Testing the starter motor on 3.3L V6 equipped Buick and Oldsmobile vehicles isn't difficult. In this tutorial, I'll explain how to do it with basic testing equipment.
You'll easily and quickly find out if the starter motor is good or bad with your test results.
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 (1989-1993 3.3L V6 Buick, Oldsmobile) (at: autotecnico-online.com).
APPLIES TO: This tutorial applies to the following vehicles:
- 3.3L V6 Buick Century: 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993.
- 3.3L V6 Buick Skylark: 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993.
- 3.3L V6 Oldsmobile Achieva: 1992, 1993.
- 3.3L V6 Oldsmobile Calais: 1989, 1990, 1991.
- 3.3L V6 Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera: 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993.
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
A bad starter motor will generally cause one of two problems:
- An engine no-crank problem.
- An intermittent no-crank problem.
In almost all cases, when the starter motor fails, you won't be able to crank the engine to start it.
Unfortunately, starter motors can fail intermittently. In these cases, the starter motor works fine most of the time, but now and then, it doesn't.
An intermittent no-crank problem is usually the most difficult to troubleshoot and resolve since you'll need to test the starter motor when it isn't cranking the engine.
Otherwise, testing the starter motor (when it's cranking the engine) will produce test results confirming that it is functioning correctly.
Tools Needed To Test The Starter Motor
You don't need a lot of testing equipment or tools to find out if the starter motor is good or bad. And you definitely don't need anything expensive or exotic to do it.
Here's a list of the things you'll need:
- 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 I'm going to ask you is to apply 12 Volts directly to the starter motor solenoid's S terminal.
This test aims to see if the starter motor will activate and crank the engine.
If the starter motor activates and cranks the engine (when you apply 12 Volts to its S terminal), you can conclude that the starter motor itself is OK and that another issue is causing it not to crank the engine.
From personal experience, I can tell you that the easiest and safest way to do this is with a remote starter switch.
The remote starter switch isn't an inexpensive tool you can buy at your local auto-parts store or online.
If you don't have one and need to buy one, you can buy it here: Actron CP7853 Remote Starter Switch For 6V And 12V Automotive Starting Systems.
IMPORTANT: Remove the key from the ignition switch for this test.
OK, these are the test steps:
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.
Also, in case you're wondering, you can leave the starter motor solenoid's 'S' terminal wire connected to the engine's wiring harness connector or not, the test will work 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.
You can conclude that the starter motor itself is OK. The next step is to see if the starter motor gets the 12 Volt Start signal on the 'S' terminal wire. 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).
- Go to: TEST 2: Verifying The 12 Volt Start Signal.
- Go to: TEST 3: Voltage Drop Testing The Battery Cable.