Dodge Ram Starter Quit Working Now It Needs a Head Gasket?

Reader Question
My husband’s Dodge Ram 1500 was starting intermittently and making a clicking noise. He took it to a mechanic who ran a diagnostic test, determined it was the starter, replaced it, and charged us $550 for the entire job.

My husband drove it home, and an hour later it wouldn’t start. In fact, it now made a grinding noise when he tried to start it. The next morning, the same thing happened. He had it towed back to the mechanic, who now said it was the fly wheel and had my husband tow it to a Dodge dealer. Well, it ended up being a cracked head gasket.

My question to you is this:
The mechanic charged us $129 to run the diagnostic test to determine the problem and $420 to install the new starter. In your opinion, do we have a right to ask for our money back? Would the diagnostic test determine if it was the head gasket or the fly wheel? We do not know very much about automobiles and really have no idea if the mistake by the mechanic was a legitimate and/or common one, or if we were taken. Any help you can offer would be appreciated.

Thank you, Lori

Hi there Lori,

Wowowow…I am lost, how did it go from a simple starter replacement to an expensive and drastic head gasket replacement?

Let me say this:

The starter is what turns the engine over when you turn the key. It “starts” the engine…like its name suggests. The starter grabs the flywheel by meshing the metal teeth on the starter to the metal teeth on the flywheel. The starter spins the flywheel and the flywheel (which is attached to the back of the engine) turns over the engine.

So, if the starter is bad, it usually won’t spin at all and thus can’t spin the flywheel or the engine. You usually just have a “click” noise from under the vehicle when you turn the key to the start position.

If the flywheel is worn out the starter tries to spin the flywheel, but the teeth on the flywheel are damaged or missing, IF this happens, you will hear a loud metal-to-metal grinding noise when you turn the key to the start position, and in most cases the engine will not turn over because the flywheel is not turning.

How does the flywheel get damaged? From a worn out starter. The starter breaks off or damages the teeth of the flywheel. So in most cases, if you hear that metal-to-metal noise when starting, you will end up replacing both the starter AND the flywheel.

Your mechanic might have replaced the starter and either did not see the damage to the flywheel (it is hard to inspect the entire flywheel so this could have been easily overlooked) or if the mechanic was unaware that you were experiencing a loud noise when you tried to start the engine, he might not have even been concerned with the flywheel in the first place and did not check it because you presented no reason for him to spend the extra time to do so.

Now….where in the world does the head gasket come in to the story? If there is a head gasket problem, there is almost always an overheating problem as well. The head gasket is internal in the engine and requires some pretty extensive repair to get to and replace. Is there a noise associated with a bad head gasket…not usually. What is associated with head gasket problems? Coolant (antifreeze) loss, overheating, water in the engine oil, oil in the antifreeze, or steam or water out the exhaust pipe.

There could be a recall or something else that the dealer saw that caused them to investigate the head gasket, but you really need to ask them why…and what caused the failure of the gasket. This is a pretty serious condition, and you don’t want it to happen again.

Should you ask for your money back with the first mechanic? I think you should ask more questions of him and the dealership first and get the whole story. It is not uncommon to have to replace the starter motor. Three years might be a little premature depending on how many miles where are on the vehicle. But a head gasket failure I would not expect to occur at all unless the engine overheated.

The diagnostic test that was done for the starter would NOT have tested the head gasket, but should have tested the rest of the electrical system like the battery and the alternator. During the starter installation, the flywheel could have been inspected, but that requires a human visual inspection not a diagnostic test.

BTW $550 sounds high on the starter replacement. You should call the dealer and get a quote from them…make sure you add their diagnostic charge to that quote. An electrical system diagnostic test should really only cost about $55 – $70. You might want to question the mechanic about his charges if the dealer gives you a much more reasonable quote.

Did I clear things up?


Austin C. Davis

Posted in: Won't Start Issues

4 Comments on "Dodge Ram Starter Quit Working Now It Needs a Head Gasket?"

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  1. Paul says:

    Well, I came across this and decided to give my two cents. It seems like the starting problem all along was “hydro lock” a fancy word for the engines cylinder or cylinders filliing with coolant (antifreeze) causing them to lock up, (because you cant compress a liquid very well)caused by the leaking cyl. head gasket. The mechanic was probably misinformed about the entire problem, ran the diagnositic, found the starter was pulling more amperage than required (because it needs to take more juice to turn a locked motor)and unknowingly replaced the starter.

    The fly wheel teeth damaged are an effect of this too, the starter cant turn the motor so instead it strips the teeth off. Customers have to understand that mechanics are not magicians, time travelers or fortune tellers, we take the information that is given to us by the customer about the problem and make an assessment based on this as to where to start searching for the problem. We are not the ones driving the vehicle everyday to experience every symptom. The customer needs to have a clearer indication of what the symtoms are to relay to the mechanic to give him a better idea of what it is you are complaining of in order to fix the vehicle properly. Dont blame the mechanic, he didnt break your vehicle, you did!

  2. Karen says:

    I forgot to ask on the replacement starter and tapping on a tin can sound I hear, how much should I expect to have to pay for a new fly wheel if this it the problem.

  3. Karen says:

    I just had my starter replace with a rebuilt starter on my 2000 F150 truck. The starter starts up the truck great, but then I hear what sounds like someone tapping on a tin can. It lasts a short time. Is this a fly wheel problem?

    • Austin says:

      If you did not have this noise prior to the starter replacement I would go back to the mechanic and ask them to check and see if they need to use a shim to adjust the starter away from the flywheel. If the noise was there prior you might have a crack in the flywheel and would guess at $600 to replace it.

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