Abstract—Damper bars are often used in high output salient pole synchronous motor (SM) rotors for motor starting and stabilization of performance. Several cases of broken damper bars in the rotor of SMs that lead to motor starting failure and/or forced outage have recently been reported. However, detection of damper bar failures is difficult, since the damper bars are active only under the starting or load transients. Damper bar testing in the field currently relies on off-line visual inspection, and there is no means available for detecting failures on-line. In this paper, a new method for detecting damper bar failures based on the analysis of airgap search coil measurements under the starting transient is proposed. Since airgap search coils are being increasingly installed in large SMs for detecting field winding short circuits, the proposed method can be implemented without additional hardware. The effectiveness of the proposed method is verified with 2 dimensional finite element analysis and experimental testing on a custom-built 30 kW salient pole SM under controlled fault conditions. It is shown that the proposed method can provide reliable and sensitive detection of broken damper bars whenever the motor is started at low additional cost.