You may have started to notice difficulties in starting your F150 lately. If you’ve been hearing clicking, whirring, or grinding noises when attempting to start your pickup, this may be indicative of a problem with the starter.
Your F150’s starter can damage or fail. In most cases, people will pay for the professionals to swap it out. But you could actually change the starter on your F150 yourself, and here’s how.
How to replace a starter on a Ford F150?
To replace a starter on a Ford F150, you need to:
- Disconnect the battery.
- Mount your truck on four jack stands for safety.
- Locate the starter on the passenger side of the vehicle on the bottom of the engine block.
- Remove the electrical connections with a 10mm or 13mm socket wrench (size depends on the type of starter you have).
- Remove the bolts holding the starter to the engine block using a ratchet (sizes: 3/8”, ½”, and ¼”).
- Take the starter out of the vehicle.
Once you have your new starter installed, you will need to carefully monitor its performance. Although it’s not a component that typically falters, it’s imperative that you pay close attention to what factors led to the previous starter’s malfunctioning.
In addition to instructions on how to replace your starter, below you’ll find pointers on how to maintain the new component – here’s more detail.
How to change the starter on a Ford F150
Replacing your starter yourself can save you a lot of time and money. However, if you are experiencing serious problems with your starter, it is highly recommended that you seek the help of a professional mechanic. The last thing you want is to make this problem worse due to a mistake on your end!
To replace the failing or damaged starter in your Ford F150, first, you need to gather the proper tools. You will need:
- Ratchet of the following sizes: 3/8”, ½”, ¼”
- 13mm socket wrench
- Extensions for both tools listed above
- Floor jack (here’s what I recommend)
- 4 jack stands (optional)
Once you have your tools, you are ready to replace the starter. Keep yourself safe during the replacement by lifting your vehicle with a floor jack. Although it is not a requirement to do so, it will keep your starter replacement from turning into a trip to the hospital. Follow the instructions below to complete the process:
Step 1: Disconnect the battery
The starter is connected to the battery so removing this component requires you to disconnect the two for logistical and safety reasons. Neglecting to disconnect the battery can invite the risk of:
- Sparking electricity
- Risk of electrocution
To disconnect the battery, remove both the positive and negative terminals carefully.
Step 2: Prepare your working area
This step is optional, but it is highly recommended as it will make your removal of the starter much easier and safer.
Using your floor jack, lift the truck just high enough so jack stands can fit underneath. Lower the truck down onto the jack stands.
Step 3: Remove the F150 starter
At this point, the extensions you have for the ratchet are most important. (An air wrench is not necessary, however, but may still benefit you during this process as it will make the removal of the bolts attached to the starter much easier.)
When you are ready to remove the starter, follow the instructions below:
- The starter is located on the passenger side of the vehicle on the lower side of the engine block in the general vicinity of the transmission bell housing. If you are unsure of how to find it, follow the red cable from the battery and it will lead you directly to the starter.
- There are three electrical connections at the top of the starter. Remove those using your 10 or 13mm socket wrench. (The size of the socket wrench will be determined by the type of starter you have.)
- This is where the optional air wrench can come in handy. Use the air wrench to break the bolts free from the starter. Next, use the ratchet to completely remove them. The air wrench will only be necessary for the first bolt, as the remaining two should be easier to access, requiring only the short/medium extensions for the ratchet.
- Now that all bolts have been removed, you can safely take the starter out. Be mindful that the starter is quite a hefty component – don’t be surprised by the weight when you take it out!
Step 4: Install the replacement starter in your Ford F150
Place the new starter in the same position that the original one was in and torque each bolt to 18ft/lbs. Before you finish, you’re encouraged to clean the electrical connections on both the starter and battery ends. Use a wire brush for the best results.
When should you replace the starter on a Ford F150?
When you attempt to start your F150 and either hear a click or nothing at all, you may be able to attribute the issue to your starter. This simple engine component is incredibly important to the performance of your vehicle.
