Why Is My Car Clicking but Won’t Start?

May 22, 2023
A set of keys sitting on the console of a car.

Have you ever gotten into your car to leave for the day and instead of starting up as usual, it’s making a clicking noise? This clicking can mean several things. Whether the problem is coming from the battery, cable corrosion, alternator issues or elsewhere, we’ll dive into what to listen for and what each kind of clicking can mean, plus how to fix it.

What are the types of clicking a car makes and what do they mean?

Each type of clicking and the frequency of clicks can mean something different when it comes to your car not starting. It’s important that you understand what each type of clicking means so you know how to go about dealing with the cause.

What does rapid clicking mean?

If you hear a rapid clicking noise when you start your car, that could mean there’s something wrong with the electrical system. For example, your car battery could be dead; or your alternator, which charges the car’s battery, could be not working correctly. To solve this problem temporarily, your car needs a jump-start. After that, make sure you take it to a qualified technician so they can diagnose the problem and either replace your alternator or battery. [1]

What does a single click mean?

If your car makes a single click, sounding like a light knock, it could mean a problem with the starter. Another thing to listen for, if the problem is the starter, is a grinding or rumbling sound and an inability to turn the crank. The good news is that it is fairly simple to replace. [2]

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Common causes of why a car is clicking but not starting

There are a few reasons for the dreaded clicking noise you can hear when your car won’t start. If you hear rapid clicking, here are the potential causes:

1. Bad battery

The most common clicking cause is a bad battery. If you hear a rapid succession of clicks, this usually means there isn’t enough battery current to turn the starter motor. Batteries can last from 3 to 6 years, depending on your driving. You can get your battery tested for free at most auto parts stores. [3]

2. Alternator problems

If the alternator, which generates the power that recharges the battery, isn’t doing its job, this could result in the clicking noise as well. If you’re having trouble determining whether the problem is from the battery or the alternator, allow the engine to run without the negative cable of your battery. If it still stalls, the cause is the alternator. Otherwise, the issue is a bad battery. [4]

3. Broken starter

If you hear only a single click when attempting to start your car, most likely there’s a problem with the starter. Starters last from 30,000 to 200,000 miles, depending on the vehicle and driver. Harsh weather or the engine’s condition can shorten the life span of a starter. A quick solution to a broken starter is to jump-start your car or gently tap the back of the starter with a heavy object. If neither of those work, you’ll want to tow your car to the nearest qualified technician. [1]

Faulty starter solenoid

The starter solenoid acts as a switch to turn on the motor when you start your car. If there is no clicking noise when trying to start your car, the problem is usually the starter solenoid. You can get a digital multimeter to test that the source of the problem really is the starter solenoid. Once you’ve determined that it is, you can replace your starter solenoid for anywhere between $400 and $600. Make sure you have a professional replace it for you. [5]

If it’s not any of these, then what should you do?

If you looked into all of these potential problems and your car is still not starting, it might be time to take it to a professional to get it checked out. Also, make sure you and your car are always protected with quality auto insurance.


[1] “Your Car Won’t Start & You Hear a Clicking Noise,” firestonecompleteautocare.com/blog/maintenance/car-wont-start-clicking-noise (July 29, 2019).

[2] “This Is Why Your Car Is Clicking and Won’t Start,” thedrive.com/maintenance-repair/36025/car-wont-start-clicking-noise

[3] “Car Clicks When Trying to Start? 5 Common Causes,” Rick Popely, cars.com/articles/car-clicks-when-trying-to-start-5-common-causes-422045 (May 23, 2020).

[4] “Symptoms of a Damaged or Failing Alternator,” Brad Paugh, buyautoparts.com/blog/symptoms-of-a-bad-alternator (Feb. 14, 2019).

[5] “Bad Starter Solenoid Symptoms,” carparts.com/blog/what-happens-when-the-starter-solenoid-goes-bad (accessed April 25, 2023).


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