Cars tend to break down at the worst possible time. We’ve all been there. You are already running late, so you hop into the car and turn the key. Instead of starting up, the car clicks. You are already frustrated, so diagnosing a car that won’t start is not something you are looking forward to. Thankfully, this can sometimes be a fairly easy fix. We are here to help you by telling you 7 of the most common causes of the clicking noise and giving you some ways to fix it. Keep reading for all the details.
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Single Click VS Rapid Clicks
The clicking sound that your car makes can go a long way toward diagnosing the problem. There is usually a difference between a single click versus a series of rapid and repeated clicks. Rapid clicking usually signals that there is an electrical problem. This generally happens when there is not enough power in the electrical system to close the contacts in your starter motor fully. It could be caused by several different things that we will discuss in the next section.
A single click, however, usually signals a somewhat more significant problem. This typically means that you have an issue with your starter or possibly even that your engine is locked up. If the engine does not turn over, then your starter will usually make a single loud click as it attempts to lock into the teeth on the flywheel and spin it. Now that you know the difference between the different types of clicking sounds, we will take a deeper look at what might be causing your issues.
7 Reasons Why Your Car Won’t Start And Makes A Clicking Noise
If you hear that dreaded clicking sound, it is likely caused by one of the following issues. We will discuss repair options more in the next section, but this should give you a good idea of why your car is clicking.
— Dead Battery
If your car battery is dead, you will likely hear a rapid clicking noise as you attempt to start your car. This is because there is not enough power to close the relays in your starter fully. You might have forgotten and left your lights on, or you could have other electrical problems that are draining your battery. Most of the time, a simple jump-start will get your car going. You should make sure that you fully recharge your battery. If this happens multiple times with no reasonable explanation, you should have your vehicle checked out by a mechanic to determine the root cause of the problem.
— Bad Battery
If you left your lights on and drained your battery, there is a simple explanation for it. However, if your battery is bad, then recharging it will do no good. A bad battery will not have enough voltage to start your vehicle, and it will also not respond to a battery charge. While a suitable battery voltage should have somewhere between 12.2 to 12.6 volts under open load, a bad battery will have less than that. It will not push enough current through the electrical system to the car’s starter to crank the vehicle. A bad battery will need to be replaced with a new battery. Your local auto repair shop can test the battery for you with a load tester to determine whether it is the culprit. You can also test a weak battery yourself with a multimeter or voltmeter to see whether it is still good.
— Malfunctioning Alternator
Your car’s alternator supplies power to the electrical system and charging system, and it keeps your battery fully charged as you drive. Without a properly working alternator, the battery is attempting to power the electrical system without being recharged. This can quickly lead to problems. If the alternator is not charging correctly, you might find yourself with a dead battery when you attempt to start the vehicle. Even worse, the battery might die while you are driving, which will cause your vehicle to stop running. A bad alternator can leave you stranded quickly.
— Corroded Or Loose Connections
Believe it or not, you must perform some routine maintenance on most car batteries. Keeping your battery terminals and connections clean is one of those tasks. If not checked frequently, corrosion can form on the terminals and cause a bad cable connection. The connectors that attach the battery cables to the battery will also become corroded. When there isn’t a firm connection, the car might act like it has low voltage from a low battery. However, the electric current cannot flow because of the poor connection. Either tighten the connectors or clean the buildup from the terminals, and your car should fire right up.
— Faulty Starter
A car starter has many internal pieces that work together to crank your car. The starter motor, starter solenoid, starter relay, and the starter gear all need to be functioning correctly. A lousy starter usually sounds like a single loud click when you try to start the car. If your car won’t start and the vehicle clicks just one time, then you might have a bad starter. A faulty starter might also be the issue if the car won’t turn over at all. Jumper cables usually will not do you much good in this case, although there are a couple of other quick fixes that we will discuss later.
— Loose Battery Terminals
We have already talked about loose connections, but this one is more specifically related to the battery itself. On rare occasions, the battery terminals can become loose and lose their internal connection inside the battery. This usually happens when the battery is not correctly secured in the vehicle. As you drive, the battery might move and bounce around, and this can cause the terminals to become broken or loose. In that case, you will need to replace your battery with a new one.
— Faulty Fuel Pump
When you start your vehicle, your fuel pump needs to click on and supply the proper amount of fuel to the engine. Typically, your car starts right away when things are working correctly. However, if you have a bad fuel pump, you might hear that click, but your vehicle never starts. This could be the fuel pump attempting to send fuel to the engine unsuccessfully. If your car cranks but won’t start, then that also tends to point to the fuel pump or maybe even spark plugs.
How To Start Your Car When It Clicks
There are a few things that you can try to get your car going after you hear the clicking noise. The easiest thing is to attempt a jump start, especially if you hear the rapid clicking noise. Get a set of jumper cables and attach the clamps from the dead battery to a good battery. Attempt to start your vehicle. If it fires up, then a dead battery was probably the issue.
If the vehicle still does not start, then you might have a starter problem. If you can see the starter on your car, give it a few hard taps with a screwdriver or hammer. This can sometimes unfreeze a stuck relay and get the car to start. You can also attempt to bypass the starter solenoid by jumping a connector directly from the battery to the starter motor. However, this can be dangerous, so do not attempt that unless you know exactly what you are doing. If you need to do this, then you will need a new starter anyway, so you should probably go ahead and take your car to a mechanic.
Troubleshooting a fuel pump issue can be a little more complicated and dangerous. While you can pick up a new fuel pump at most auto parts stores, this is a job that most people cannot tackle on their own. Unless you are an experienced DIY mechanic, then you should leave this job to a professional. They can perform the proper tests to make sure the fuel pump is the problem, and then they can replace it with a new one.
Repair Cost For Your Car’s Clicking Noise
Repair costs can vary greatly depending on the specific problem that you have. If a simple dead battery is the problem, then you should be able to get a new one for about $150. Most parts stores will even install the battery at no charge if you purchase it from them. When it comes to an alternator, you can expect to pay around $350 to have it replaced. Some vehicles have more difficult-to-access alternators, so the labor costs will be even higher.
If you have a bad starter, your bill is likely to be somewhere between $400 to $600. This job usually requires several hours’ worth of labor to replace a starter. Again, some vehicles require more time and the final bill is likely to be even higher.
The Bottom Line
Do not lose hope if you turn the key in your car and hear the dreaded clicking noise. It might be a simple problem like a dead battery or a loose cable connection. Those can be fixed relatively quickly and without a huge expense. However, it could be a bigger problem like a bad starter or fuel pump. Those issues are likely to cost you several hundred dollars to repair.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a starter bad if it just clicks?
Usually, yes, the starter is bad if it just clicks. While you might be able to get it to work a few more times by banging on it with a hammer or screwdriver, the starter is failing. You should go ahead and get it replaced as soon as possible so that it does not fail and leave you stranded.
Am I going to have to call a tow truck?
It depends on your problem. If you have a dead battery, you should get a jump start and crank your car just fine. However, if you have fuel pump issues, you will probably need a tow truck to haul your vehicle to a mechanic. That is not something that is easily fixed in a parking lot or other location.
Does clicking mean a dead battery?
Rapid clicking usually signals a dead battery or another electrical issue. It could also be a bad battery, loose connections, or corroded connectors. Thankfully, most of those problems are pretty easy fixes. You should be able to correct those problems on your own to get your car started and be on your way.