4 Signs Your Motorcycle’s Starter Is Failing

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There’s few things worse than gearing up for a ride only to find that your motorcycle will not start. Although there are many issues that can prohibit a motorcycle from starting, the starter, as it’s name implies, is absolutely crucial to getting the engine going.

Symptoms of a bad motorcycle starter are: motorcycle not starting at all, intermittent engine cranking on start up, hearing the starter running even when the engine has already started, and a clicking noise coming from the starter.

If these symptoms sound familiar, it’s probable that the starter is the issue. The starter works by engaging with the flywheel via a solenoid. The electric starter motor then takes current from the motorcycles battery and spins the flywheel.

The flywheel is connected to the crankshaft which in turn is connected to the pistons. As the crankshaft turns over, the pistons start their four stroke combustion process. Soon the solenoid will disengage the starter from the flywheel and the engine will spin on its own combustion power.

Signs of a Bad Motorcycle Starter

The more you know the easier it is to troubleshoot. So first let’s talk about the circuitry of the starter.

When the key in the motorcycle is turned and the ignition is on, the starter motor is energized. The electric current from the battery energizes the electromagnetic solenoid.

The solenoid then engages a rod which mates with a pinion gear. This gear is mated to the flywheel. The starter motor then turns the engine over. The engine sucks in air and injects fuel into the combustion chamber.

The engine is then able to start running on its own. The solenoid then disengages separating the starter motor from the pinion gear.

When a starter starts to go bad, there are signs that you can look for and identify. Early diagnosis of the problem can prevent you from getting stranded, and it can even allow you to fix the starter rather than replace it.

1. Motorcycle Doesn’t Start

The first sign is obvious and may not provide you with a warning. The motorcycle doesn’t start. If this happens to you, the first thing you should check out is the battery.

Although the starter could be the culprit, its important to check the battery to see if it is providing the starter with enough amps. Without enough amps, the starter through no fault of its own, won’t be able to crank the engine. You can check this by doing a simple voltage check with a multimeter.

If your motorcycle’s headlights and dashboard are working and the bike is still not starting, the issue could be the starter. If you’ve checked the voltage at the battery, the next step is to check the voltage at the starter. Even if the battery has voltage, you should check to see if the starter is receiving power.

You may need two people for this check as the circuit to the starter is only connected while the engine start button is pressed. So you will have to watch your multimeter reading while attempting to start the bike.

2. Clicking Noise While Trying To Start

A clicking noise while starting an engine is never a good sign. If you hear this when attempting to start your motorcycle, it is most likely the starter solenoid going bad. This failure can occur over time due to corrosion.

There is a somewhat easy check you can do to determine if the failure is for sure the solenoid or the actual starter. Start by hooking up a jumper cable from the battery directly to the starter. If the starter is unresponsive, then the starter has the problem, but if the starter responds and the solenoid doesn’t actuate, then you can be sure that the solenoid is the issue.

3. Intermittent Starting

Due to corrosion and just general wear, the parts inside of the starter can wear out. As this happens, a loss in contact in the internal connections of the starter can occur. This can lead to intermittent starting. An easy way to tell if this is the problem with your starter is to lightly tap it with a hammer. If the starter motor works while tapping it, that means that a connection is being made allowing electricity to the starter causing it to work.

4. Starter Starting While The Engine Is Running

Sometimes electrical shorts can occur inside the starter after the engine has already been cranked. In this case you might hear the starter spinning while riding your motorcycle. This can cause a very unpleasant grinding noise.

How To Troubleshoot Starter Issues

The most important part of fixing a problem with your motorcycle is a correct diagnosis. When it comes to an issue starting your motorcycle: the battery, the starter solenoid, and the starter motor are the three most likely culprits. Its important to note that if the motorcycle sounds like its cranking over but not starting, then the problem is most likely in the combustion part of your motorcycle.

If the engine is not cranking, then it is time to look at the battery. The battery can easily be investigated with a voltage check via a multimeter. A motorcycle’s battery voltage should be between 12.6 – 13.5 Volts.

If the voltage checks good, then you’ll want to inspect all of the wires leading from the battery to the starter and starter solenoid.

The next thing you can do is remove the starter from the motor. Check if the motor shaft spins freely. There are a few things you can check on the starter motor. You can check to measure the diameter of the commutator, and you can measure the length of the brushes to see if they’re in specification. If they aren’t, then its time to replace them.

The price for an entirely new starter assembly varies greatly depending on the make and model of your motorcycle.


Motorcycle starter issues can be incredibly frustrating, but it is a problem that you can self diagnose. Make sure you find the cause of your issues before you start replacing parts as this will save you time and money.