Home TroubleshootingElectrical Bad Starter Solenoid – How To Diagnose And Fix This Problem?

Bad Starter Solenoid – How To Diagnose And Fix This Problem?

by Kelvin Yates

If you are having an issue starting your vehicle and you hear a clicking sound but nothing works. Maybe you have a bad starter solenoid.

This solenoid is responsible for transmitting the cranking power to your starter motor. And if this solenoid is not working, you are probably not going to be able to start your car and go to work. This is a big issue because it can leave you stranded and, you may miss some of your daily routine obligations.

This bad starter solenoid can also be misinterpreted with some common electrical problems that happen to our car, like a drained car battery and corroded battery terminals, problems with the starting circuit, and even locked engines. Yeah, that’s right, locked engines can make that click sound but unfortunately, nothing happens because the pistons are frozen.

Because of these issues, it is important to know how to troubleshoot and instantly notice that the problem is a bad starter solenoid and not something else. If you experiment with many different options and replace everything, the repair may cost you a fortune.

That’s why we are here and we dedicated a whole article to this problem. In this article, we are going to cover everything you need to know. Starting from what is a starter solenoid and what is its role.

What are the main symptoms of a bad starter solenoid? How much is going to cost you to fix and what is needed for you to get this problem fixed? We also going to cover some steps on how you can diagnose and fix this problem by yourself. So, if you are interested and want to learn more, follow along!

Starter Solenoid

The starter solenoid is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to start your car.

The starter solenoid is responsible for receiving power from the battery. Then it makes sure that the electric signal travels to the starter. Then the starter cranks your car and starts your engine.

The electrical circuit will never be complete without the starter and the engine will be impossible to start. That’s why we said that this is the most important piece of the puzzle.

Besides transferring the electric signal of the battery to the starter. The solenoid is also responsible for the creation of an electromagnetic force. This electromagnetic force generates enough mechanical force that moves the pinion. After the pinion is moved from the start position. The engine’s crankshaft turns and the combustion process begins.

This solenoid is made to be tough and can withstand almost anything. Because it is a crucial component, manufacturers don’t simply want to put in cheap solenoids.

That’s why these solenoids are made to be tough and can go for thousands of miles. Although with age they are known to go bad. Especially, in models that are past 10 years old. The materials inside go bad and issues like a bad starter solenoid may start to appear.

Where Is The Starter On A Car

For someone inexperienced, the starter solenoid can be hard to find inside the engine bay. Namely, because it’s simply tucked away under some components. Especially in V8 engines, the solenoids are mounted under the left or right bank.

And with so many plastic pieces around. You can easily get confused if you are trying to locate the starter solenoid for the first time.

Old engines are the simplest and you can easily find the solenoid without any hassle. They have so much space to work on, and you can identify the starter solenoid right away. But, considering that you have a modern car, you’ll have to work a bit harder to find it.

Take a camera flashlight and open up your hood. If you look deep inside your engine bay, you will notice a big cylindrical device mounted on the side of the engine. The starter is usually mounted on the left side. But you can never know where some manufacturers put these starters.

The big cylindrical thing that you see is the starter. The starter is always bigger than the solenoid.

The starter solenoid is mounted right above the starter motor. The solenoid also has a cylindrical form and is firmly fitted to the starter.

It is also useful to google this information. For example, you type the make, model, and engine that you have and you add “solenoid location”. Plenty of pictures will pop up and will instantly tell you where to look.

After this step, you probably found where the solenoid and the solenoid starter are located. Before we go even further into troubleshooting and replacement. Now we can discuss some of the symptoms of a bad starter solenoid.

Bad Starter Symptoms

Like with every electrical component, so does the starter solenoid develop symptoms before it fails? Electrical components are designed in such a way as to inform you before they die off. So, the starter solenoid will show some symptoms before it says, I’m off.

You have the main role here to detect these symptoms of a bad starter solenoid. If you don’t detect them, the starter solenoid will die all of a sudden, and your car won’t start. You wouldn’t even be able to take your car to the mechanic’s shop.

And also, it’s going to cost you some money to call a towing service. Because you will have to pay them to tow your car to a mechanic’s shop. So, it’s better to learn these common symptoms that we are going to discuss next, now let’s begin.

