How to test a starter solenoid

Written by john stevens
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A starter solenoid operates to transfer the large amount of power within the vehicle's battery to the vehicle's starter motor. Within the solenoid are two large metal contacts. When the ignition key is turned to activate the starter, these two contacts come together, thereby transferring the current from the battery to the starter. Starter solenoids are relatively easy to test, but it is important to first ensure that the battery is in good working condition.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Toothbrush
  • Baking soda
  • Water
  • Flathead screwdriver
  • Battery terminal cleaner
  • Jump lead

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  1. 1

    Ensure that the battery itself is not the cause of the starting problem by visually inspecting the exterior of the battery for cracks or corrosion. If the case is cracked, the battery must be replaced. If the case is not cracked, but corrosion is present around the battery terminals, remove the corrosion with a toothbrush and solution of baking soda and water. The solution need not be of a specific proportion, as the baking soda only acts as a mild abrasive.

  2. 2

    Check the battery cable connections. Turn the vehicle's headlights on high beam, then insert the blade of a flathead screwdriver between the battery post and the clamp on the end of the battery cable. Gently twist the screwdriver and observe the headlight beams. If the beams brighten, remove the battery cable from the battery post with a wrench and clean the post and clamp with a battery terminal cleaner, then install and tighten the clamp.

  3. 3

    Test the starter solenoid by connecting a jump lead to the battery side of the solenoid. The solenoid has two large posts and two small posts. A single large post is located on either side of the solenoid. Attach the alligator clip of the jump lead to the large post on the battery side of the solenoid. Touch the opposite end of the jump lead to the large post on the other side of the solenoid. If the starter turns the engine normally, the problem likely lies with an ignition override switch, such as a clutch start switch or a neutral safety switch. If the starter produces a buzzing sound, the starter is likely defective. If there is no response at all, the solenoid is defective and must be replaced.

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