What to do about the strange noise my Honda Civic makes when starting?
November 23, 2015 5:23 PM   Subscribe

My 2004 Honda Civic sometimes makes a squealing noise when I start it up. I took it to a mechanic, but it doesn't look like he fixed the problem. Looking for advice on whether to take it back again and what to do.

I bought a 2004 Honda Civic around four months ago, but found soon after that the car sometimes makes a squealing noise when it starts up. The noise only lasts for about a second (here is a YouTube clip I took of it). It only happens a couple times each week, maybe every other day (although sometimes it can go for four or five days without making the noise). I used to think that it only happened when the car started completely cold, but a couple times I’ve started the car a couple minutes after I initially started it, and it has made the noise.

I took it to a mechanic with a lot of good reviews. He suggested it might be the starter motor and replaced it. However, the day after, it made the same squealing noise, and in the last two weeks since I’ve taken it to the mechanic, it has made the noise 4 times. I rang the mechanic last week, and he didn’t seem to know what was going on. He said he checked the tightness of the belts and other obvious problems, but I could bring it in if I was concerned (he couldn’t fit me in until this week which is why I've still got the car).

I’m not sure whether I should if I should bring it in, try someone else, or not worry about the noise. Although he seems competent, I’m not sure the current mechanic will be able to fix the problem. The issue is that the problem isn’t repeatable, so neither he nor I will be able to tell whether the problem has been fixed until maybe a week later. I wonder if this issue needs to be fixed, or if it can be viewed as a kind of quirk of the car? I'm also concerned about the budget and don't want it to turn into a huge bill if it's not a serious issue. I suppose if the mechanic needs to do a lot of additional repairs, I would be happy to pay. But if he looks at it and can’t figure out what’s going on, is it still reasonable for him to charge much (especially since he has already kind of looked at it; the original bill was reasonable, but not cheap, to replace the starter motor)?

I am not particularly savvy with car repairs (handy with other things but not cars), so I can't really fix it myself unless it's something straightforward or which I could learn within a couple hours.
posted by strekker to Technology (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's hard to hear in your video, but it sounds more like the starter solenoid isn't fully disengaging the starter as quickly as it should. Usually a solenoid problem manifests the opposite way, though. The starter never fully engages so the car doesn't start, rather than fails to disengage.

If it were the other way around, I'd tell you to let it be until it became more repeatable since it wouldn't actually hurt anything except your ability to start the car. If the starter motor isn't disengaging, though, it could burn out your new starter. That said, if you quickly turn the car off in the event that the noise doesn't stop immediately, it shouldn't ruin anything and you can let it be for now, assuming I'm right, which I may well not be.
posted by wierdo at 5:51 PM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Literally the same thing happened to my old 99 Sunfire. When I took it in they couldn't repeat it and I too thought it would mostly happen after it sat until it started happening even after being in a store for 20mins.

I even offered to record things for them too because they couldn't recreat it in the shop even after it sat for a few hours.

They said it may be the starter but they wouldn't really know until it failed. They said it could be a day or months. Well it died the next week - wouldn't make any noise when trying to start - just totally dead. They replaced the starter and it lasted another year or two until it was falling apart otherwise and I traded it in. This was a few years ago. I'm not great with cars beyond the basics but that's my experience.
posted by Crystalinne at 6:04 PM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

Has the mechanic heard the recording you made of the sound? Did you ask him how much he'll charge you to have another look? You might ask him if the replacement starter was new or rebuilt, and if rebuilt, if he'd mind trying another one. Bad rebuilds happen occasionally - it's not the mechanic's fault if that's the case, he didn't rebuild it himself, but no doubt he's run into bad rebuilds on occasion so hopefully he'll stand behind his work and replace it again without charging you full price again, if he can't find anything else that might be causing it.

From your recording, it sounds like the starter isn't disengaging immediately, just like wierdo said. This could be caused by the starter solenoid sticking (which would keep sending power to the starter even after you released the key), the starter bendix sticking (that's the part that, once the engine is turning on its own, disengages the gear that allowed the starter motor to turn the engine), or the teeth on the flywheel being roughed up so that the gear on the bendix can't freely slide out of them.

If the problem was either of the first two, it should've been cured by replacing the starter. However, it's possible that the replacement starter didn't include a new solenoid (most do, some don't, I don't know the '04 Civic in particular), but like wierdo said usually a bad solenoid sticks the other way, so this would be unusual. But if it didn't include a solenoid, replacing your old one will almost certainly be the mechanic's next step. If the solenoid was included, which it probably was, then another replacement starter is probably called for. Finally, if it's the teeth on the flywheel, that's a bigger deal to replace, but it also seems the least likely problem unless you've made a habit of trying to start the car while it's already running.

I also concur with wierdo's opinion that it's safe to keep using it as is so long as you turn off the car if the noise doesn't stop immediately, in which case you'll probably need a tow or on-site repair before you'll be able to drive it again.
posted by MoTLD at 6:48 PM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Keep a screwdriver or something handy, and learn which part the starter is. That way if it does stick you can turn the car off, whack the body of the starter once or twice with the screwdriver handle, and try it precisely one more time. Then if it does start and not make the noise/stop making it immediately, you can drive directly to the shop, leave your car there and take a taxi/Uber home, saving a tow bill.

Or you can get the roadside assistance coverage on your cell phone plan for a few bucks a month and then not have to worry about it.
posted by wierdo at 8:06 PM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Hey guys, thanks for the advice. Yeah I did play the video at the shop which is probably why he went for the starter motor. He did actually mention that he was using a used starter motor rather than new one to save money (and offered to use a new one but it would have been a lot more). Maybe I just got unlucky and the replacement didn't come with the solenoid or the replacement was defective. I will try to get him to take another look just cause I don't plan on owning the car indefinitely and wouldn't want to onsell the problem.
posted by strekker at 8:40 PM on November 23, 2015

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