It is normal to mistakenly attribute your vehicle’s failure to start to a bad battery, as the symptoms are quite similar, but here are a few things to look out for to know when your starter is failing:
- There is a grinding sound: If your starter is worn or malfunctioning, it will produce a grinding sound. This occurs because of the loosened ring gear that is meant to work with the teeth on the flywheel – it can spin but cannot turn the flywheel and grinds against it instead.
- Freewheeling: This is due to a similar malfunction as the grinding noise. When you crank the engine, the starter drive gear is unable to engage with the flywheel, leading it to make a whining noise.
- Smoke coming from your engine: This sign is a difficult one to decipher as it can be attributed to many engine malfunctions. In this case, this can indicate that there is an excess amount of power being supplied. This could mean that the starter has shorted, there is a damaged connection, or the starter has been operating for too long. Note any burning smells as well.
You should also pay close attention to any oil leaks as your starter can be severely damaged by becoming soaked in oil. The positioning of the component at the bottom of the engine can leave it vulnerable to become covered in fluids from oil or other leaks.
Additionally, you can identify issues with the solenoid if the starter does not work at all, absent of any clicking or whining.
How much the pros charge to replace your F150 starter
If you were to have your starter replaced by a mechanic, the price would range from about $260 to $340. This estimate does not include:
- Labor costs
Normally, the replacement of a starter is a part of full service, so it is understandable if you want to cut down on costs and do the job yourself.
All you would need to do is order the starter for yourself. You can expect this component to cost anywhere from $80 to $200.
How to check your F150’s starter needs replacing
Now that you have your new starter installed, you need to know how to check it in the future in case of any issues.
Of course, this is another step for which you are encouraged to consult your nearest mechanic, as many F150 problems share symptoms. It is a difficult task to diagnose malfunctions of any vehicle, especially when they are engine related.
To avoid any potential misdiagnoses and inaccurate solutions, seek the help of a professional.
Still, this does not mean you are barred from performing your own maintenance tests now and then. To do this, adhere to the following instructions (this test is designed specifically for a No Crank condition, where there is no noise at all – the engine simply does not turn over.):
- Test your battery. It is common to get the symptoms of a bad starter mixed up with a faulty battery. Just to get it out of the way, test the battery to confirm that this is not the case.
- Inspect the condition of the battery – check for corrosion, primarily. Corrosion around the terminals will severely hinder the performance of your battery and pose a danger to the overall functionality of your engine. Check also that the terminals are neither lose nor broken, and if so, address the issues accordingly.
- Check the integrity of electrical connections. Make sure that the starter is receiving power from the solenoid by testing the battery circuit. For this, you’ll need an assistant to crank the engine as you do check the power connections.
- First, you need to check the battery voltage to make sure the appropriate amount of power is being delivered to the starter. Use a digital multimeter or an analog multimeter to complete this step.
- Test the “Start” signal. Let’s move forward on the assumption that you’ve got a good battery. For this, you will need to direct your attention to the S terminal of the starter solenoid. This is located on the side of the solenoid opposite of the engine block. The S terminal is connected to the ignition switch by a wire that travels through the neutral safety switch.
- When you crank the engine, power travels from the ignition switch through the neutral safety switch and finally to the S terminal. If your starter is working appropriately, the moment the 12V Start signal is received, the motor should activate and starter the engine.
- See the below instructions for further details on this test.
- Perform a Voltage Drop Test. This test focuses on the solenoid’s power circuit, where the positive battery cable connects to. The purpose of this test is to determine whether the motor is receiving the appropriate amount of voltage and amperage to crank the engine.
- Again, using the multimeter, connect either lead to a clean site near the battery’s positive post, preferably near the center. The other lead should be touching or attached to the stud on the solenoid that connects to the battery’s positive cable. Make sure that the center of the stud is probed as opposed to the terminal.
- Have your assistant turn over the engine. If the multimeter reads 0V then everything is fine.