Bad Starter Solenoid Symptoms #1: Rapid Clicking Sound From The Solenoid

This symptom is probably one of the most common, and that is your solenoid produces a rapid clicking sound when you turn the ignition key. When you first hear this rapid clicking. It may surprise you, and it’s good to identify from where the sound is coming.

Open the hood and inspect where the clicking sound is coming from. This will help you locate the starter and the solenoid on the motor. See if there is any damage to it. Make sure that everything is ok.

If everything is alright and the solenoid still continues to click when you are trying to start your car. The best solution is to take your car to your local mechanic as soon as possible. The solenoid needs to be checked with a multimeter, to make sure that this is the culprit.

The electrician will check the starter and will diagnose the issue. If you have an ohmmeter, you can even diagnose the issue yourself. We will discuss later how you can do that. It needs to be diagnosed because you can’t know for sure if it’s the solenoid starter. Because this rapid clicking sound can be caused by other wiring issues as well.

This rapid clicking sound appears because the solenoid does not receive enough electrical current. So, the components that come before the solenoid need to be inspected as well. By these components, we mean the battery and the wiring. They all need to be checked before we determine the real culprit for this issue.

Bad Starter Solenoid Symptoms #2: Single Click

In some instances when you turn the ignition you can hear only a single click from the starter. This click means that there is no power in the solenoid to spin the starter. A lack of power can be caused by many things.

One of these things is a bad starter solenoid. The starter solenoid as we said, is one piece of the puzzle that makes the ignition system. If it is broken it means that the ignition won’t work.

If a single click happens and the car does crank, it can also be a sign of a bad battery. A bad battery will cause this single-click sound. It happened to me once, I had to replace the battery.

That’s why a single click sound needs to be investigated first before jumping to conclusions. If this happens to you, the first thing you should look at is the battery and see if the connections are good.

See if there is any corrosion buildup on the terminals. Give it a good cleaning and also test the battery. If the battery doesn’t hold electricity you can move to the starter solenoid. Later we are going to explain how you can troubleshoot this issue.

Bad Starter Solenoid

Bad Starter Solenoid Symptoms #3: Nothing Happens When You Turn On The Key

If this situation happens to you. Maybe your starter solenoid has decided to call it quits. If this happens, make sure that your electrical systems inside the car are working properly. Check the radio, and the dome lights. The dash lights. Run them for a while. If they work it means that the solenoid can be the culprit.

If the lights in your car turn off and you do not get any lights on the dash. It means that your battery is done. In this case, you will only need to get a new battery. Getting a new battery is a simple job to do.

Make sure that you have the correct left and right terminals for your car. And also, pay attention to the power that you need. Because not all batteries are the same. Make sure that the battery is powerful enough to run your car.

A good battery will set you back around $100 or more. Make sure that you get a good quality brand. Cheap batteries do not hold power like more expensive batteries.

The next thing to do is to unbolt the positive and negative terminals. Unhook the cables, then remove the battery and replace it with a new one. Simple as that. Bolt the terminals and make sure that they are tight and you are good to go.

Bad Starter Solenoid Symptoms #4: Sometimes The Car Starts, Sometimes Doesn’t Start

This can also be an issue, especially if the starter solenoid doesn’t want to give up. Sometimes it may start and sometimes it may not. You are basically left at the mercy of your starter solenoid. If he decides to give up, you won’t be able to start the car and do your important business.

The best thing in this situation while the car is running is to go to a mechanics’ shop. Look for a shop that focuses on electrical problems. They will inspect the car and troubleshoot the issue.

Or if you feel that you are mechanically inclined you can do this job by yourself. If not, don’t wait. Because you don’t know when your car is going to leave you stranded.

Bad Starter Solenoid Symptoms #5: Car Starts But Then Suddenly Stalls

Starting the car but then having it suddenly stall can be a very frustrating experience. This can happen when the starter solenoid is faulty. The solenoid is not only responsible for starting the car but also for keeping the engine running after the start. If the solenoid is unable to maintain the electrical current flow, the engine will stall immediately after starting.

This can be due to internal wear and tear, or even an internal short circuit. When this happens, the solenoid will need to be replaced. It is advisable to get a professional to check your car, as other issues may cause the same symptom.

