Toyota, Honda & Subaru Starter Failure

Starter Just Clicks, Engine Does Not Start

A common problem with Asian Imports “The starter just clicks”. It is also common for this to happen intermittently. Most Honda, Toyota and Subaru’s use a gear reduction starter for their vehicles. These starters are practically bulletproof, but that does not mean they don’t ever fail. The question is, what is causing this? Well, 90% of the time the starter motor is fine and it is just not getting the correct amount of current to crank over the engine. This does not mean you have a battery problem, in which if that were the situation it would cause the exact symptoms. This is because both situations are caused by the same underlining problem, not enough current to the starter motor.

Does this mean that the starter needs replaced?

The answer is NO; you can fix your starter with just a few parts that cost less than $10.00. Now, what if you don’t have any way of testing the electrical system to know if you battery is causing this or if it’s the starter. I will give you a couple of quick tips that you can do to differentiate the two. First, charge your battery or try jumping the vehicle. If this eliminates the problem then you’re on your way to the problem, but be careful. A lot of times people get tricked this way because when they charge or jump the battery it just causes the starter to work even though there is still a problem and you could be stranded later down the road. The best thing to do is cycle the ignition key, over and over from the off position to the cranking position. Do this to where you can hear the starter clicking each time you cycle the key. If after multiple cycles you get the vehicle to crank over you have found the issue.

What causes my starter to just click?

The answer is the starter contact points. These points get burned up not allowing current to the actual starter motor. The way a starter works is the actual motor is permanently grounded and while you crank the engine there is a magnetic induced plunger that slides in to make contact with the power side to the grounded motor side. This powers your starter motor to crank over the engine. When you release the key the plunger is spring loaded to return the plunger and stop the starter motor from turning. These contact points get burned up over time and prevent the correct amount of current to your starter motor. My experience tells me that most repair shops out there would like to just sell you a brand new starter when it doesn’t even need replaced. If you have ever had a starter replaced on your vehicle, take a look at the repair bill and see how much you paid for that starter. Wouldn’t you rather fix it with a $10.00 part? Like a said most of the time this is all that is needed.

How To Replace The Starter Contact Points

This is very simple procedure. You will just need basic tools to remove and install the starter and then a file for cleaning the plunger side of the contacts. Take a look at the picture gallery to get an idea of what you’re dealing with then follow these steps.

  1. Remove the starter.
  2. Remove the back cover and pull out the plunger, this will need to be filed cleaned to allow good electrical current to pass between contacts (you should be able to see where it makes contact).
  3. Replace your contact points one side at a time, this way you don’t get them mixed up (they are different for each side).
  4. Install the cleaned up plunger and lube it with di-electric grease.
  5. Charge battery, clean battery terminals (just for good measure).
  6. Install the starter and re-test.

Where do I get starter contact points?

You can sometimes get contact points at a regular parts supply store such as Napa, but a lot of the time they won’t even know what your talking about. I usually either get them from an automotive electrical supply company such as ABE Electric or the dealership.

Now I’m not sure why, but I have never been able to find the plunger and have never been successful at removing the washer to replace it or flip it. If you ever find a place that can get them, let me know.

Starter Problems? Get a Free AVR Electrical System Diagnosis At MDH Motors

Schedule an appointement today or anytime. Also feel free to call me for advice (503) 704-4687. In an emergency situation contact Big Pauls Towing for $45.00 towing.

This post was written by: Martin Hand


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About Martin Hand

ASE Certified L1 Advanced Mastertech. Martin Hand has over 15 years experience in Asian and European Import Auto Repair. Specializing in electrical diagnosis, engine performance, AT/MT transmission repair/rebuild. Martin is also pursuing a degree in Computers Science & Information Systems starting at Portland Community College while he plans to transfer to OIT. Certified in Java application level programming, experienced with other languages such as PHP, Ruby, JavaScript and Swift. Martin has future plans of automotive diagnostic software development.


  • michael says:

    I have a 1998 suburu legacy outback 4cyl, that won’t start intermittently leaving me stranded. It cranks but wont start. No engine codes stored in computer according to Autozone parts store and the engine light never has come on after it initialy goes out after start-up.
    I have cleaned battery connections, replaced fuel filter and reset security lock out more than once. I even took a guess replacing crank position sensor, but still refuses to start.
    It was suggested to me by a shop,that; I replace starter contact points and plunger, but, I don’t think the starter would crank over the engine if the contact points were bad.
    When the car does start and it could just start up without even being touched, it runs just fine, not missing or studdering, only to again not start.
    Any ideas or suggestions?

    • Martin Hand says:

      If it has a “crank won’t start” problem then the starter or starter contacts have nothing to do with the problem. You need to check what your losing under this condition. Spark, fuel injector signal and fuel pressure.

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