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Car Struggles to Start When Engine is Cold: Everything You Need to Know!

Car Struggles to Start When Engine is Cold

Winter can be a tough time for vehicles. It is a common occurrence that at this time of the year, a car struggles to start when engine is cold. 

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If you live in a place where the temperature constantly drops and you experience it at some point – your car struggles to start when engine is cold – then this article is for you. With this guide, you’ll be able to understand what causes it and what we can do to prevent it from happening. 


Car Struggles to Start When Engine is Cold: What is wrong if your car hesitates to start?


You might have heard of the word cold start. In the automotive language, cold start means starting an engine when the engine and its oil are cold. It means that the engine and its oil are considerably colder than its appropriate operating temperature. 


Cold starting your vehicle is a normal occurrence especially if you start your engine the first time for the day on a cold morning. It is not avoidable but you can do some things to prevent experiencing its disadvantages. One of which is when your car struggles to start when engine is cold. 


If your car struggles to start when engine is cold, it is usually caused by these common factors. 

  • Car batteries.


A car battery is something you can count on to produce a massive amount of power to get the starter motor going on any normal day. But when the temperature gets too low, it’s another story. Car batteries just don’t like cold weather.


Remember that temperature plays an important role in the battery’s performance. On warmer days, heat helps speed up the battery’s electrochemical reaction that produces charge to the battery terminals. Although it might sound positive, it can also be a disadvantage since it also accelerates the internal corrosion with the cells that can decrease the battery’s lifespan

Heat can speed up the battery but the cold slows it down. It can be the reason why your car struggles to start when engine is cold. The battery’s capacity to provide the needed power to start or run the vehicle decreases in low temperatures thus, the struggle.  


A lead-acid battery that is fully-charged can withstand up to -50 degrees celsius temperature but a low-charged battery tends to freeze even at -1 degrees celsius. If it freezes, the battery expands which can cause damages to it that you can’t repair.  

  • Engine oil.


The engine oil can also be the reason why your car struggles to start when engine is cold. This is because when you start the engine, its oil gets pumped under pressure through the oil filter, main bearings, and other engine parts.


Now, when the temperature is too low, the engine oil becomes thicker and it flows slower than usual. This causes a struggle since it will be difficult to pump the oil through the engine block which places additional strain on the battery. 


Keep in mind that the battery is already weakened as it is due to the cold weather. Imagine what the additional strain from the engine oil can do every time you start your car in the cold. No wonder why your car struggles to start when engine is cold!  

  • Car fuel system.


The car fuel system can also be a contributing factor when your car struggles to start when engine is cold. One reason is that over time, the car fuel system tends to be contaminated with water or moisture. If the water gets into the fuel lines, the low temperature can cause the water to freeze and it can block the flow of the fuel. When this happens, the engine will surely struggle to start or will not start at all. 


Another thing that can happen to your car’s fuel in cold weather is that it evaporates less. Gasoline inside the engine needs to vaporize in order for it to burn. Cold weather makes this process more difficult since it makes the gasoline evaporate much slower.   


For cars that use diesel, remember that diesel can “gel” in low temperatures. When it is in its gel form, it flows slower than usual, making it harder and longer to deliver power to the engine when you try to start it up. 

  • Carburetors.


This only applies to car owners that drive old cars, that are equipped with carburetors. If you drive a modern car with fuel-injection systems, then you don’t have to worry about this one. 


Carburetors are delicate instruments that blend vaporized fuel with a controlled amount of air for combustion. It has tiny nozzles called jets that don’t do well in cold weathers since they get clogged with ice and prevent moisture from evaporating. This causes an ice build-up that can cause your old car to struggle when you start it.  


Car Struggles to Start When Engine is Cold: Can the cold affect your engine?


Cold temperature has negative effects on your vehicles. Car batteries get weaker, car fluids get thicker, fuel consumptions get higher are some of the negative effects that can happen on your car. 


When your car struggles to start when engine is cold, it won’t be a big surprise. It really does happen and the cold can really affect your engine. 


