observe the light.

If the light comes on when the test light touches the top terminal of the starter solenoid and the other lead connected to ground, it means there is electricity coming from the battery to the starter solenoid itself. This means there could be a problem with the solenoid, rather than just a dead battery.

  • Once you’ve confirmed that there is power going to the solenoid, you can test if the solenoid is transferring power correctly.

Change the red wire to the bottom terminal of the solenoid.

Now that you have confirmed that there is power going into the solenoid, the next step is to determine if the solenoid is transferring power correctly or not. Put the red wire on the bottom terminal which should only have power when the vehicle is starting.

  • Hold the wire in place at the bottom terminal.
  • Also keep the black wire grounded.

Have a friend start the engine.

While you’re holding the two wires in place, have a friend turn the ignition key. This should cause the solenoid bridge to make the connections internally and send power to the bottom terminal of the solenoid.

  • Be careful not to put your hands or clothing in the path of any engine components that could move if the vehicle starts.
  • Do not allow the test light wiring to dangle in the area around the straps.

Look for the light to turn on.

If the test light comes on, the solenoid is transferring power from the battery to the starter. Also, if the starter does not engage even though the light comes on, the starter solenoid may need to be replaced. If the light does not come on, the solenoid is not transferring power and will need to be replaced.

  • You can often buy a starter motor and starter solenoid together, as it can be easier to change both at the same time.
  • Be sure to tell the clerk at your local auto parts store the correct year, make, and model of your vehicle so you can purchase the correct replacement parts.

3. Current withstand test

Now you can test the starter solenoid with a multimeterin case you have one, it will surely be easy for you to use it.

Connect the voltmeter to the positive terminal of the battery.

A voltmeter will show you how much voltage is currently passing through the circuit that the meter is part of. Start by connecting the positive (red) lead of the voltmeter to the positive terminal of the battery.

  • The positive terminal will be labeled with the letters “POS” or the positive symbol (+).
  • Some volt meters can clip into place, while others may require you to hold them in order to get them to the battery.

Connect the negative cable to the ground terminal.

This test is to determine how much voltage the starter solenoid is drawing from the battery when trying to crank. Place the negative (black) lead of the voltmeter on the negative terminal of the battery to complete the circuit.

  • With the positive and negative cables connected to the battery, the voltmeter should light up.

Look at the voltmeter reading.

Your car’s battery should produce about 12 volts when it’s not running low. Read the voltmeter display so you can make sure your battery is producing an adequate level of power.

  • If the voltmeter reads less than 12 volts, the vehicle may not be starting due to insufficient battery charge.
  • The number may jump as you wiggle the wires around a bit and the meter tries to read the voltage. Wait for it to settle to determine the base voltage.

Have a friend start the engine.

While you’re holding the cables to the positive and negative battery terminals, ask a friend to turn the key in the ignition to try to start the car. Be careful to stay away from anything that might move if the engine does start.

  • The battery voltage reading should drop about a half volt as the jump starter tries to start the car.
  • If the voltage does not drop, there is a problem with the battery connection to the starter.

Move the voltmeter to the starter solenoid leads.

Place the positive lead of the voltmeter on the bottom terminal of the solenoid (closest to the starter). Next, place the negative cable on the highest top terminal coming from the battery. Have your friend turn the key again.

  • Make sure the wires are firmly touching or connected to the terminals coming from the solenoid for a good reading.

Look for an appropriate voltage drop.

The voltage drop you see across the solenoid should match the voltage drop you see across the battery. The voltage drop should not exceed half a volt. If you don’t read any voltage, the solenoid needs to be replaced.

  • If the voltage drops less than half a volt, there is a problem inside the solenoid.
  • If the voltage drops too low, there may be a fault somewhere in the connection, such as a wavy line from the battery to the solenoid.

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