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How should I start my car when it’s cold outside?

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Updated 12 Oct 2019

Jason Unrau

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The mercury has dropped in the thermometer and there’s frost on your windscreen. It’s cold outside and you don’t really want to venture out, but life doesn’t come to a standstill just because it’s chilly.

Your car isn’t fond of the cold weather either and turning the engine over could pose a challenge. If you start your vehicle incorrectly, you could actually make things worse: a flooded engine, a dead battery, and a repair bill to top it all off.

What’s the proper way to start your car in the cold? Here are a few tips.

How to Start a Cold Car

Let’s assume that your car is less than 30 years old, which likely means it is fuel injected. Starting a cold car is relatively simple if you avoid a few critical mistakes.

Turn off unnecessary electrical draws

When your engine is cold, it requires more battery power than when it’s warm. Turn off any unneeded accessories whilst you crank your engine over, allowing more power directly to the starter. Don’t worry, you can turn them back on as soon as your engine has fired up.

Turn the key, but no more than 10 seconds

Your engine will be ‘stiff’. What that indicates is that there’s more internal resistance than normal.

The oil is thicker when it’s cold and the engine requires more effort to move past that resistance.

Cold steel parts have contracted, increasing friction as well.

When you turn your engine over, it should fire up within a couple seconds.

If it doesn’t, make sure you don’t crank for more than 10 seconds.

That can overheat the starter and cause it to malfunction. After 10 seconds, let the starter rest for a minute before trying again. 

DON’T press the accelerator

A fuel injected engine distributes its own fuel into the cylinders during startup. Pressing the accelerator pedal while you crank the engine will cause it to flood.

That’s when excessive fuel wets the spark plugs and they are unable to ignite fuel in the cylinders.

If you happen to press the accelerator and your engine floods, try mashing the accelerator pedal to the floor, then crank the engine for a few seconds.

When the pedal is all the way to the floor, your car’s computer cuts the fuel delivery, letting the excess fuel escape the engine. Then try to start the engine once again.

If your engine doesn’t start, try these tips:

  • Jump start your battery
    A weak battery doesn’t have the required power to overcome the extra resistance. It’s an indication you may need to replace the battery also, especially if you need to jump start your car often.
  • Let your car rest for 20 to 30 minutes
    If your engine has flooded, letting your car sit for a bit will allow the spark plugs dry. Then, try to crank the engine again.
  • Plug in your engine block warmer
    Some cars are equipped with a heating element that warms the engine. It’s best to plug it in for at least 60 to 90 minutes, or the night before, if you know it will be chilly. Make sure you unplug your engine block warmer before you drive away!

Prevent cold weather starting issues with AutoGuru. Proper maintenance such as battery inspections, oil and filter changes, and spark plug replacement can help you avoid car troubles. lets you search, compare and book from over 1600 qualified mechanics across Australia. Boom!

Article thumbnail: HBO

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Written By

Jason Unrau

Jason is a Canadian automotive content writer with a background in the auto service industry, but he’s been hooked on cars and mechanics since childhood.

One of his first cars was an ’80 Mazda RX-7 that’s sorely missed to this day. A ’68 Ford Torino GT, a ’66 Ford Country Squire Woodie station wagon, and a ’96 Suzuki GSX-R 750 have spent time in his fleet of cars, bikes, and trucks over the past two decades.

Jason’s pride and joy is under construction – a turbocharged ’88 Mazda RX-7 convertible. Also on his resume is CASCAR official certification.