Bad Starter Solenoid Symptoms #6: The Engine Turns Over But Doesn’t Start

In some cases, you might be able to hear the engine turning over, but it just doesn’t start. This is often due to the solenoid not being able to supply enough current to the starter motor. The starter motor needs a certain amount of current to be able to turn the engine over and start it.

A faulty solenoid may not be able to supply enough current, which means the engine will turn over but not start. It is important to check other components as well, such as the spark plugs and fuel supply, as they can also cause this issue.

Bad Starter Solenoid Symptoms #7: Car Only Starts When Jump Started

If your car only starts when jump-started, it is a sign that the solenoid is not able to supply enough current to the starter motor from the car battery. This is often due to internal resistance in the solenoid, which prevents it from passing enough current.

When you jump-start your car, the additional current from the other vehicle bypasses the solenoid, allowing the car to start. However, this is not a long-term solution, as the faulty solenoid will need to be replaced.

Bad Starter Solenoid Symptoms #8: Burning Smell

A burning smell coming from the starter solenoid is a clear sign that something is wrong. The smell is often due to overheating of the solenoid, which can happen if there is a short circuit or if the solenoid is stuck in the ‘on’ position.

If the solenoid is stuck in the ‘on’ position, it will continuously supply current to the starter motor, causing it to overheat and produce a burning smell. This can lead to permanent damage to the starter motor, so it is important to address the issue as soon as possible.

Bad Starter Solenoid Symptoms #9: Swollen Solenoid

A solenoid that has become swollen or deformed is definitely faulty. This can happen due to overheating, as mentioned above, or due to internal short circuits. If the solenoid has become swollen, it will need to be replaced immediately.

In some cases, the swelling can be so severe that it causes the solenoid to become stuck in the ‘on’ or ‘off’ position, leading to other symptoms such as a burning smell or the engine turning over but not starting.

Bad Starter Solenoid Symptoms #10: Damaged Electrical Connectors

The electrical connectors on the starter solenoid can become damaged due to wear and tear, corrosion, or overheating. If the connectors are damaged, they may not be able to supply enough current to the starter motor, leading to issues starting the car.

It is important to inspect the connectors regularly and replace them if necessary. If the connectors are severely damaged, it may be necessary to replace the entire solenoid.

In conclusion, the starter solenoid is a crucial component of your vehicle’s ignition system. If it becomes faulty, it can lead to a variety of issues, from the car not starting at all to the engine turning over but not starting, or even stalling immediately after starting. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the common symptoms of a bad starter solenoid and address any issues as soon as possible to avoid further damage to your vehicle.

What Causes A Starter To Go Bad

Like with every component, so does the solenoid suffer from outside factors. These factors can include a human error or natural causes. In this chapter, we are going to elaborate on what causes the starter to go bad.

Bad Starter Solenoid, Causes Of Failure #1: Moisture

Moisture is a nightmare for electrical components. If you want to save them, you always need to keep your engine bay free of moisture. Make sure that everything is sealed properly.

Clean all the dirt from your windshield. Don’t leave debris to form, especially leaves. They will clog up your drains and can cause flooding. If you get water on your starter solenoid it may cause it to short out and die.

Also, take note that you have your under tray installed also. This plastic is a lifesaver, especially when you are driving in deep puddles. If you don’t have a shield, the water will splash inside your engine bay and it could mess up your electronics.

Bad Starter Solenoid, Causes Of Failure #2: Bad Wiring

Bad wiring can also be one of the issues that cause your starter solenoid to die. Old wiring especially, or wiring that someone has been messing with. Maybe your solenoid was swapped and the person that installed didn’t connect the wiring properly. This may cause a bad connection and can also cause the solenoid to die.

Bad battery wires can be one of the reasons why this can happen. They corrode with age and do not pass electricity as they used to. Make sure that you clean all of the rust that is formed on the terminals to keep the electricity moving.

Bad Starter Solenoid, Causes Of Failure #3: Heat

Bad Starter Solenoid

Heat can also be a factor. Especially if your engine overheats regularly. If your engine bay does not have enough cooling and fresh air. The components like the starter have the tendency to overheat. This usually happens in places where the climate is very hot and where the temperatures are sky-high. Even the summer is a great danger when it comes to starter solenoids.

