How to make sure your car starts in the cold

It’s about more than just making sure your plug works

Jens Nielsen | Driving With Jens

Your vehicle doesn’t like cold temperatures any more than you do. When the temperature drops, so does the likelihood of your vehicle starting, if you haven’t prepared properly.

Let’s recap some things that will help start your vehicle in the cold.

I may sound like a broken record, continually advising that you keep your vehicle properly serviced, but it really will make an enormous difference in the dependability and longevity of your vehicle. Ensuring it’s equipped with engine and battery warmers, as we talked about in a previous article, is also essential.

Having the option of parking your vehicle in a heated garage during the winter is obviously best. However, for a lot of people that isn’t possible.

If your vehicle is parked outside it should be plugged in if the temperature is going to get colder than -15 C. If your vehicle is not plugged in, you can still probably start it at temperatures above -25 C, but you shouldn’t.

Check to ensure you have power from the outlet you are using. You can do this with an extention cord that has a built-in light or by plugging in a hair dryer or other electrical device. If you have no power, check to see if the breaker to your outside plugs has been tripped.

If it keeps tripping when you plug your vehicle in, it may mean a short somewhere in your vehicle or possibly your home. Have it immediately checked by a professional. It’s not uncommon for the plug on your vehicle to get ice or moisture build-up that can cause a short.

Minimizing electrical drain on the battery will help with cold weather starting. Shut your vehicle door and turn off all accessories. This ideally would include the heater as well. If you use a remote start, you should have turned off all accessories before you last got out of your vehicle. Modern remote starts will turn the heat and heated seats on for you. A warm battery always has more power to start your vehicle than a cold one does. Never underestimate the value of a battery blanket.

Put the key in the ignition and watch for lights in the dash. If you see them come on this is a good sign.

Try starting your vehicle for a maximum of 10 seconds. Don’t go longer. Overworking your starter will not make it any more likely to start. Continuing too long can damage your starter.

If you don’t hear your engine turning over or you just hear a clicking noise your battery is likely stone dead. If your vehicle seems sluggish but comes close to starting, give it a rest before trying again. If it still won’t start you will need to boost the battery.

Once your vehicle is running it may not start again after being shut off without a boost. Remember, you must always charge your battery after it’s been dead. Just letting your vehicle run will not fully charge your battery. If your battery doesn’t get fully charged it will run down quicker and quicker each time.

Your owner’s manual should have more specific information about starting your vehicle in cold weather. If you can’t find your owner’s manual you can order one form your dealership or find one online.

In extreme cold, using a thinner oil may be beneficial. In extreme temperatures oil thickens and doesn’t flow as quickly to vital parts of your engine. Lightweight winter-grade oil flows better in cold temperatures, making it easier for your engine to start. Check your owner’s manual or your repair shop to see what would work best for your vehicle.

To prevent your gas lines from freezing you may consider using methyl hydrate, also called gas line antifreeze. You add it to your gas tank at a fill up to help keep your gas lines clear. Cold and warm temperature changes like we’re having this winter, or parking in a heated garage, can cause condensation to build up and lead to freezing of your gas lines.

Make sure you have some sort of roadside assistance membership and that it is up to date. You may have coverage through your warranty. Put the phone number to roadside assistance in your mobile phone so you always have it handy in case you ever do need help. Remember that during cold snaps lots of other people will be calling for assistance. Expect long waits.

Ensuring your vehicle starts in the deep cold boils down to one thing: being prepared.

Catch Driving With Jens on CHON FM Thursdays at 8:15. If you have any questions or comments you can reach out to Jens Nielsen at drivingwithjens@gmail.com, Facebook or Twitter: @drivingwithjens.

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