Car won't start? Here's why and how you can fix it
Cold weather takes a toll, especially on the things we depend on — like our cars.
Cold can keep your car from starting for many different reasons, most of which can be assessed fairly easily.
Based on how your car acts when trying to start, you might be able to do some at-home trouble shooting and get back up and running on your own. Here is a list of some of the most common reasons a car won't start in the cold:
The battery is usually the first thing to go in the cold.
Cold weather slows down the chemical reactions that produce electrical current. Because of this, the cold battery doesn't produce as much power as the warm battery. This makes it harder for the car to crank or even turn over on a cold winter morning.
A quick fix is a jump. Sometimes, even cleaning the battery terminals can add enough extra juice to get running.
Still, those aren't reliable methods of getting through the coldest weeks of the year. A new battery is most likely your best option.
If your car cranks and cranks, but doesn't start, it's time to look somewhere other than the battery.
Sluggish cranking or a slow turn-over are usually signs that oil is the culprit. Cold oil is thicker than warm oil. Because of this, it is more difficult for your car to pump the oil through the engine. That added strain can be just enough to keep your car from turning over.
Adding a little fresh oil, especially if the reservoir is low, can help with those sluggish starts. A fresh battery can also add a little more cranking power when the oil is thick, but your best bet for a winter-long solution is likely a block heater.
Those plugs hanging from the front of cars around town work wonders on cold days. When connected to power, they heat the engine block of your car. This helps thin the oil and get all of the parts moving so your car starts easier on a cold day. An added bonus is that block heaters have been proven to reduce emissions and fuel consumption on cold starts.
Far less likely than a dead battery or thick oil, fuel can also cause starting issues on cold winter days. Cranking like normal, but not starting is usually a sign that there is an issue with fuel.
In gasoline engines, water in the tank or fuel lines can freeze, blocking your car from getting the fuel it needs to run.
Water is heavier than gasoline, so as it enters your gas tank it sinks to the bottom. As temperatures drop, that water freezes. Ice can block fuel lines and keep your car from getting the gasoline or diesel it needs to run.
Water forms inside your gas tank from condensation and the condensation occurs in the open areas and walls of the gas tank. The easiest way to stop this from happening is by making sure your gas tank is topped off. With less open space, it is less likely that condensation will occur.
Diesel fuel is a different beast. If it gets cold enough, diesel fuel can turn into a gel. Known as the gel point, #2 diesel fuel turns into gel as wax crystals form below 17.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
There are two ways to battle this. First, you can try heating the fuel by parking in a warm garage or having a heater installed in the fuel tank. Another option is a diesel additive. Additives can be found in many auto parts stores that lower the gel point of common diesel fuel.
Other things to try
If your car starts after a lot of effort, it might not start next time. Until you address the issue, you are on borrowed time, so it's important not to rely on these tips alone.
Turn everything off before starting the car.
Each item that is on takes power from your battery. By turning off all lights, fans, music, and other things, your battery will be able to give more power to the cranking engine, possibly enough to get it to turn over.
Clean and tighten battery terminals.
By insuring the best possible connection, electrical current can flow freely. Potentially giving your car that extra boost on the cold winter mornings.
Top off engine oil.
By topping off your engine oil, you reduce the amount of strain on your engine as it pumps the thicker, cold oil around the engine.
Use some sort of starting fluid.
A little starting fluid sprayed in your car's intake can help those slow cranks turn into cylinder firing and your car starting.
Ask someone for a jump start.
A jump might be just enough to get that extra juice to get you to the store to get a new battery.
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