How to Start a Car in Cold Weather

Low temperatures may prevent your car from starting right away, but don't panic! Here are some tips on how to start a car in cold weather.

How to Start Car in Cold Weather

blog authorBy Johanna Sigurðardóttir shield verificationVerified Expert

During winter in Iceland, the biggest complaint is not that of the legendary Icelandic winds or that you get snowed in somewhere.

No, complaints like these are actually few and far between. The biggest complaint is about a car that won’t start in the cold. So, before you join the masses of people screaming at the heavens in the morning, we’ve put together a guide that will tell you how to start a car in cold weather.

Whether it’s a petrol or diesel car that won’t start in the cold, this guide will tell you exactly what to do. Let’s get started (pun intended)!

How to Start the Engine in cold weather

There are as many ways to start the engine as there are reasons why a car won’t start in the cold. But as a general rule of thumb, try the following:

Switch it Off

This relates to anything that might be drawing power (radio, lights, etc.). If you try again and the car starts after this, congratulations, you just got off easy when it comes to cold start car problems.

Tap and Turn at the Same Time

If you’re driving a manual, tap the clutch whilst turning the key in the ignition. This actually helps the battery not have to do all the work itself, and you have a better chance of getting the engine started.

how to start car in cold weather

Fill it Up

Sometimes when a car won’t start in the cold, and it’s not the battery, it’s something as simple as the engine oil being too low. This puts extra strain on a battery that’s already struggling to deal with the cold. If this is the case, fill up and try to start the engine again.

Check the Connections

If all else fails, it might be a connection problem. Some cables or clamps may have come loose or corroded. Check all your connections and make sure everything is tightly fastened.

Give it a Jump-start

At this point, you’re running out of options, and you’ll need to try and jumpstart the car. 

Call for Assistance

If the jump-start has still not gotten the car to start, the problem might not even be the cold at all, and it’s time to call in the experts.

cold start car problems

Reasons Why Your Car Might Not Start on a Cold Morning

There are many reasons why your car might be struggling to start when it’s cold. The following are some of the most prevalent reasons:

You have a cold car battery.

You and your car battery have a lot in common; they also don’t generate enough power when it’s cold and just want to lie around and do nothing.

You will immediately know that you have a battery problem when you try to start the car, and it seems to be making a lot of noises, yet there’s no “start”.

But this is only when you’re dealing with a new battery, yet the car won’t start in the cold. If there is no noise when trying to switch it on, no lights on the dashboard, or you find that the remote central locking isn’t working, your battery is either completely depleted. This means a jump start or battery replacement. Or something’s gotten disconnected, so check that the cables to the battery are all still on tightly.

The car fluid has thickened.

Anything from your transmission fluid and diesel to your engine oil and your antifreeze can thicken in colder temperatures. Thicker fluid will obviously pump slower and cause your car to have trouble starting.

There is moisture in your fuel line.

The fuel line is an entire system and there are plenty of places where moisture can seep in. This is usually not a major problem until the cold hits and this moisture starts to freeze, causing pressure problems and blockages.

Oil issues cold start

You are using the wrong oil.

If you know you’re heading towards colder regions, then you need to make sure that your car is using a thinner oil, such as 5W-20.

Although the majority of cars tend to use thinner oil as a standard these days, you still have those who drive around with thicker 10W-30 oil. And as with the fluid thickening in the cold, it’s not going to end well.

Your car has a carburetor.

This is a problem that most cars manufactured more than 30 years ago have. If you have a carburetor in your car, and it won’t start, odds are that you’re dealing with small nozzles clogged with ice. If you believe that this is your problem, here’s what to do:

  • Place one foot on the clutch.
  • Push down on the accelerator when you turn on the ignition switch. This tends to pre-inject some additional fuel into the engine block and gets the car going again.

You have a faulty alternator.

It is what it is.

There’s something wrong with your starter motor.

It is what it is.

A spark plug needs to be replaced.

It is what it is.

how to jump start a car in cold weather

*If you’re wondering how to start the engine when you have a faulty alternator, starter motor, or spark plug. In short; you don’t. If the reason your car won’t start in the cold is any of these, you need to call Icelandic road assistance. They'll get the car to a mechanic who can give you a replacement. Please do not attempt to do things like this yourself (unless you’re the qualified mechanic in this scenario). You’ll simply end up with more car problems.

Preventing Non-starters in cold weather in the Future

The following are some preventative measures you can take to avoid starter problems in the future:

  • Keep fluids topped up, especially your engine oil.
  • Ensure that your car stays nice and warm weather, that means covering it up or parking it in a garage.
  • Don’t go into the winter with an old or bad battery. Have it checked and replaced before you start hearing that dreaded clicking sound in the cold.
  • Double-check that you’re using the right oil.
  • Send your car for a general check-up. If anything is faulty, have it replaced ahead of the upcoming colder season.
  • Install an engine block heater that warms the coolant and the engine.
  • Spray a bit of starter fluid into the air intake and replace the air filter.

how to cold start a car

How to Start a Car in Cold Weather is a Simple Step-by-step

People often get bogged down by the sheer amount of mechanical and technical issues that can be involved when a car won’t start. But there really is just one simple recipe to follow to try and get the car to start in the cold before you’ll have to reach out to the pros. If you’ve rented a car in Reykjavík, your rental agency will advise you on whom to call for roadside assistance.

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