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How to Test a Starter Solenoid

If you’re a driver, you’ve probably gotten into your car, turned the key to start it, and had nothing happen. If this has not happened to you yet, it probably will. If you know how to test for a few common problems, you can narrow down the problem to a dead battery, a faulty starter, or the starter solenoid. Doing this can save you money in car repairs. While testing a battery is easy, you need to know a few things before you can properly test a starter solenoid. In addition, you have to make sure the problem is not in the battery, ignition switch, or starter motor. If you can use a few simple tools, the following directions will enable you to easily diagnose and test your solenoid.

Steps

  1. Image titled Test a Starter Solenoid Step 1
    Move the car to a position where you can access the starter solenoid.

    • Depending on the car, you may have to work from underneath it. If you do, use ramps or jack stands and make sure that you follow all safety precautions. You may also have to remove some nearby components to make room to work.
  2. Image titled Test a Starter Solenoid Step 2
    Locate the electrical connectors on the starter solenoid. One of the posts has a braided wire that attaches to the starter. This is the positive connection.
  3. Ensure that your starter solenoid is getting the proper amount of power by using a voltmeter at the solenoid’s positive connection.

    • Place the positive lead of the voltmeter at the positive solenoid connection and ground the voltmeter’s negative lead. Then have a friend try to start the car. When he or she turns the key, the voltmeter should read 12 volts.
      Image titled Test a Starter Solenoid Step 3Bullet1
    • If the starter isn’t getting 12 volts, the problem is with the battery or the ignition switch. The solenoid starter should also make a “clicking” or “clunking” sound. Note, however, it may also make “clicking” or “clunking” sound, but be getting less than 12 volts, so it’s important to use a voltmeter to test the power level.
  4. Image titled Test a Starter Solenoid Step 4
    Test a starter solenoid by applying current directly from the battery.

    • Remove the ignition switch wire from the solenoid and, using an insulated screwdriver, short the solenoid’s positive post to the terminal where the ignition switch connects. Doing so will apply 12 volts directly from the battery. This should activate the solenoid, and the starter should crank the car. If the ignition switch isn’t delivering quite enough current or the solenoid is old and sticking, this may reveal the problem.
      Image titled Test a Starter Solenoid Step 4Bullet1