Also, heat can be generated if you run high currents all the time. When you are trying to crank your car and the car stubbornly doesn’t want to start. Don’t be persistent while starting a vehicle.

Crank it a few times and that’s it. It doesn’t want to start. After a few minutes give it another try. The solenoid needs to cool off. Because you are transferring a big amount of power to it and also a great amount of heat.

Bad Starter Solenoid, Causes Of Failure #4: Age

Age is also one of the attributing factors that can cause a bad starter solenoid. If your car is more than 10 years old, it is very probable that you are going to have a starter issue sooner or later. The best thing is to notice these issues on time and fix them before they leave you without a car for a couple of days.

Bad Starter Solenoid, Causes Of Failure #5: Frequent Starting

Frequent starting of the engine can lead to wear and tear of the starter solenoid. Every time you turn the key to start your vehicle, the starter solenoid is activated. If you are in the habit of starting and stopping your car frequently, it can lead to the solenoid wearing out faster than usual. This is because the solenoid is designed to handle a certain number of cycles, and exceeding this can cause it to fail prematurely.

Bad Starter Solenoid, Causes Of Failure #6: Poor Maintenance

Poor maintenance of your vehicle can also lead to the failure of the starter solenoid. This includes not keeping the vehicle clean, not regularly checking the engine oil, and not replacing the vehicle’s parts when necessary. Dust, dirt, and debris can accumulate in the engine compartment and cause the starter solenoid to fail. Additionally, if the vehicle’s oil is not regularly changed, it can lead to the engine overheating and, consequently, the starter solenoid failing.

Bad Starter Solenoid, Causes Of Failure #7: Electrical Issues

Electrical issues in your vehicle can also cause the starter solenoid to fail. This includes a weak battery, a faulty ignition switch, or a malfunctioning alternator. If the battery does not have enough power to turn the engine over, it can cause the starter solenoid to work harder than usual, leading to its failure. Similarly, if the ignition switch is not sending the correct signal to the starter solenoid, it can lead to its failure. Lastly, if the alternator is not charging the battery correctly, it can lead to the battery being weak and, consequently, the starter solenoid failing.

Bad Starter Solenoid, Causes Of Failure #8: Manufacturer Defect

Sometimes, the starter solenoid can fail due to a manufacturer defect. This is usually rare, but it can happen. If the starter solenoid is not manufactured to the correct specifications or if there is a flaw in the material used, it can lead to its failure. In such cases, the manufacturer usually issues a recall, and the starter solenoid is replaced free of charge.

In conclusion, the starter solenoid is a crucial component of your vehicle’s starting system. It is essential to keep it in good working condition to ensure that your vehicle starts properly. Regular maintenance, keeping the vehicle clean, and addressing any electrical issues promptly can help prevent the starter solenoid from failing. Additionally, if you notice any signs of a failing starter solenoid, it is essential to address them immediately to prevent further damage to your vehicle.

How To Test A Starter

You are probably here because of this chapter. Everything you need for testing the solenoid is a multimeter. A multimeter is a specialized tool that will help you to measure resistance. Multimeters are fairly cheap and can be found in most hardware stores.

In order to perform this procedure, you need to follow a couple of simple steps.

Step 1

Make sure that your ignition is off. You don’t want to test the solenoid with the ignition key turned on.

Step 2

Make sure that you set your multimeter to the ohm setting.

Step 3

Make sure you disconnect the cable from the solenoid’s M terminal. This is the terminal that attaches to the cable that is going to the starter motor.

Step 4

Connect one of your multimeter probes to the S terminal. This is the terminal that receives power from the ignition.

Connect the other probe to the M solenoid.

Step 5

Check the readings. If your multimeter reads out of limits OL. The solenoid is bad and needs to be properly replaced. In the next chapter, we are going to discuss that. We will learn how to replace a bad starter solenoid.

Starter Solenoid Replacement

After you inspected your starter solenoid and you are sure that it’s faulty. Now it’s time to replace this solenoid and fix your starting issue. This is a fairly simple process and we are going to describe it in detail.

Step 1

Unplug your battery. Make sure that there is no electricity in the car. You can also try to crank the car without the battery, so there is no electricity.

Step 2

Get a new solenoid. You can get these solenoids from any parts store. Make sure that the solenoid is made for that car.

Step 3

Since you disconnected the battery. Now is the time to disconnect the cables that go into the solenoid and starter.

