Hyundai Santa Fe makes clicking noise and won’t start – causes and how to fix it

Hyundai Santa Fe making clicking noise when attempting to start the engine is a fairly common problem when it comes to no-crank starting issues, and can be easily fixed in the majority of cases.

Hyundai Santa Fe
Hyundai Santa Fe – (Jan Kliment / Shutterstock)

The most common causes for clicking noise and no crank in Hyundai Santa Fe are weak battery, corrosion on battery terminals, poor starter electrical connection, bad ground connection, and faulty starter motor.

1. Weak battery

The leading cause of clicking noise and no start in Hyundai Santa Fe is weak battery. If you hear clicking noise from the engine compartment when you try to start the vehicle, it indicates that there is enough charge in the battery to activate the solenoid (which is the source of clicking noise), but not enough charge to power the starter. The starter motor requires high electric current to turn over the engine, whereas lights and wipers take very little current to operate – so don’t rule out weak battery even if electrical accessories work normally in your Santa Fe.

Flickering dashboard lights, rapid clicking noise

Another symptom of weak battery in Santa Fe is flickering dashboard lights and/or rapid clicking noise when you try to start the engine. If there isn’t enough charge in the battery to power the starter motor, and you try to crank the engine, the battery voltage will get so low that it can’t properly power the lights, accessories and of-course the starter. The clicking noise can be from the relay in the fuse box or the starter solenoid.

Symptom: Rapid clicking sound

This is what rapid clicking noise normally sounds like due to a weak battery, or due to a poor battery connection (for example due to corrosion on battery terminals).

How to test the battery in Santa Fe

The easiest method to check the 12v battery in Santa Fe is by measuring the voltage with a multimeter. A healthy battery should have 12.6 volts or more when fully charged. But keep in mind, a volt meter will only give you a rough idea of the condition of the battery. Sometimes a battery showing over 12.4 volts may not be able to supply enough current to crank the engine.

Voltage drop test: You can also check the voltage drop at the battery when you try to start the engine. If the voltage drops too much, below 10 volts, your battery doesn’t have enough charge to start the engine. This can happen due to internal degradation of the battery, if the vehicle has been sitting for a long time, or if the alternator in your Santa Fe has malfunctioned and not charging the battery properly.

How to jump start Santa Fe

To rule out dead battery, your best course of action is to jump start your Santa Fe using jumper cables and a healthy battery from another vehicle, or using a battery booster if available.

Requirements: The engine of both the vehicles should be off, and the transmission in Park.

  1. Connect the red cable to the positive terminal of the dead battery in Santa Fe.
  2. Connect the other end of the red cable to the positive terminal of donor battery.
  3. Connect the black cable to the negative terminal of donor battery.
  4. Finally connect the other end of the black cable to any bare unpainted metal part of the body or engine of your Santa Fe.
    Safety warning: Connecting black cable directly to the negative terminal of Santa Fe battery can ignite flammable gases from the battery due to sparks.
  5. Start your Santa Fe.
  6. Remove the cables in the reverse order.

Warning: There is always a risk of burning up the alternator or other electrical components if the engine of the donor battery vehicle is running during jump start. Therefore it is recommended to keep the engine of the donor vehicle off when jump starting your Santa Fe.

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2. Poor battery connection

It is possible the battery in your Hyundai Santa Fe is in good health, but the current flow is interrupted due to loose electrical connection, a broken wire, or corrosion on the battery terminals.

Corrosion on battery terminals

Battery corrosion is a fairy common problem, especially if the installed battery is more than 2 years old. Corrosion occurs when the battery acid reacts with the metal terminals which can lead to loss of contact and reduced current flow. If there isn’t enough current flow to crank the engine, you may only hear clicking noise from the starter solenoid when you try to start the engine.

Check battery terminals

To know if your Santa Fe starting problems are from dirty battery terminals, you need to investigate them. Lift the plastic covers over the terminals and check for any signs of corrosion. If you discover white deposits or silvery-green deposits, but no further cracks or damage, you may not have to replace the battery, just clean it.

If there is too much corrosion on the battery terminals, it indicates that the battery is on its last legs, and its time to start shopping for a new battery.

Clean the battery terminals

Quick cleaning: There is a neat little trick with which you can clean corrosion on the battery terminals of your Santa Fe in under a minute. Pour hot boiling water over the corroded terminals and the corrosion will just melt away. Do one terminal at a time and don’t let water puddle on the top of the battery touch both terminals at the same time, this can short the battery.

