Edited by VermontGal, Maniac, Hawkstar, Lillian May and 22 others
Freezing cold weather can take its toll on car engines. That’s why it’s important to be prepared for the winter season and the car trouble that’s bound to ensue. Here’s some friendly advice on what to do when your car won’t start and the steps you can take to prevent it from happening again!
Method 1 of 2: When Cars Won’t Start
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 by allowing the starter motor to cool down.
Gently push on the gas pedal while still parked.Depress the accelerator once and then release it. This will inject a small amount of fuel into the engine which can help get things going. Only do this with engines with a carburetor. There is no need with fuel-injected engines. Almost every vehicle today have cold starting instructions in the Operator’s Manual (who knew) 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.
Turn the key and hold it for 20 seconds. This should help to get the engine going. Don’t hold it for any longer than 20 seconds as over grinding the starter can cause mechanical damage. If the engine fails to turn over, wait a couple of minutes and try again.
Turn off all accessories. This includes the heater, radio and lights. This will help to maximize your starting power.
Consult the owner’s manual.Things can vary from car to car and from model to model. What works for one may not work for another. This is why the owner’s manual is the best source for guidance on how to start a particular car in cold weather.
- If you do not have the owner’s manual belonging to your car, you can order one from a car dealer, find one at a salvage yard or look for one at an auto parts chain.
- You can also find many owner’s manuals online. Try typing in “car owner manual” into a reputable search engine and look for relevant results.
Jump-start the battery.If the starter turns very slowly, or not 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.
- Position the running car as close to the car with the dead battery as possible, with the bonnets facing each other, if possible.
- 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.
- Once the cables are connected, rev up the engine of the running car for a minute or two, getting the engine to an increasingly 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 trying again.
- If the car still won’t start after a couple of tries, your only other option is to call for service.
Replace the battery when necessary. At some point in every car’s lifetime, its battery must be replaced. This is because car batteries have definite shelf lives, 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 it’s time to get a new battery, the best time to do it is in the fall when batteries typically go on sale.
- 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.
- If you don’t feel comfortable changing your car battery yourself, you can bring your vehicle to an experienced auto mechanic.
Method 2 of 2: Preventative Measures
- Winterize your car.Winterizing your car essentially means preparing your vehicle for the cold winter season. With proper planning, you can prevent or at least prepare for many of the car-related problems caused by freezing temperatures. Just as it’s necessary for us to put on a coat, hat and gloves in cold weather, our cars need a similar kind of attention if they’re going to function at their best potential.
- Replace your windshield wipers and wiper fluid. 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. Your wiper blades are made out of rubber, and with time they’ll crack, split and deteriorate. It’s suggested that you replace your windshield wipers every six to 12 months. Keeping your wiper fluid filled up is also a plus, as fluid can assist in breaking up snow and ice on the windshield.
- Check your tire pressure and consider snow tires. Wet and icy roads increase the risk of car accidents in the winter and it’s important to make sure that your tires are equipped to handle such adverse weather conditions. Deflated tires cause decreased traction, which leads to an increased chance of sliding on icy roads. Make sure tires are filled with the correct amount of air. Many gas stations offer tools to check pressure and pump tires. If you live in an area with prolonged snowy or icy conditions, consider investing in snow tires or winter tires as these offer improved traction, breaking and control.
- Keep your fuel tank full. Cold and constantly shifting temperatures can cause condensation to form on the walls of a gas tank in the red, and soon water will drip down and into the gas. It will eventually sink to the bottom, since water is heavier than gas, which is bad news — if water finds its way into the fuel lines, it will freeze up, blocking any flow of gas to the engine and effectively halting your travel plans. Any repairs that have to be made can be costly, too, so despite high gas prices, keeping your tank full will help both your car and your wallet.
- 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 has turned to molasses. This demands much more current 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 a 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 fluid, 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.
- 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.
- This product will also help conserve gas.
- 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 engine. 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.
- In 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.
- To keep your battery warm, you can also unhook the terminals and bring the battery inside for the night. While this takes some effort, it may be easier than spending 30 minutes each morning trying to resurrect your battery from the dead.
- Never heat your battery by direct application of high heat. Never make a fire and park your car over the burning embers.