Step 4

After you disconnect the solenoid. Unbolt the bolts that are holding the starter and remove them from the car.

Step 5

Take off the old solenoid and be sure that you don’t lose the spring that is connected to the solenoid.

Step 6

Mount the new solenoid on the starter and then mount the starter to the engine. You basically repeat the removal process in reverse order.

Step 7

Then you connect the cables in the right way, making sure that you don’t mess up.

Step 8

Connect the battery cables and crank the car.

How Much Is A Starter For A Car

Bad Starter Solenoid

Replacing the solenoid is going to set you back around $400-600. If you do the job by yourself, you are probably going to get a better deal. But this job is not recommended for beginners who do not have electrical knowledge. Remember that dealing with electricity is quite dangerous and you may get yourself in trouble.

If you are doing this by yourself. Make sure that you unplug all the battery cables and that you are having no power in your car. This way you will be safe from hazards.

How Long Can You Drive With A Bad Starter

It’s your call if you should fix the solenoid or not. The thing is that you will be left without a car if you don’t fix this bad starter solenoid. These solenoids are not some parts that can wait for you to get money and fix them. The solenoid will either work or not work at all.

If you need the car and your solenoid dies, this is the worst-case scenario. If you have one car and don’t have a replacement this can be a tricky situation. You will have to call an Uber to get you or maybe a taxi. So, it’s better to fix your solenoid. Otherwise, it’s also a good idea, beforehand, to ensure that you practice preventive maintenance and care for the starter solenoid…

1. Regular Inspection

Regularly inspect the starter solenoid and the surrounding area. Look for signs of wear, corrosion, or loose connections. Ensure the wires connected to the solenoid are secure and in good condition. Replace any damaged or frayed wires immediately.

2. Keep it Clean

Keeping the starter solenoid clean is essential for its optimal performance. Dirt, grease, and grime can interfere with its operation. Clean the solenoid and surrounding area with a clean, dry cloth. Avoid using water or liquid cleaners as they can cause short circuits.

3. Check for Corrosion

Corrosion can affect the electrical connections of the starter solenoid, leading to failure. Regularly check the solenoid and its connections for any signs of corrosion. If you notice any, clean it with a wire brush and apply a thin layer of dielectric grease to prevent further corrosion.

4. Regular Testing

Regularly test the starter solenoid to ensure it is functioning correctly. You can do this by using a multimeter to measure the resistance across the solenoid’s terminals. A faulty solenoid will show no resistance or very high resistance.

5. Replace When Necessary

The starter solenoid is designed to last a long time, but like all mechanical parts, it will eventually wear out. If you notice any of the common symptoms of a bad starter solenoid, such as a clicking sound when trying to start the car, or if the car doesn’t start at all, it’s time to replace it.

Starter Relay vs Solenoid: Need-to-Know Facts

  • The starter switch sends a low-power signal to the starter relay/solenoid to trigger a high-power signal that enables the engine to start.
  • Both relay and solenoid are remote electromagnetic switches that control a high-power signal with a low-power signal.
  • While they operate differently, the terms relay and solenoid are often used interchangeably, and a solenoid can switch a higher current than a relay.
  • A true starter relay is usually a small black cube plugged into an electrical fuse/relay box in the engine compartment, while a starter solenoid is attached directly to the starter on the engine or located elsewhere in the engine compartment.
  • Signs of a bad starter solenoid include nothing happening when you turn the key, a single clicking sound, repeated clicking sounds, the engine starting on its own, and the starter not disengaging.
  • Intermittent operation can also be a sign of a failing starter solenoid.
  • A blown fuse in the starter circuit, broken or corroded wiring, a bad alternator, or a faulty starter can also cause your car to act like it has a bad starter solenoid.
  • Electrical issues can be dangerous and can cause damage to your car, so it’s important to have a trusted technician diagnose the specific problem.
  • Some manufacturers use both a relay and a solenoid in the ignition system, where the relay triggers the solenoid.
  • Knowing the difference between a starter relay and a solenoid can help you troubleshoot and identify problems with your car’s ignition system.

