What Is That Grinding Noise When I Start My Car?

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Hearing a grinding noise when you start your car typically isn't a good sign. The problem usually lies with misaligned gears in your starter, a low battery, or a worn flywheel.
While it may be hard to identify exactly which piece is causing the grinding, repairs should be pretty straightforward once you do!
To make your life easier, the insurance shopping and broker app Jerry has put together a guide to help identify, diagnose, and fix that grinding noise in your car.

What is the grinding noise?

Typically, there are three possible sources of a grinding noise when starting the car: the battery, flywheel, or starter. Hearing grinding usually indicates an internal problem rather than an issue of, say, starting your car in the cold.  

Batteries

When batteries run low on power, they’ll rapidly alternate between the on and off positions instead of staying on, which could cause something that sounds like grinding. 
In general, you should replace your battery every 3-5 years. If it’s been longer than that, you should probably switch out your old battery with a new one.

Flywheel

Flywheels help bring power between the engine and transmission. If your flywheel is worn down, it might start skipping notches in the connecting gears. The sound you hear could be coming from your flywheel tapping against the gears. 
That being said, flywheels are typically found in manual cars, so it's usually not the problem if your car has an automatic transmission
Remember, a loose or damaged flywheel could also prevent you from shifting gears on the road. So get your car checked out as soon as possible if you suspect the flywheel is to blame for that grinding noise!

Starter

Starters are little motors that kick your engine into gear. But they may start to grind when the gears get worn down, shifted, or misplaced.
If your starter is broken, you typically won’t be able to start your car. While there are exceptions, an engine with a broken starter is always close to failing.

How do I diagnose it?

While it’s not the same as taking the car in to a professional, you can usually identify the source of the grinding noise by listening to your engine
Pay attention to the noise your engine makes when starting the car, if it’s grinding when starting and accelerating, and if it’s a consistent or occasional grinding noise. 

Slow, heavy ticking sound

If the ticking sound is slow and strong, then it’s likely a problem with the battery. Every time the battery switches on and fails, it needs a moment to gather more energy to try again.

High-pitched whirring sound

If the sound is fast and high-pitched, it’s probably a problem with the Flywheel. The flywheel moves so fast that the tapping sound of worn notches hitting the other gears will sound like a consistent buzz.

Consistent, rough grinding sound

A lower-pitched, consistent grinding will usually indicate an issue with the starter
While the starter also includes a gear, it has fewer notches than the flywheel. As a result, it should make a constant grinding sound with a lower tone than a broken flywheel.

How should I fix it?

While these issues can be quickly fixed, repairs can range from $100 to $1,000 or more!

Fixing the battery

When it comes to a low battery, your best option is usually replacing the battery. While you can have a professional change it for somewhere from $50 to $200, you can also follow these steps to do it yourself:
  • Remove the cables from your battery—starting with the negative (-) terminal. Keep any metal tools off the terminals.
  • Loosen or remove any fasteners, screws, or bolts holding the battery in place.
  • Have a friend help you lift out the battery—they often weigh between 40 and 60 lbs!
  • Clean away any existing corrosion on the clamps with a wire brush and a mix of water and baking soda.
  • Place your new battery in the holder.
  • Connect the clamps to your new battery terminals—starting with the positive (+) terminal.
  • Carefully turn on the car to make sure it works.
  • Fasten the battery in place by reattaching any screws, clips, or bolts you removed earlier.

Fixing the flywheel

Broken flywheels are complicated fixes, and they call for professional work. Unfortunately, flywheel repairs or replacements will often cost around $1,000. 
The job involves removing the transmission from your car, piecing it apart, finding the flywheel, and replacing it. If that’s not enough, whoever takes it apart will need to go back into the car and reassemble everything afterward!

Fixing the starter

Alternatively, starters can be fixed for the relatively low price of about $350! The labor involved in this task can be fairly simple or very complex, so it’s best to leave this task to a professional, too. 
Aside from their expertise, a trained mechanic will have the necessary tools to lift the car and disassemble any interfering mechanical parts.

Find cheap car insurance

Unfortunately, your car insurance policy will usually only cover damages that result from collisions or incidents, so you’ll likely have to pay out of pocket for these wear-and-tear-type damages. 
But you can still offset the price of repairs by saving on car insurance with Jerry
A licensed broker, the Jerry app helps users save an average of $897 a year. Just download the app, enter your information, and Jerry will find you personalized quotes in minutes by searching over 50 top providers.
“I was paying $350 a month for my new car. With Jerry, I set up a new policy in under 30 minutes that will save me over $1000 a year!” —Mariah K.

FAQs about grinding noises when starting a car

Bad starters will often make grinding noises if their gears are worn down or the starter relay is failing. When the gears are worn down, the notches will tap against the surrounding metal resulting in a constant grinding sound.
While the starter relay won’t make as much of a grinding sound, its constant attempts at sparking the starter to life will make a repetitive clicking sound. A bad starter relay will sound like the starter on a gas stove when you hold it down.

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