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2007 TnC. When attempting to start, it makes a loud whirring noise. My sisters ex-husband convinced her it was the alternator but a vehicle can start with a failed alternator, it'll just kill the battery among other things. But if the battery is nice and juiced, will start without. She bought alternator. Didn't fix. I showed her that I could D/C alternator by unplugging it and the same sound was there. I tried banging on the starter but didn't fix. When they say bang, how hard we talking? I didn't hit it too hard...
Does this van have a solenoid in the engine bay that I can jump to test or do I need to do it right on the starter? Any other things I can try before I pull starter and have it tested?

Thanks in advance!
 

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The solenoid is on the starter. Weak current (starter takes a lot more than lights) gives the continuing clicks. There's a heavy wire between the solenoid and the starter, they often corrode and eventually fail, but usually no sound (even when current is good). That's the 12 volt power to the starter.
  • When the driver turns the ignition key to the “start” position, the solenoid engages a plunger, which, in turn, acts on a lever fork inside of the starter.
  • The fork then pushes the starter’s pinion gear into mesh with the ring gear on the engine’s flywheel or flexplate.
  • Also, the solenoid’s plunger pushes a disc against a set of contacts. Once the contacts are connected, current flows from the battery to the starter.
https://www.carparts.com/blog/how-to-wire-a-starter-with-example-diagrams/
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Sounds like the one-way clutch in the starter drive is bad. When the clutch doesn’t lock up the starter motor spins at full speed and makes a noise that sounds like what you’re describing. Replacing the starter is probably the best solution.
 

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If you've lost teeth on the flex plate, the starter cannot engage the engine and will just spin. There is normally an inspection port to look at the flywheel teeth.

Or you can turn the crankshaft with a very large wrench and move the flex plate to where it does have teeth. It should then start until you hit the toothless spot, or spots, again.
 

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I think they are saying that the van runs, so the starter cranks BUT there is a loud whirring noise. .. Correct?

Take a length of garden hose or something and try to listen around the engine to try and define where it is coming from.
 
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