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How To Know If a Tractor Starter Is Bad – 6 Steps To Check

How To Know If a Tractor Starter Is Bad – 6 Steps To Check

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Willie Moore
Latest posts by Willie Moore (see all)

When your tractor doesn’t start, one of the most common causes is that the starter or solenoid has gone bad. That’s not the only cause, though, so you need to find out for certain that the issue is the starter. How do you know if a tractor starter is bad?

Here’s how to know if a tractor starter is bad in 6 steps:

  1. Try to start the engine.
  2. Listen to the sound of the starter.
  3. Check if there’s smoke coming from the engine.
  4. Inspect the starter for gas or oil.
  5. Test your lights.
  6. Test the solenoid.

Like any vehicle with an engine, tractors have starters that function to spark the combustion within the engine and make it go. When that starter malfunctions for whatever reason, there are several telltale signs you can look for to pinpoint the starter as your issue. I’ll be going over the most common symptoms that signify a tractor starter has gone bad, including the few reasons why this happens.

1. Try To Start the Engine

Having issues with starting the engine is the first sign that you have a starter problem. However, problems with the battery and alternator can also cause the tractor to not start, so this isn’t an immediate sign of a bad starter on its own.

When the tractor engine won’t start, you’ll hear a clicking noise when trying to start your tractor, but the engine will refuse to turn over and start. When combined with other signs listed below, you can tell if the starter is bad or not. If this isn’t accompanied by one or more other things listed, you may wish to look at your battery or alternator as the culprit.

See Tractor Clicks But Not Turning Over: Likely Causes & Fixes

2. Listen to the Sound of the Starter

Have someone else try to start the tractor as you listen carefully. Normally, when you turn the key, the starter engages and makes a loud clicking noise. If you don’t hear this happen when the key is turned, you may be looking at mechanical issues with the starter. 

Lack of a clicking noise indicates a mechanical problem with the starter or a complete failure of the solenoid. Either there’s no power going to the starter solenoid at all because it’s bad, or the starter isn’t engaging the way it should.

3. Check if There’s Smoke Coming From the Engine

If you see smoke coming from the engine when it won’t start, you may be looking at a blown starter. The starter is a mechanical component powered by electricity, and electrical problems can make it stop working and emit smoke.

The fuse in the starter can blow, or shorts can occur within the starter’s wiring and start an electrical fire. Either of these is very bad and needs to be checked out by a qualified professional ASAP. Without immediate attention, electrical issues can spread and cause damage to other components within the tractor.

See What to Do When a Tractor Is Blowing Black Smoke and Has No Power

4. Inspect the Starter for Oil or Gas

Depending on the engine layout of your tractor, oil or gas from the fuel tank, gearbox, or other areas can leak and soak the starter. You can visually inspect the starter to see if it’s wet and smells like fuel or oil. If so, you’re looking at both a gas/oil leak and a bad starter. Start checking your gaskets immediately!

Oil or gas soaking a starter will drastically lower its lifespan, not to mention reduce its performance in the meantime. A brand-new starter that gets soaked in oil or gas can go bad in as little as six months.

When the solenoid gets wet it can’t produce the optimal amount of voltage, which manifests in trouble cranking the engine.

5. Test Your Lights

Another thing to look for after the engine doesn’t start is a lack of other electrical problems. Namely, check your lights. If the lights are working, that means your battery and alternator are fine, and that the issue is more likely the starter after all.

6. Test the Solenoid

When the starter solenoid fails, the starter won’t work at all, but the only way to be sure the solenoid is dead or bad is to test it. 

To test the solenoid, you’ll need a test light and the location of your starter. In most engines, it’s a big cylinder with a smaller cylinder attached near the transmission and a wire coming to it from the battery. 

How To Test a Starter Solenoid With a Test Light:

  1. Ground the black lead of the test light. You can do this by pressing it into any bare metal in the tractor engine or the black lead of the starter. 
  2. Once grounded, press the test light’s red lead into the starter’s positive terminal and make sure it’s making firm contact.
  3. If you’ve attached the test light properly and the solenoid is working, the test light will light up. If not, it means the solenoid isn’t working and needs to be replaced.
  4. If this terminal has power, it’s time to test the lower terminal. The lower terminal only has power when you’re trying to start your engine, so you’ll need someone to try and start the engine.
  5. Ground the test light and connect the red lead to the lower terminal on the starter.
  6. Have a friend or loved one try to start the tractor.
  7. If the test light doesn’t light up this time, it means the solenoid isn’t transferring power to the starter and you have bad wiring within the starter.

If you need more guidance this YouTube video does an excellent job of laying out the testing process as well as outlining exactly how the solenoid works on a tractor:

How to test a tractor solenoid

Causes of a Bad Tractor Starter

There are numerous potential causes of a starter going bad, and it’s not always possible to anticipate or prevent them. I’m going to list a few just so you have a heads up on what could cause a starter to go bad.

  • Oil/gas leaks
  • Shorts within wiring or fuse
  • Corrosion at battery terminals preventing connection
  • Bad brushes within the motor
  • Wear and tear over time


Wear and tear on your tractor is inevitable, and the starter going bad is particularly frustrating. However, there are some telltale signs you can look for to positively identify if it is, in fact, the starter.

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