Testing the START signal
The purpose of testing the Start signal is to verify that not only is the power present in the battery itself but that there is a proper transfer of power between vehicle components. A failure of this test could successfully guide you to determine whether there is a loose or broken terminal somewhere or if the wire or neutral safety switch is broken.
You’ll need the vehicle on jack stands for this portion as well. Note that the starter must be installed at the time of this test.
- Attach the black lead of your multimeter to the battery’s negative terminal.
- You have two options on this second step:
- Pierce the wire connecting to the S terminal using a wire-piercing tool or
- Simply touch the remaining multimeter lead to the S terminal.
- Have your assistant crank the engine and keep it there while you read the measurement.
- The multimeter should be reading between 10-12V.
If there was no voltage measured, you can conclude that the starter is not the problem. This is because the 12V is not being delivered, ruling out any malfunctioning of the starter since it can’t operate at all. This reading means that you have either a faulty ignition switch or neutral safety switch. If the reading met the standard of 10-12V, then the Start signal is successfully transmitting and all associated components are performing well.
How to use a multimeter
A battery that is in good condition will yield a reading of 12.6V, however, you can accept a minimum of 12.3V. Anything below the minimum will require you to either charge the battery for the test or replace it altogether. Without a properly functioning battery, you will be unable to complete the starter test.
You have two choices of tools you can use to complete this test: a digital multimeter or an analog multimeter.
For both, you follow the same essential steps with the only differences showing in the way you read the results.
- Turn on the headlights and leave them on for approximately two minutes. This will eliminate any residual surface charge.
- Set the multimeter to 15-20V.
- When you are ready to begin your test, turn the lights off and connect the multimeter to the battery via the terminals.
- Now you should have gathered your first electrical reading. If it is less than 12.6V, this may point to the issue of a bad battery. Still, you’ll want to check further.
- Have your assistant turn over the engine. There should be a revised reading around 10V. If it is any less than 5 while the engine is still engaged, you can confirm that the issue was not a bad starter, but a failing battery instead.
The only difference between how your use of a digital multimeter versus an analog is the way you read the screen. On an analog, the voltage is shown by a needle moving back and forth to show the value while a digital multimeter will simply display the numbers.
What is a voltage drop test?
When the multimeter assists the transfer of power from the positive terminal of the battery to the starter solenoid’s terminal to overcome high resistance in the appropriate cable, that is a voltage drop. If there is a high voltage drop, the multimeter will read voltage during this test.
This is a negative outcome since it reflects the fact that the power is traveling through a route of lower resistance to reach the solenoid. A reading of 0V (or anything less than 0.9V) on the multimeter is a clear indication that the power is traveling normally between the battery and the solenoid.
A common cause of voltage drop is corrosion. That said, if you’re up to it, you can try cleaning your battery and performing the test again.
What is the starter solenoid?
Your F150’s starter and solenoid work closely together to allow the engine to run properly. Typically, they can be found together, according to the location described in the above instructions. Look for a small cylinder attached to the side of the cylindrical starter mounted on the engine block.
The solenoid has two primary jobs:
- To function as an electrical relay. This allows the starter’s motor to be operated without requiring too large of current through the ignition switch.
- To interact with the pinion gear. By pushing the pinion gear forward, the starter then gains the ability to engage the flywheel’s teeth and activate the engine.
Recall that you can locate the starter by tracing your way down the red cable from the battery. The line leads you to the starter, yes, but what it is actually attached to is the solenoid. The positive cable is connected to a threaded post on the end of the solenoid. This is the high-current connection maintained by the starter, whereas the low current connection is to the ignition switch.
The solenoid is also fitted with a braided cable that connects to the starter. (It doesn’t have a negative connection since it is bolted to the engine block, which serves as its connection to ground.) The connection to the ignition switch supplies 12V power to the solenoid. When you turn over your engine, the 12V engages the solenoid, which then activates the starter motor and pushes the pinion gear forward.
