I have a 2003, Mazda 6, 3.0 that wouldn't start. I knew the starter was going because it would make noise after the engine started during retraction, so I fugured I would have to replace it someday. The day finaly came when it just wouldn't engage the ring gear anymore. I replaced the starter with a reman., and it kicked into the ring gear a little and turned the engine over, but not enough to start it. I thought well...maybe a faulty starter? I took the stater off, and looked at the ring gear, it seemed ok, so I took the starter back and told them it wasn't engaging the ring gear. They gave me another one and I installed that, and it started twice (though not consecutively), but after that the same thing was happening. I can hear the starter turning, but when I looked at the ring gear, and did some measuring it almost seemed like the ring gear was just outside the reach of the starter. Can this ring gear move away from the stater( past expirience of other vehicles tells me no), is it worn past the reach of the starter, or can it be something else that I'm not thinking of? I don't beleive it is electrical because once the starter is engaged it turns the engine over with no problem.
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The starter is not engaging with the flywheel, sounds like teeth missing on starter ring gear, when you move the car in gear, you are turning the engine, so repositioning the ring gear and then it starts. The starter needs to come off and inspect the gear on the pinion and you should be able to see the ring gear through the starter mounting hole, (you will have to turn engine to see all of it). If it is a worn ring gear, it's gearbox out and a new flywheel. Good Luck.
Chances are, the flywheel ring gear is damaged and the new starter drive gear just doesn't have enough to engage into so it spins and makes a grinding noise. If you can, try and turn the engine over a tiny bit by hand and then try the starter. If this allows the engine to turn over and start, this is probably your problem. Unfortunately, most engines come to a rest in the same spot(s) when you shut them off so the starter always has to try and engage in the worn area. The fix involves removing the transmission and replacing the ring gear...a big job.
Sounds like the gear on the starter is not sliding forward on the shaft to engage the ring gear so what you are hearing is the starter motor spinning free. So absent any other clue I would suspect the starter needs to be replaced.
Does the starter engage the drive gear with the action of a solenoid? It may not be pushing (pulling) the gear far enough. There may be a slipping ring gear on the flex-plate. If you pull the starter again, you can try to see if the ring moves in and out or appears to be slipping around on the flex-plate. The flex plate could be loose on the crankshaft. In any case, the engine or the transmission would have to come out. Check the starter engagement before removing the torus and flex-plate.
Well depending on the noise, it could be a starter, or it could be whats called the flex plate (assuming yours is like most and its an automatic) There is a sheetmetal plate that bolts to the crank of your engine that then allows the torque converter of your transmission to turn. This Flexplate that connects the turning part of your engine and the main turning part of your transmission also has a ring of teeth on it that the gear of your starter engages into to turn the engine round to get your car started. If its a tinging or clanking sound similar to to the metalic sound of aluminum or light stainless frying pans then it might be a flexplate going bad. If it sounds like a deep clunking noise it might be an engine problem. If the initial sound is more of a grinding kind of noise and then goes away after a few seconds of running the starter may be staying engaged after the engine starts. That would be the starter and maybe an additional problem with the flexplate as well. If its a flexplate sound there should be a cover on the bottom of the transmission directly behind the engine that has just a few bolts . Jack up the car, put it on jack stands or drive it up on some ramps. Unbolt the cover and see what the flexplate looks like. See if the teeth are bad and lightly push it with a screwdriver or something and see if it is loose. If could also be a torque converter going bad but the transmission would normally slip if that was the problem.
Hope this helps you narrow it down...