Dear Car Talk:
When I go to start my car (normally the engine is cold), after I turn the key and release it, I hear a grinding sound.
This used to happen only when it was cold outside, but now sometimes it happens in the warm weather, too.
I was wondering if this could be the starter. I've been using my car to learn how to work on cars, and I've learned about replacing starters but haven't done one yet. I don't want to buy a new starter and try replacing it if that's not what's causing my problem.
What do you think? -- Don
I think you're about to get your big chance to change a starter, Don.
Maybe you can send out invitations and get all the relatives to come and watch.
Every starter motor has a shaft with a little gear at one end. That gear is called the starter drive. When you turn the key to the "start" position, that starter drive pops out and engages with a much bigger gear called the flywheel, which is attached to the engine.
The starter motor's job is to use that little gear to turn the flywheel until the engine starts running on its own -- it usually takes only a second or two. Then, the starter gear retracts, and the engine keeps running. At least that's what's supposed to happen.
If the starter drive doesn't retract -- or retracts too slowly -- then you'll hear that starter gear getting ground up by the flywheel. Grrrrzzzzzzhhhhh! Sound familiar?
So, you're going to fix this by replacing your starter. It's a job that's within the reach of most do-it-yourselfers, Don, so I have confidence you'll succeed -- certainly after a few tries.
Just remember to disconnect the negative terminal of the battery before taking the starter out so you don't set your hair on fire.