Testing the starter motor isn't difficult and can be done without expensive diagnostic tools. In this tutorial, I'll explain how to do it step-by-step.
With your test results, you'll easily find out if the starter motor is good or bad.
NOTE: The starter motor test in this tutorial is an on-car test. The photos I'm using show the starter motor off of the vehicle only to explain the test connections better.
Contents of this tutorial:
You can find this tutorial in Spanish here: Cómo Probar El Motor De Arranque (1996-2005 3.4L Chevrolet, Pontiac) (at: autotecnico-online.com).
APPLIES TO: This tutorial applies to the following vehicles:
- 3.4L V6 Chevrolet Impala: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005.
- 3.4L V6 Chevrolet Lumina Minivan: 1996.
- 3.4L V6 Chevrolet Monte Carlo: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005.
- 3.4L V6 Chevrolet Venture: 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005.
- 3.4L V6 Pontiac Aztek: 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005.
- 3.4L V6 Pontiac Grand Am: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005.
- 3.4L V6 Pontiac Montana: 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005.
- 3.4L V6 Pontiac Trans Sport: 1996, 1997, 1998.
Important Testing Tips
TIP 1: The battery must have a full charge before starting any of the tests in this tutorial.
TIP 2: The battery cable terminals and the battery posts should be clean and corrosion-free before starting the tests.
TIP 3: Read the entire article first to familiarize yourself with the tests.
TIP 4: Use jack stands for safety. Don't trust the jack alone to keep your vehicle up in the air while you're underneath it!
TIP 5: Take all necessary safety precautions. Use safety glasses while working underneath the vehicle. Be alert and think safety all of the time.
Symptoms Of A Bad Starter Motor
Generally, when the starter motor fails in your 3.4L V6 Chevrolet or Buick, the engine will not crank. To be more specific, when you turn the key to crank and start the engine, nothing happens.
Unfortunately, this isn't the only way the starter motor fails. In some cases, it'll fail intermittently.
In plain English, the starter motor will function most of the time when this happens, but now and then, it won't.
The key to troubleshooting an intermittent no-crank issue is to perform all tests when the starter motor is not functioning. Otherwise, your test results will indicate the starter motor is good.
Tools Needed To Test The Starter Motor
To test the starter motor on your vehicle, you don't need any expensive tools or diagnostic equipment. Yep, the tools you'll need are not gonna break the bank.
Here's a list of the things we'll need to test the starter motor on your vehicle:
- You'll need to raise your vehicle to gain access to the starter motor.
- Jack stands.
- A remote starter switch.
- If you'd like to see what a remote starter switch looks like, you can follow this link: Actron CP7853 Remote Starter Switch For 6V And 12V Automotive Starting Systems.
- You can either buy this tool online or you can buy it at your local auto parts store (AutoZone, O'Reilly Auto Parts, Pepboys, etc.).
- A multimeter or a 12 Volt automotive test light.
- If you don't have a multimeter or need to upgrade yours, check out my recommendation here: Buying A Digital Multimeter For Automotive Diagnostic Testing (at: easyautodiagnostics.com).
- A wire piercing probe.
- This tool is not an 'absolute must-have tool' but I can tell you from experience that it makes it a whole lot easier to probe the 'S' terminal wire for the Start Signal.
- If you'd like to see what this tool looks like, you find out more about it here: Wire Piercing Probe Tool Review (Power Probe PWPPPPP01).
- A helper.
TEST 1: Applying 12 Volts To The 'S' terminal
The first thing that we'll do is apply 12 Volts directly to the starter motor solenoid's 'S' terminal.
The easiest and safest way to apply these 12 Volts to the starter motor is to use a remote starter switch.
If you don't have a remote starter switch, you can buy one at your local auto-parts store or online. See my recommendation here: Actron CP7853 Remote Starter Switch For 6V And 12V Automotive Starting Systems.
If the starter motor activates and cranks the engine (when applying 12 Volts to its 'S' terminal), then you can conclude right off the bat that the starter motor itself is OK.
IMPORTANT: Remove the key from the ignition switch for this test.
OK, let's get started:
Raise the front of your vehicle and place on it jack stands (to gain access to the starter motor).
Disconnect the battery negative (-) terminal.
You'll reconnect it back in one of the following steps, for now, it's a safety precaution as you set up the test.
Attach one end of the remote starter switch to the battery positive (+) post.
Attach the other end of the remote starter switch to the 'S' terminal of the starter motor solenoid.
This is easier said than done, so take your time and make sure the connection is on the 'S' terminal of the starter motor solenoid.
In case you're wondering, you can leave connected the wire that connects to the 'S' terminal stud on the starter solenoid. Whether or not that wire is connected to the S terminal, the test works either way.
Reconnect the battery negative (-) cable to the battery negative post.
Apply 12 Volts to the 'S' terminal wire of the starter motor starter solenoid with your remote starter switch.
You'll get one of two results:
1.) The starter will activate and will turn over the engine.
2.) The starter motor won't do a thing.
Let's take a look at what your test results mean:
CASE 1: The starter motor cranked the engine. This is the correct and expected test result and it confirms that the starter motor is good.
Since the starter motor is not cranking the engine when you use the ignition key, the next step is to see if it gets an activation signal. For this test go to: TEST 2: Verifying The 12 Volt Start Signal.
CASE 2: The starter motor DID NOT crank the engine. This usually means that your starter motor is bad and needs to be rebuilt or replaced.
I suggest you perform two more tests. First, make sure the starter motor is getting its 12 Volt Start signal. Second, voltage drop test the battery cable (that attaches to the starter motor solenoid).