If you hear rapid clicking…
It might be a battery or alternator problem.
A rapid clicking noise when trying to start your car could mean there’s something wrong within the electrical system. Perhaps your battery’s dead, or your alternator, which charges the battery, isn’t working correctly.
If the source of the clicking is electrical, the starter (a small motor energized by the battery that gets the engine running) doesn’t have enough juice to stay powered. So instead, it rapidly turns on and off and produces a clicking noise!
Keep in mind that, in cases like this, a misfiring starter is a symptom of the issue—not the cause. In all likelihood, your vehicle’s electrical system is to blame, which is why a jumpstart might get your car moving temporarily.
Once it’s running, have a qualified technician take a look at every part of the electrical system. You may need to replace your alternator or battery. Or, the solution could be as simple as removing corrosion from the battery cables to strengthen the battery’s charge.
If your car battery is giving you trouble, you’re not alone. AAA says battery failures are among the top three reasons that members call for roadside assistance, with the bulk of those calls coming during summer.
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If you hear a single click…
It might be a faulty starter.
Unlike an electrical problem, an issue with the starter or starter relay (a switch-like device that transmits power to the starter) will trigger a single loud clicking sound rather than rapid clicking sounds.
One of the symptoms of a bad starter is a single clicking noise when you turn the key or push the start button. Jumping the car can sometimes get it going again, but no guarantees. Most likely, you’ll need to get your starter repaired or replaced.
If you can jumpstart your car, drive to your nearest repair shop to get the problem diagnosed. Don’t assume you can hit the road without the clicking noise returning.
If your engine doesn’t turn over despite a jumpstart, you’ll probably need to arrange for a tow and then get the starter repaired or replaced by a qualified technician.