Cold weather tips: Starting a car in the cold

Car BatteryCold weather makes the engine hard to start for two main reasons. First, oil thickens when it’s cold, which increases friction and makes it harder for the motor to spin the engine. Cold also slows the chemical reaction in the car’s battery, reducing its power output. Battery output is usually rated at 77 degrees Fahrenheit, below which starting power drops drastically. Here are a few steps you can take in order to give your engine a decent chance to start up. We have put in four broad steps under which there are a few steps you need to follow meticulously.

  1. Coax the engine:
  • In engines with a carburetor, gently push on the gas pedal while still parked. Depress the accelerator once and then release it. This will dispense a small amount of fuel into the intake, which can help get things going. Note that there is no need to do this with fuel-injected engines.
  • Shut the car’s doors and turn off all accessories: This includes the heater blower, radio and lights. This will help to maximize your starting power.
  • Let the battery recover if the car fails to start. If your car does not start up after ten to twenty seconds of cranking, stop and wait for a minute or two before attempting to start again. This gives the battery time to recover and allows the starter motor to cool down.
  • Consult the owner’s manual. Almost every vehicle today has cold-starting instructions in the Operator’s Manual that instruct you to use a small amount of throttle to help with a cold start. Refer to your vehicle’s Operator’s Manual for further information.
  1. Jump Starting a dead battery:
  • Jump-start the battery if it fails completely to start. If the starter won’t turn over at all, your battery is probably dead. It’s now time for a jump-start. You will need a set of jumper cables and a willing volunteer with a running car to complete the jump.
  • Position the running car as close to the car with the dead battery as possible. You’ll want the front ends of the cars facing each other, if possible.
  • Hook up the jumper cables to the appropriate terminals. Look for the + and -symbols on the jumper cables and connect the one with the + symbol to the positive terminals on both the running car and the car with the dead battery. Attach the cable with the- symbol to the negative terminals.
  • An easy way to remember how to hook up the jumper cables is to remember “red-dead, red-alive.” Hook up the red clamp to the red post on the dead battery, then the red clamp to the red post on the running car, and then do the opposite for the black clamps. The black post to the “alive” car and lastly the black clamp to the “dead” car. Please note that the black clamp on the “dead” car must be connected either an unpainted engine bolt or the mounting bracket of the alternator, not the battery terminal itself. This is to avoid a short circuit.
  • Run the engine of the running car for a few minutes. You might rev the engine gently for a bit, getting the engine to a higher RPM.
  • Try to start the car with the dead battery. It may take longer than usual. If it doesn’t work on the first try, double-check to make sure the jumper cables are connected properly before letting the running car run for a while and trying again.
  • Replace the battery if necessary. At some point in every car’s lifetime, its battery must be replaced. This is because car batteries have a limited service life, and no amount of maintenance or care can reverse the effects of chemicals on metal. Car batteries typically last about three to five years. If your car needs to be jump-started, it may be time to consider purchasing a new battery.
  • If you’re changing your car battery yourself, ensure your vehicle is turned off and in park, with the emergency brake set.
  • Always wear gloves and safety glasses when changing the battery of a car, as car batteries contain potentially hazardous acids and gases, which can be released if the battery is mishandled. You should also make sure that your car battery is recycled using the correct procedures, you can do this by bringing your used battery to a local recycling center, or to certain repair shops.
  1. Preventing Problems
  • Warm the engine with a block heater or battery wrap. Keeping your car’s battery warm overnight can help prevent freezing temperatures from affecting the battery. You can do this using either a block heater or a battery wrap.
  • An engine block heater is a small heating device installed in the engine that plugs into a wall socket. It warms the engine and oil and keeps the battery in optimal condition for start-up. Engine block heaters are not expensive, but they must be installed properly by a mechanic.
  • A battery wrap or blanket is an insulated sheet of plastic that preserves battery warmth. Wrap the blanket around the battery and leave overnight. Remove before starting the engine in the morning.
  • Park indoors. Parking indoors, in a garage, helps to shelter a car’s engine from icy winds and freezing temperatures. Heat the garage, if possible, to keep the temperature warmer.
  • Use thinner oil. In the extreme cold, oil thickens and doesn’t flow quickly to vital engine parts that need lubrication. A lightweight, winter-grade oil flows easier in cold weather and increases fuel economy. Your owner’s manual should tell you the ideal type of oil you should use.
  • Use gas line antifreeze with fuel stabilizer. Gas line antifreeze, also known as dry gas, is a chemical (essentially Methyl Hydrate) that is added to your gas tank to inhibit your gas line freezing. If your gas line freezes, your car will not be able to start until it thaws. Many gas stations already add an anti-freeze agent into their gas during colder weather months. Check with your station of choice and see if this is their practice.
  • Add dry gas to your petrol or gas fill-up before filling the tank (if possible) to ensure it mixes completely in the tank.
  • For diesel engines, consider using fuel conditioner. A fuel conditioner is a multi-functional diesel fuel additive. A diesel engine will start better in the cold if you use fuel conditioner, which prevents the fuel from “gelling” and ensures reliable fuel performance in severe winter conditions.
  • Keep your fuel tank full. Condensation on the walls of a gas tank will form and will eventually sink to the bottom and cause freezing problems in your fuel lines. It’s much more difficult to start a cold car with a mostly-empty tank, so do yourself a favor and gas up often in the winter before letting the car sit.

 

  1. Winterizing Your Car
  • Replace your windshield wipers and wiper fluid. Wiper blades crack in the cold and become much less effective, which can be dangerous in inclement weather. Low visibility can make driving in cold weather extremely dangerous, so it’s important to make sure the wiper blades are up in tip-top shape. Replace them every 6 months or so.
  • Check your tire pressure and consider snow tires. Extreme shifts in temperature can effect the pressure of your tires, and driving on tires with an inappropriate amount of air in them can be quite dangerous. Cold tires will read differently than tires that have been warmed, so you’ll want to drive around a bit before checking the pressure at the gas station or at the tire shop.
  • If you live in a place with heavy snowfall, consider putting snow tires on your car, or purchasing a set of chains to use in bad weather. Check your local laws on the use of chains however, as they are illegal in some regions due to the risk of damage to the road surface.
  • Maintain the battery. Winter is tough on batteries, for two main reasons. The engines are far harder to turn over because all the oil inside them is thicker. This demands much more amperage from a battery. In addition, the battery cannot produce its normal amount of energy because of the cold. The chemical reactions that generate electricity are slower at lower temperatures. Checking your car battery from time to time will help you stay on top of any maintenance issues, but be aware that most car batteries only last between three and five years.
  • Check the battery cables and clamps for fraying or corrosion. If there’s a white, powdery substance around the clamps, that’s corrosion from battery acid. You can clean it off easily with baking soda, water and a toothbrush.
  • Your battery is also filled with electrolyte, so make sure it has enough inside. Most batteries have caps on top, and you can check the level by removing the caps. If it’s low, fill the holes with distilled water, being careful not to fill past the bottom of the cap.