A starter is basically a strong electric motor that spins up the engine of a vehicle, allowing it to start its fuel-powered operation. It draws a great deal of current from the battery to turn the engine.
As with any high-current electrical device, reliable power switching is difficult. Starter motors almost always have an integrated solenoid that switches current into the motor. This also advances the starter gear to engage a flywheel between the engine and the transmission.
Most starters are reasonably accessible on the side of the engine and not too difficult to replace. Sometimes they are obstructed by the exhaust system, heat shields, transmission brackets, or engine mounts, but for the most part, replacement is uncomplicated.
Costs of Starter Replacement
In most cases, a starter replacement begins with a standard starting/charging system diagnosis. Some shops will do parts of this for free, but a comprehensive test is more commonly done at either a flat fee of $15 to $40 or at a labour charge of half an hour.
Below are some estimates for the cost to replace a starter on some common vehicles using a labour rate ranging from £70 to £100 an hour:
- 2011 Chrysler 200, 2.4-liter engine – The labour time for starter replacement is 1.2 hours. A new OEM starter costs about £165, and a new aftermarket replacement is about £70. The total job cost would be about £250 using factory parts and around £155 when using aftermarket parts.
- 2009 Ford Escape, four-wheel-drive, 3-liter engine – It will take about 0.8 of an hour of labour time to replace the starter. A new OE component will cost about £215 and an aftermarket part would cost around £100. The total estimated cost for the job is about £270 using the factory parts and about £155 with the aftermarket parts.
- 2000 Volkswagen Beetle, automatic transmission, 1.8-liter turbocharged engine — The estimated labour time for the starter replacement of this particular vehicle is 2.1 hours. An original replacement starter costs about £535, and a new non-OEM starter costs around £110. The total estimated cost for the job is about £680 using factory parts and about £260 with aftermarket parts.
- 2007 Toyota Tacoma, four-wheel-drive, 4-liter engine – The estimated labour time for starter replacement on this vehicle is around 1.2 hours. A factory replacement part costs around £305, and a new aftermarket starter is around £105. This makes the starter replacement cost around £390 when using factory parts and about £190 when using aftermarket parts.
Of course, several factors would affect the total cost of replacing the starter. For one, labour rates can differ significantly, depending on the auto shop you visit and its location.
Also, as there can be a plethora of suppliers of auto parts, prices can vary greatly depending on the state they are in. It is even possible that the same factory parts prices can vary depending on the supply and demand in a particular region.
New Versus Remanufactured Parts
The above estimates are for new parts. However, it is usually possible to find remanufactured starters as well, and the prices are typically lower.
Starters are relatively simple electrically and easy to remanufacture as most of the internal parts aren’t subject to harmful wear. But, as with most things, the reliability of new parts is usually better.
One thing to keep in mind is the warranty, as there is a wide variety of different warranty policies between brands and new vs. remanufactured. While some remanufactured starters come with a lifetime warranty, some new starters have only a 12-month warranty; it’s always best to check warranty terms and to factor those in along with the price.
Other Related Things
As a starter needs a great deal of current to operate, when one begins to fail, the most common thing to suspect is the battery that provides that current and then, the cables that transfer the current.
Ideally, these are checked and either ruled out or replaced if questionable before a starter is diagnosed. Sometimes, there is a relay that triggers the starter solenoid which is usually checked most easily by swapping it out for a known good relay.
In the best case, related parts are verified as good or known good parts are substituted in order to diagnose a failing starter, but this isn’t always done. In any event, a starter that draws too much current (which is one way it can fail) can damage the other related parts.
The starter engages a flex-plate (or flywheel, if it’s a manual transmission) that sits between the engine and the transmission, which has a set of gear teeth that allow it to be driven. There is a drive gear on the starter motor that meshes with the flywheel.
Sometimes, the starter drive gears fail, and sometimes they damage the teeth of the flywheel. This is usually noticeable by either a noisy failure to start or extra noise when trying to start.
It’s a good idea to inspect the teeth of the flywheel in that event, and flywheel replacement would be needed if there is damage. That would involve removing the transmission and, of course, would be considerably more expensive.