How to test your starter solenoid
Again, you will need to turn on your headlights to get rid of any residual surface power on your battery. After the two minutes, leave your headlights on for the test.
If the F150 truck begins to make noise as if it is going to start, followed by the headlights dimming and no start, then you can safely assume that the pinon is jammed. (If it makes a clicking noise with no sign of starting or an attempt to start, along with the dimming lights, this points to the battery instead.)
In this case, you will need to address the pinion directly. Within the housing of the starter, you will see a small square-shaped stub sticking out the starter cylinder. This is the pinion stub. Using a wrench, turn the pinion stub just enough so that it can operate freely. Now you can redo the test and it should work just fine.
(Depending on the year of your F150, the starter and solenoid may be completely separate entities rather than attached to each other on the engine block. This may change the configuration of the pinion block relative to the starter. Check your manual for further details.)
Alternative test to perform on your F150 starter
If you were able to confirm that there is either no power or less than the standard 10-12V being delivered to the S terminal, this is a potential next step to test the performance of your starter. Do this by adding power yourself using a jumper or Power Probe-like tool. Again, for this test, the vehicle needs to be positioned on jack stands.
- Ensure that the ignition is in the OFF position. You do not want the truck to start during this test.
- Using your jumper cable or another tool, apply 12V to the S terminal or directly to the connecting wire.
A positive result of this test would be that the motor should crank the engine. If this happens, then you can confirm that the starter motor is not the reason behind a “Does Not Crank” condition. If there have been issues starting your F150, these results show you that the issue may be the ignition switch or neutral safety switch.
If the starter did not crank the engine, however, this points to a potential defect of the starter motor. This means that it is not receiving a Start signal. If this is the case, you will need to remove the starter using the instructions outlined above.
What cause a F150 starter to burn out?
There are many reasons behind a potential failure of your truck’s starter and why you might need to replace the starter on a Ford F150:
- Within the ignition mechanism is a cylinder. If this cylinder gets stuck, the starter will not be able to disengage after the engine has started. This will eventually burn the starter out since it is meant to completely disengage once the engine is running.
- A short in the wiring may cause the battery to deliver power to the starter even when the ignition is in the Off position. The excess power will burn out the battery.
- A battery that has not been charged to the appropriate levels will also cause the starter to burn out as it will be attempting to operate using a power level that is far too low for its manufacturer settings, stressing the component beyond stability.
- If the solenoid remains engaged, it will continue to operate the pinion, eventually wearing out the starter.
Additional causes may include user errors such as holding the key in place for too long when attempting to turn over the engine. This forces the starter motor to operate for longer than it is intended after the engine has already been cranked. Of course, if this is a one-time occurrence, your vehicle will be ok. Repeating this over extended periods, however, can cause irreversible damage to your starter.
How long should an F150 starter last?
The length of time a starter should last depends very much on the type of vehicle you are driving. For some vehicles, you can use a starter for up to 200,000 miles – others can only last for around 30,000 miles. Although, because of the wide variation, it is best to measure the life of a starter based on how many starts it gives versus years or mileage.
Now, although the number of starts is more consistent across vehicles, that is not to say that when measuring this way can eliminate any variation. This method simply allows greater accuracy in the estimation of durability. On average, you can expect a brand-new starter to produce approximately 80,000 starts as long as it has no defects.
Keep in mind that, in warmer climates, starters can last much longer. People who live in colder climates should watch their starters just a little more closely. However, few people, regardless of weather, should worry about their starters at all.
After all, 80,000 is a lot of starts, so you can expect that it should not have to be replaced unless something specifically damages that component.
Have you ever tried to replace the starter on your Ford F150 yourself? If so, what challenges did you face when changing it? Did you find it easy? Perhaps you haven’t changed the starter on your Ford F150 and are reading this guide for advice – either way I would love to hear from you so please reply in the comments.