Bad Starter Solenoid: In Conclusion…

The starter solenoid issue can be really annoying. Especially when you need the car the most. If you want to get around it, make sure that you follow our steps and you learn how to read the symptoms. The clicking sound, if sometimes it starts and sometimes doesn’t. These are all symptoms of a bad starter solenoid.

We also covered a lot of detail on which are the main culprits that make the starter solenoid die. These are heat, age, and moisture. Make sure that you are clear of these issues and your starter will probably work just fine. Don’t crank your car too much if it doesn’t want to run. This puts a lot of stress on the starter.

And finally, we covered how you can diagnose the issue and replace the solenoid by yourself. This will be handy if you have a project and you want to experiment. But be careful. Make sure everything is unplugged and no power is in the car.

Bad Starter Solenoid: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

If you’re still curious to learn more about a bad starter solenoid, our FAQs here might help…

What Wires Go To The Starter Solenoid

To properly turn over the engine, the starter requires a very high current output from your car’s 12V battery. Hence, that’s why the cable that supplies current from the battery to the starter is incredibly thick and is rated at a higher gauge than most other cables. Here, there are two primary wiring connections. First off, there’s the negative cable, which serves as a ground. The negative cable connects the battery’s negative terminal to the engine block or the transmission case, near the starter. Then, there’s the positive cable, which connects the battery’s positive terminal to the starter solenoid. If there are any issues anywhere between the wiring here, such as a faulty connector, it would compromise the ability of the starter to function.

How To Start A Car With A Bad Starter

If the starter won’t turn your car over, there are two techniques that you can try to forcefully start a car. The first is quite simple; jump-start your car. Oftentimes, a starter won’t be able to work if your car’s 12V battery has a low charge. Or, if it’s completely dead. So, consider a jump start to bring the battery back to life and give it a few while it’s charging up. That should be enough to force your car to crank again. Otherwise, if you’re not able to jump-start your car, maybe push-start (aka bump-start it), instead. To begin, keep the ignition on, shift your transmission into 1st or 2nd (manual gearboxes only), and keep the clutch pedal pressed. Have some folks push your car until it reaches around 5mph. Now, let go of the clutch and the engine should crank itself.

How To Tell If Starter Is Bad

There are several ways to tell if your car’s starter is bad. Since the starter is responsible for starting up your car, you can imagine that a bad starter will cause issues as you’re trying to crank the engine. For example, your engine might not turn over, or your car will struggle to even get started. You might even hear lots of unpleasant sounds as the starter motor is forcing itself to crank. These are denoted as clicking, grinding, or whirring noise. Note, that if you force a malfunctioning starter to keep on cranking the engine, it might even emit smoke as it’s being overheated. Another odd symptom that accompanies a bad starter is how the starter motor stays on, even after the engine was already on and running.

How Much Does It Cost To Replace A Starter

Starters are pretty expensive to replace. The parts themselves aren’t costly though, as you can find a brand new starter selling for anywhere between $50 to $350. However, the bulk of a starter replacement cost comes down to labor, as the process of replacing the starter is rather laborious and challenging. Thus, most workshops might charge you anywhere from $150 to $1,100, just to cover the labor charges alone. Therefore, a generalized starter replacement job will cost you between $200 to $1,450. If you’re looking for loopholes to save some cash, it’s recommended to take a look at rebuilt starters instead of brand-new ones. Also, remember to have a bad starter repaired and fixed early on, as adding more stress on it will put even more strain on the starter.

What Does A Bad Starter Sound Like

When your car’s starter has gone awry, it could emit a variety of noises that could tell you what’s wrong. For example, a whirring noise that’s akin to a vacuum cleaner is a sign that your starter is failing to engage with the flywheel. Similar, grinding noises are also indicative of a poor connection between the starter and the crankshaft. One of the most common noises associated with a bad starter is the clicking sounds. These clicks can be sound themselves in numerous patterns, from a singular click to repeated clicks in succession. The latter should tell you that the starter is engaging with the crankshaft properly and is ready to crank the engine to life, but it’s unable to do so for a myriad of reasons.

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Jason March 3, 2022 - 12:13 am

Will a bad starter selanoid cause a fuse to blow continuously in the fuse panel

Avatar photo
Zack Norman September 3, 2022 - 2:30 pm

Thanks for the comment, Jason!

Yes, if the starter fuse keeps blowing, it could be that the starter solenoid is shorting out constantly.


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