My Car Won’t Start But It Clicks [5 Potential Causes]

It is never a great feeling to get into your car, turn the key, and the car doesn't start. This is inconvenient and worrisome, as there could be countless things wrong to stop the car from starting. Did your car not start but only make a clicking noise? This can narrow down what issue you may be dealing with. We gathered our research to break down what this noise may mean for you and your car and what next steps you can take. There could even be some temporary fixes to get your car going again. 

A car that won't start but is clicking may have one or more of the following issues:

  • Dead battery
  • Bad battery
  • A faulty starter
  • Alternator not working correctly
  • An issue with cables and/or connections

These are the most common issues related to a car clicking when you attempt to start it. Keep reading as we break down each issue in detail. We will give you insights into how you can tell if you are having an issue with the battery or starter and what you can expect cost-wise for some of these repairs. 

Close up of pregnant woman starting car. Other hand on steering wheel. Selective focus on hand with keys, My Car Won't Start But It Clicks [5 Potential Causes]

5 Common Causes For a Car Clicking When Trying To Start

From a loose cord to a bad battery, there is a wide range of possible issues with a clicking car. How can you narrow it down? You can try troubleshooting to rule out some of these issues, and specific clicks can point to certain problems. Let's take a closer look at each possibility. 

Dead Battery

A dead battery will result in a rapid clicking noise.  Your battery can get drained if you accidentally leave your headlights or another interior light on. This is not ideal, but we all make mistakes.

A dead battery can be recharged with a pair of jumper cables and a car with a good, working battery. If you have either a dead battery or a bad battery, your stereo, headlights, and other lights will not work. 

You can find a set of jumper cables here on Amazon.

Bad Battery

A drained battery is an issue that can be resolved rather quickly, while a bad battery cannot be repaired and needs to be replaced.  If your battery is older than six years, it most likely needs to be replaced. However, a batter with only three years can go bad depending on what type of battery you have and what conditions you drive in.

Most mechanics will test your battery without cost, to tell you for sure. 

A Faulty Starter

Instead of a rapid clicking noise, did you hear a single loud click? This sound typically points to an issue with your starter.  In some situations, tapping your starter can get it going again. If this works for you, the best thing to do is to get straight to the mechanic. Your starter will need to get repaired, or in more extreme cases, replaced. 

Starter for car isolated on a light background

Alternator Not Working Correctly

An alternator generates power that charges your battery and car's electrical system while the engine is running. You may have a working battery, but if it is not being replenished after igniting the starter motor, you'll run into some issues. If you have already ruled out a bad battery and faulty starter, it is time to have your alternator tested by a mechanic. 

Timing belt of alternator in engine room of car, automotive part concept.

Issue With Cables And/Or Connections

Part of troubleshooting when your car is not starting is checking all cables and connections under your hood. Poor electrical connections or corrosion build-up can prevent your electrical system from working properly; this includes your car's battery. Tighten anything you find that is loose, and remove build-up before replacing a connection. Then, try starting your car again. 

Car battery terminal with corrosion on lead post

These are all possible issues when you have a car that won't start but is making a clicking sound. In most cases, you are dealing with a starter or battery issue. While there are some quick fixes for some situations, more involved testing and repair should always be done by your mechanic. 

Is A Starter Bad If It Just Clicks?

A clicking starter is not a good sign, but it doesn't always mean your starter is bad. Your starter needs a sufficient amount of torque to turn the engine over. Other parts of your car can affect the amps needed to create this torque, leaving you with a clicking starter. You could be dealing with a bad starter, but you could also have an affected starter motor or starter solenoid

What Is The Cost Of Replacing A Starter?

If you have gone through your troubleshooting and consulted a mechanic to know you need to replace your starter, you are probably worried about costs. The costs ultimately depend on the make, model, and year of your vehicle and the cost of labor from the mechanic. However, there are some price ranges you can expect to be in. 

Replacing a starter means you have to buy a new one. A new starter can cost somewhere between $80 and $350, depending on the style and manufacturer. You can pay to have your starter rebuilt. In some cases, these rebuilds cost over $1000, and you are better off just buying new. Labor prices usually run between $50 and $220 as installation of a new starter will take 1-2 hours. 

Does A Dead Battery Make A Clicking Sound?

You will hear a clicking sound with a dead battery. The sound is not coming from the battery itself but rather the starter. When you have a dead battery, there is no juice to start the engine, so your starter will not turn over and instead click. You will hear the same click if your battery has been affected in other ways, such as low on charge or dealing with bad connections. 

Learn more on our blog post, “How To Check Car Battery Life [3 Simple Ways]”

How Do You Tell If It's Your Starter Or Your Battery?

You can use the sound of the clicks to narrow down where your problem is. A rapid, repeating clicking means your starter is trying to work but is not receiving enough power. So, this click tells you the issue lies in your battery. 

The other click you may hear is a single click when you turn your key or press the start button. The single-click indicates an issue with your starter and typically comes from the starter relay or starter solenoid. 

Watch the video below for some examples of these clicks and additional tips for troubleshooting your car that won't start. 

Read more on our blog post, “How Much Does It Cost To Replace A Car Battery?”

What Does It Mean If Your Car Won't Start, But The Lights Come On?

In some situations, your car may not start, and your headlights or other lighting won't come on either. This typically points to a completely dead battery. What does it mean if your car won't start, but the lights still come on? 

Headlights, interior lights, and even the radio can still work from a charge coming from an almost dead battery. If your car doesn't start, but the lights still come on, this can be an issue with the battery. This issue can be a low-charge battery, faulty connections, or you are dealing with a battery that isn't being recharged. 

If you test your battery and all is well, the next piece to check is the alternator. If there is no issue with these parts, you are most likely experiencing an issue with your starter. There are diagnostic tools available that can help you figure out the exact issue quickly. These scanners can check battery levels and offer you codes that are helpful when it comes to repairs. 

Have a look at this car diagnostic scan tool here on Amazon.

Read more on our blog post, “What Causes A Car To Lose All Electrical Power?”

In Summary

Close up of pregnant woman starting car. Other hand on steering wheel. Selective focus on hand with keys, My Car Won't Start But It Clicks [5 Potential Causes]

A car that won't start but is making a clicking noise point to a few different issues. If you find yourself and your car in this situation, there are troubleshooting steps you will need to take to narrow down the root issue. Problems like a battery with low charge can be fixed at home, but issues with the starter or alternator should be left to the professionals.

If you can get your car going, bring it into the shop for an evaluation and recommended repairs. We hope you found this article helpful in diagnosing a clicking car that won't start. 

Are you looking for more insights into a car that won't start? Have a look through our blog post, “Engine Not Turning Over — What Could Be The Problem?”

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