My 2004 Subaru WRX has 110000 miles on the odometer and I'm worried about the original equipment starter motor. Here are the audible symptoms that have me concerned:

  1. During the winter, I noticed that sometimes on a (very) cold start, turning the key would result in quite a grinding screech. However, the car would start right up.

  2. As the weather has gotten warmer, I've noticed that even on a warm day, the starter still makes a low amplitude grinding squeal. Much harder to hear but it's there.

Here are the things that I am pretty sure aren't problems:

  1. Alternator - the voltage appears good on the dash.

  2. Oil - Subaru's are prone to some piston slap and I was afraid I was hearing a low oil condition. Not so.

  3. Battery is not new but isn't original.

To date, there haven't been any problems starting the car. However, I'm naturally concerned, especially considering the expense that we've recently put into the wife's car (!).

Does any of the above sound like a failing starter? Or should I listen elsewhere?

4 Answers 4


Beyond what jmort253 said, and separated out into a specific answer at Bob Cross' suggestion:

I ran into a particular difficult to track down problem which was caused by the clutch in the starter opening up. The starter would wind up and make a screeching sound, but sometimes wouldn't turn the engine over. I was thinking it might be a broken tooth on the flywheel or bad solenoid causing the starter not to engage, but it ended up being the clutch between the starter motor and the starter gear.

In retrospect, I was trying to save some money by fixing only the part that was broken, thinking it was the solenoid that wasn't engaging the gear with the flywheel, but I should have followed the parts department recommendation and just bought a whole new starter.


It depends specifically on what's wrong with the starter.

  • Sometimes you hear a clicking sound when you turn the key but the starter motor gears don't actually turn. This could actually be due to a weak battery, but if you know the battery has a full charge, then it could be the starter gears actually failing to turn.
  • You may hear a whining sound, similar to what you would hear of a gear turned in the starter but that didn't actually turn the flywheel. This could be caused by the gears turning in the starter, but without the starter gear moving into position on the flywheel.

In both of those cases, the entire starter usually needs to be removed. Most auto parts stores can test the unit independent of the other systems on the car, which would give you an even more accurate diagnosis as to the problem by either confirming or ruling out the starter motor/solenoid as the problem.

UPDATE: Keep in mind that most of the time the starter won't just up and die. It's generally a slow decline where you'll experience these symptoms occasionally, but the starter will still kick over with a few tries or with the tap of a hammer on the starter. If you let these symptoms persist, eventually you will have a completely dead starter, and you'll be sitting in a parking lot somewhere waiting for a tow truck or a buddy with some tools, a jack, and a starter!

From what you describe, I would definitely suggest getting it checked out. Cars talk to you and tell you when they're sick. It's up to us to listen and take action so we continue moving from points A to B and back to A.

Here is an article on How to Spot Symptoms of a Bad Starter Motor, which you may find helpful

  • 1
    right, those are both symptoms of failure. I'm looking for warning signs.
    – Bob Cross
    Commented Mar 26, 2011 at 20:58
  • @Bob - I think the warning signs are when you see this happen occasionally, but your starter still kicks over after a few tries, or after tapping it with a hammer. In my experience, no starter just up and dies an instantaneous death. Instead, it's a slow decline that leaves you with a few panicked moments wondering if the car is going to leave you somewhere.
    – jmort253
    Commented Mar 27, 2011 at 1:11

I found that the gears on the gear reduction system, in the starter, have brass bushings in them. The bushings wear out causing the armature to tilt sideways and then bind. Replacement of the complete starter is what I did, as replacing the parts that were worn would have been more expensive.


I been driving my car exact same noise for over a year .i just got it fixed for 65 bucks its the pinion gear need to be lubrucated quiete common for subaru.

  • The OP is asking about a failing starter motor and how to diagnose ... not sure how you are answering that here? Commented Jul 20, 2017 at 10:49

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