Kickstart my heart: one man’s rocky relationship with his vehicle’s starter

Toughone_Starter_SStarterThe starter and I have long had an uneasy relationship. We hit rock bottom a few years ago, but since then we’ve patched up our differences and things have been going pretty well. At least up until last week. But that’s ok. Every relationship is going to have its ups and downs, right?

The problem is that for a while there, the starter was letting me down, consistently. I couldn’t count on it when I needed it most, and that kind of behavior will put a serious damper on any relationship in a heartbeat. If I want this relationship to work, I know I need to look ahead and stop dwelling on the past injustices starters have inflicted upon me, but someone needs to hear my side of the story.

There was the time before the 18-inch snowstorm. We were going on three winters without measurable snow, and I was itching for a big one so I could go out and plow my driveway, my neighbors’ driveways, the roads in the neighborhood, and pretty much any other flat, snow-covered surface that would give me an excuse to keep plowing, and playing. The old Massey Ferguson 65 tractor had its tank filled with off-road diesel, battery charged, and the block heater plugged in. In the morning, I’d be ready to push some snow. Unfortunately, my tractor starter had other ideas. That’s the time it picked to fail. After I finished clearing the driveway, by hand, I removed that tractor starter and found it filled with an oily, watery mess. No surprise it had stopped working.

Then there was the time I was selling my riding lawn mower at our moving sale. It was well on its way to being sold, until the prospective buyer went to start it. Yep, you guessed it. The tractor starter failed and needed to be replaced before he’d complete the sale. The nerve!

How about the Valentine’s Day dinner in the city that never was because the car starter on the old ’85 Chevy Caprice that grandma was kind enough to pass on to us newlyweds picked that night to die. Not feeling the love.

And finally, there was the long-running battle of three consecutive truck starter failures, each about nine months apart, on my ’99 F150. Turns out my neighbor really didn’t know how to rebuild a truck starter. Once I wised up an replaced it with a quality truck starter, the problem was solved.

If there’s a silver lining to these experiences, it’s that the starter and I are still together (like I have a choice), I now know how to replace a starter; I know the importance of buying a good replacement starter, and I can usually hear when a starter is getting ready to check out of a relationship. Oh yeah, and I can usually get a malfunctioning car starter to work a couple more times simply by banging on it with a hammer.

If the starter in your life is giving you grief, here’s some relationship advice.

  • The end may be near. If you hear an odd metallic grinding sound from under the hood, or if there is just a clicking sound when turning the key before the engine finally cranks, your car starter could be on its last legs.
  • Diagnose the problem. If you suspect the starter might be bad, get it tested. Stop by your local Advance Auto Parts store for free testing. If the vehicle won’t start, just bring in the starter instead.
  • Bang on it. If the starter has indeed failed and left you stranded, try banging on it with a hammer. Oftentimes this will get it working again, but it’s not a trick you should rely on more than once. Instead, make a note that reads “replace starter” and put it somewhere you’ll see it.
  • Replace it. Swapping out a malfunctioning starter with a new one isn’t rocket science. First, check out this video for some quick tips. While this procedure can vary depending on the vehicle year, make and model, here are the starter-replacement steps, in a nutshell:
    1. Locate your starter.
    2. Disconnect the negative battery cable.
    3. Label and disconnect the wires on the starter.
    4. Unbolt the car starter, being careful not to drop it as it may be heavy.
    5. Install the new starter.
    6. Reconnect the wires.
    7. Reconnect the negative battery cable.
    8. Start the vehicle.

Since I started purchasing quality replacement starters,  instead of asking my neighbor to try and rebuild them for me, the starter and I have had a much better relationship. I’m hoping it stays that way, and not just because they’re calling for 12 to 14 inches tonight.

Editor’s note: If you and your starter are going through a bit of a rough patch in your relationship, Advance Auto Parts can help. Buy online, pick up in store–in 30 minutes.