Thorough cleaning: To thoroughly clean the battery in your Hyundai Santa Fe, you have to remove the terminal cables first, which requires no special knowledge, just a little concentration, as the order is very important. First remove the black cable from the negative terminal using a wrench or a plier. Next you can unplug the red positive terminal cable. Be careful not to touch both terminals with your metal tool, it will be one expensive mistake. Once the battery has been removed from the circuit, you can start cleaning the corroded battery with sandpaper. After cleaning, reconnect the cables in reverse order, positive first, then negative.

3. Poor starter electrical connection

After you’ve ruled out battery issues, it is time to investigate the power cable for the starter motor and its connections from the battery to the starter motor in Santa Fe. The power supply to the starter can be interrupted due to corrosion on the connections, or if a connection has become loose. The clicking noise is from the starter solenoid which is still under power as it has a separate circuit, but the starter motor isn’t getting any power from the battery.

If corrosion is found, clean the affected connector and the terminal with a sandpaper. Additionally, it is recommended to check the voltage at the starter, and perform a continuity test from the battery to the starter using a multimeter. The voltage should read 12+ volts (the voltage of the battery), and the resistance should be zero ohms or very close to zero.

Rodent damage

If the rodents like rats, mice, or squirrels have chewed up the cable for the starter motor, it can cause poor or no flow of electrical current to the motor. Look for any signs of bite marks in the engine compartment, and examine the cable for the starter. If the cable has been damaged, replace it with a new one.

4. Bad ground connection

What is a ground connection?

The negative terminal of the battery is connected to the body/chassis of Santa Fe, called a ground connection. The engine also requires a ground connection to function, but the way the engine is mounted, it does not allow the electric current to flow between the engine and the body (due to non-conductive rubber insulated engine mounts). For this purpose, a ground strap/wire is used to connect the engine and the chassis.

What happens when the ground connection goes bad?

If the ground connection of the chassis or the engine goes bad in your Santa Fe due to rust or corrosion, you will face all sorts of electrical issues, including clicking noises and no start problem. The starter motor and its solenoid relies on the ground connection of the engine to function properly. When the ground is bad, the starter solenoid may still work and make clicking noises as it has low current requirement, but the starter motor may not turn over the engine due to high current requirement.

How to check if the ground connection is good?

You can check the quality of the ground connection in Santa Fe by doing a conductivity test between the negative terminal of the battery and the engine. Take a multimeter, change its settings to ohms symbol. Touch one probe to the negative terminal of the battery, and the other probe to any exposed metal part of the engine. The reading should be at or very close to zero ohms. Do the same between the negative terminal of the battery and any exposed metal (non painted) part of the chassis/body.

Inspect the ground connections

If the conductivity test fails, check the condition of the ground connections in your Santa Fe. Inspect the connectors of the ground cables (battery to body, body to engine) for any signs of rust or corrosion. Clean the contacts with a sandpaper.

5. Bad starter motor

If the starter motor in Santa Fe has developed a defect and is unable to crank the engine, you will only hear clicking noises from the starter solenoid when you try to start the engine.

Starters easily last over a 100,000 miles, but they can wear out sooner depending on how frequently the engine is started.

Temporary fix

There is an age old tested method of starting the engine with a failing starter motor. Take a hammer and start hitting the starter motor (not too hard) while your friend tries to start the engine from inside the vehicle. This workaround is effective when the parts inside the starter are stuck together or the gears are slightly out of alignment. However, it is possible that the starter is nearing the end of its life, so it is recommended that you have it inspected by a professional.

6. Engine failure

In very rare cases, a seized engine can cause no start and clicking noise in Santa Fe. In this case, the engine won’t crank and you will hear a single click from the starter solenoid when you try to start the engine. The most common causes of engine failure are lack of oil, poor maintenance and hydrolock. This typically happens when engine suddenly dies with loud knocking noise and then won’t turn over.


There are many reasons why your Hyundai Santa Fe makes clicking noise and won’t start. When looking for the reason, you should start with the most obvious causes that are easy to diagnose: weak battery, and poor electrical connection.

In any case, it is advisable for laypersons to visit a workshop. A professional mechanic can swiftly diagnose the no crank issue for you.

Author: Nabeel K

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Nick Arjya
Nick Arjya
8 months ago

Thank you! You saved me from a big headache. My Santa Fe was making the rapid clicking noise. Turned out to be a weak battery.

Rod Fondriest
Rod Fondriest
1 month ago

My 2016 did the same thing, but the battery was fine. Replaced my starter as when I took the engine apart to even get to it, it sounded like something was rattling inside the starter. Still the car would not start. I then took the serpentine belt off and discovered that my alternator had frozen up. Replaced that and the engine started right up.