As a regular driver, you will understand the pain of getting stranded because your car will not start. If you try to turn the ignition and nothing happens, you may wonder what the problem is. Most times, we conclude the battery is dead and try to jumpstart or charge it.
However, a bad or dead battery is not the only reason your car does not start. The alternator may be faulty, meaning the battery cannot charge while you drive. Therefore, it dies when it completely discharges. But an often overlooked part is the battery starter, which can keep the car from moving.
How do you tell which you need to check when a vehicle does not start? What is the difference between the battery and the starter? What do they do in a car? This article explains these car components and their respective roles in how well your car works.
Battery vs. Starter: What They Are
You can always tell which part you should troubleshoot, fix, or replace if you know the symptoms to expect from each component. However, you must know what each part does to tell when your vehicle refuses to start because of a faulty starter or dead battery.
The Role of a Car Battery
Every car runs on the power or electric charge produced by the battery. But while the battery is crucial, it cannot recharge while you drive if the alternator is not in optimum shape. In other words, the battery and alternator work together to ensure the car runs well.
A fully charged car battery provides the electrical energy for the car to run. It keeps the vehicle moving while the alternator recharges it to prevent a complete discharge. Your car cannot move without the battery, but the car can keep moving even if the alternator is not working.
The only downside is that the vehicle’s battery cannot last long before completely discharging. The battery also provides the necessary power for the car’s electrical system, accessories, and devices attached to the vehicle.
The car radio, headlights, alarm, clock, and other electrical components run on an electric charge from the battery. Additionally, it regulates the amount of power that goes to parts of your car for smooth operation.
The Role of a Car Starter
The starter motor ensures the car engine starts whenever you press the start button or insert the key into the ignition and turn it. Contrary to popular thinking, the battery does not provide this pull; the starter supplies the power the engine requires for the initial start-up.
Then, the battery takes over and runs the engine. In other words, the car does not start without a functional starter. It is a completely different component from the battery, although the starter solenoid, also called the starter relay, gets power from it.
Battery vs. Starter: Signs to Differentiate Them
It is understandable if you have no idea which to check when your car does not start: the starter or the battery. We know car owners typically check their batteries once they have car troubles that are about starting or moving. But you must know the battery runs with other components for a smooth operation.
What an Alternator Does for a Battery and Starter
As mentioned, the battery, starter, and alternator work as a team. The battery may run without a working alternator, but the starter cannot work without the electrical current from the battery. And if the alternator does not charge the battery, the starter does not work because of a dead battery.
So, you understand how intertwined these parts are in how the car works. However, the starter and the battery have more to do in a general sense. This is because the car can run on a battery charge, even if the alternator fails. But the car cannot run without the starter or battery.
How do you tell whether the starter or battery keeps your car from starting? Your best bet in telling the difference is understanding the signs when one or the other is faulty. Therefore, we will look at the signs that differentiate the starter from the battery.
Signs of a Bad Starter
The first sign that your car starter is bad is the noise it makes. Listen for a whirring, grinding noise, or whining sound when you turn the key in the ignition or press the start button. You may notice that the dashboard lights are on, and everything seems to be in order, except the engine does not turn.
There is also a chance that you will hear a clicking sound instead of grinding, whirring, or growling sound. If turning the key produces only a click, the entire starter system is the likely culprit. Now, try jump-starting the car; if the engine does not respond, you may need a new starter.
Signs of a Bad Battery
Several signs tell you the battery is faulty or dead. Before getting your jumper cables or looking for a charger, you may want to look for some signs to be sure you are dealing with the correct component.
1. Weak Start
Try starting the car; if the engine turns, you know the starter is not the issue. A faulty starter does not allow the car’s ignition to turn. Now, monitor the start process; if it is slow, takes longer than usual to start, or stalls, you may have a weak or dead car battery
You can inspect the negative battery wire to ensure it does not connect to or touch the negative terminal if the battery is dead. It may cause irreparable damage if that happens.
2. Dim Lights
Another sign is the lights, whether the headlights or dashboard lights. While the car start and runs, check how bright the headlights or dashboard lights are.
Sometimes, they may not even come on at all. If the battery is faulty, the lights may fail, or you will have dim dashboard lights. But the lights will not work at all if the battery is dead.
3. Corrosion or Leakage
You can also visually inspect the battery for signs of rust or corrosion. A corroded battery cannot charge well and may damage other components. If that is the case, you may need a new battery or have an auto mechanic do the necessary repairs.
If there is no corrosion, check for fluid leakage or swelling. This is typical with old or poorly used batteries. However, severe temperatures can also cause swelling and fluid leakage. In such a case, discontinue use and replace the battery.
Finally, the battery may be old. Typically, car batteries last between three and five years. If you have used yours for up to five years, it may become unable to hold a charge, making it difficult to power the engine. The best solution is the replace it.
Testing Your Car Battery
Since the car battery is removable, it is easier to test it than to test the starter. Besides, once your car’s ignition does not turn, you know the starter is bad. But a battery may work well, while the alternator is faulty.
This is where a car battery test becomes vital. It is best to test the battery if you are unsure whether you have a defective battery or a faulty alternator. You will need a voltmeter or multimeter to turn this test, and you can purchase it in any store.
Set the multimeter to 20 volts, connect the black multimeter probe to the negative battery terminal, and connect the red probes to the positive terminal. After connecting the probes to the battery terminals, you can take a reading from the multimeter.
If the car is running, you should get a reading between 12.2 and 13 volts. But if the car is not running, the reading should be between 13 and 14.8 volts. The battery is dying or faulty if you do not get a proper reading after checking the voltage using these two methods. The same applies if the voltage readings are outside the abovementioned ranges.
Battery vs. Starter: Driving Risks
If you suspect your car has a bad starter, it is crucial to replace it. While there may be ways around using a car with a bad starter, it is not safe to drive with a faulty car component. Fortunately, it is easy to tell when a starter is bad; the vehicle does not start in most cases.
On the other hand, a car may run with a bad battery, which is risky. The alternator can keep the car running once you get to start. But the strain will overwork the component and eventually cause overheating. And once the alternator overheats, it becomes defective.
Invest in a new battery instead of risking alternator damage. Constantly jump-starting the battery may work, but it ultimately affects the car’s functionality. Ensure you buy a new one instead of a used battery to ensure its integrity.
What is the difference between a battery and a starter in your car? The battery provides the electric charge for the engine to run, while the starter provides the initial boost for the engine to start. The starter runs on the power from the battery, while the alternator charges the battery.
The battery performs many other functions, such as powering electronic devices and lights. Therefore, it is one of the most important components. However, you must replace it every three to five years, unlike a starter that can work for many years.