How to start your car in winter

January 31, 2022 by PEMCO Insurance

Winter conditions can impact your car, including how it starts.  Knowing how to care for your car and get it started in frigid temperatures could save you from getting stranded later:

  1. Park in a garage if you have one. While temperatures may still dip below freezing inside your garage, it’s probably at least a few degrees warmer than outside. That may be just enough to preserve battery power, which drops in cold temperatures.  

  1. Consider getting your battery tested. If your car has difficulty starting often, ask your mechanic to check your battery strength to determine if it’s time for a replacement. Batteries older than three years are more likely to struggle in cold weather than newer ones. Electric vehicles often have an easier time starting in cold weather because their batteries only need to power a few electronics versus turning over a cold engine. 

  1. Consider a block heater or battery blanket. If you live in an area where temperatures routinely drop well below freezing and you have a nearby power source, you may want to take extra steps to keep your battery warm, like a block heater or a batter blanket. Learn more on these options from The Drive.  

  1. Turn off all accessories before trying to start your car. Lights, the radio, seat and steering wheel warmers and front and rear defrosters all draw energy from the car battery and can impact how it starts.  

  1. Start the ignition  normally. Don’t turn a key for more than 20 seconds or hold down or repeatedly press the start button if the engine doesn’t start. Wait a minute or two and try again. Over-cranking or excessive pressing can damage the starter.  

  1. Don’t flood the engine. See your owner’s manual for starting procedures. Generally, don’t touch the gas pedal when starting fuel-injected cars, and follow preventative maintenance schedules to keep fuel injectors clean. For older carbureted vehicles, if recommended, briefly depress and release the pedal when starting. Stuck and dirty fuel injectors or holding the pedal down too long increase the risk you’ll soak or "flood” the spark plugs with fuel. If that happens, open the hood to help the excess fuel evaporate and try to start again in about 20 minutes.  

  1. Don’t leave your car running unattended in the driveway. It’s tempting on cold mornings to dash back inside and wait as the interior of your car heats up.  Unattended cars become targets for “puffer theft,” however, and you may even risk a ticket.  It’s illegal in both Washington and Oregon to leave a running car unattended. 

  1. Take it easy when you drive away. While fuel-injected engines don’t require a warm-up period, starting gently allows cold and thickened fluids a better chance to circulate. And your engine takes between five and 15 minutes to reach its optimum operating temperature. More on that from the experts at Firestone

  1. Keep your gas tank full. A full tank helps minimize the chance of condensation forming. Water in your gas tank, whether from condensation or other sources, can cause your car to stall or fail to start. 

  1. Check your owner’s manual for fuel and oil guidelines. Your manufacturer may recommend avoiding alcohol-blend fuels and switching to a thinner oil during winter.  

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