Your engine takes longer to warm up when the temperature goes way too low. Its efficiency decreases. To compensate for the cold temperature, the engine creates a high gas to air ratio that leads to consuming more fuel. This is done so your car won’t stall. 


Also keep in mind that when you use the car’s heater, the engine takes even longer to warm up since the heater will get its warmth from the engine. This keeps the engine colder longer and the longer it stays cold, the less efficient it becomes. 


It is recommended that you keep from turning on your car’s heater just until your engine is running at its normal operating temperature. Just be patient for a bit to make sure that your car will start and run smoothly.


Car Struggles to Start When Engine is Cold: How do you warm up a car that won't start?


If one cold morning you find yourself struggling to start your car and you’re running late for your appointment, here are some of the things you can do to warm up a car that won’t start. Just follow these simple steps.

  • Turn everything off.


Turn off all your electricals before you try to start your car including the headlights and the heater. This is done so you don’t overwhelm your car battery since electrical accessories use up power from it. 

  • Turn the key to on position.


Turn the key to on position. You need to make sure that the fuel pump pumps more fuel in which is needed in the cold start. To do this, you just need to keep turning the key to an on position and wait for the dash lights to stop blinking.

  • Turn the ignition on.


Turn the ignition on and start the engine for up to ten seconds. If it won’t start the first time, wait for thirty seconds before you try to crank it up again. Make sure that you don’t overdo it. If it still won’t start after three attempts, you might have a dead battery and you will need to recharge it or jump start your car.  


Car Struggles to Start When Engine is Cold: Additional Tips. 


  • Many people say that dipping your clutch while turning on the ignition works wonders. This helps reduce the battery’s load and gives the engine a much better chance of starting. It is indeed helpful when your car struggles to start when engine is cold.

  • Filling up your engine oil can also help you start your engine up without a problem. Sometimes, a low engine oil level puts more pressure on your battery when you try to crank your engine. Try to ease the battery’s load a bit by filling up your engine oil if it’s low. 


  • Fill up your fuel tank. In colder months, it is always recommended to keep your fuel tank full or at least half full. This is because condensation happens much easier in cold weather if the fuel is low than when the tank is full. If it’s too low and there’s condensation, the fuel line will freeze and it will block and prevent the distribution of fuel to the engine. There’s no wonder why your car struggles to start when the engine is cold.


Car Struggles to Start When Engine is Cold: Is it bad to start your car and drive right away?  


A car that struggles to start when its engine is cold is a normal occurrence. You can fix it every time and you can also prevent it from happening. There are also some practices or habits that can either help your car or damage your car. One of them is starting your car in the cold and driving right away. 


Many people are asking about it because the answers vary. Some say it is safe while some say that you need to warm your car up first before driving it. But what is the truth? Let’s find out.

  • Idling your car or warming it up in cold seasons. 


They say that you need to warm up your car on cold days. The statement can be true but idling your car for more than thirty seconds doesn’t really help that much. Car experts say that thirty seconds should be fine and the best way to warm your car up is by driving it gently. By doing so, the engine and its components can warm up faster and bring the engine up to its normal operating temperature which enables your car to run efficiently.  


  • Idling can help lessen the possibility of engine wear.


When a car struggles to start when engine is cold and you finally succeed in starting it, idling it to warm it up might not be the best thing to do. 


Keep in mind that fuel injectors supply more fuel through the system when the engine is cold. Less fuel will be needed as the engine starts to warm up allowing it to run more efficiently. 


So if the car sits idle for a long time as you wait for the cold engine to warm up, you are not only wasting your fuel but you are also increasing the chance of fuel residue build-up. This can cause poor engine performance and poor fuel economy. 

  • Idling is safer.


Idling your car in the cold will not be a safe choice for you and your family. If you notice a certain smell in the exhaust when you idle your car in the cold, it would be from the unburned hydrocarbons that are being released from your idling car. 


A cold engine that sits idle is inefficient. It releases harmful pollutants into the environment and the pollution will never be safe for you and your family. If the idling car is parked in your garage and it is attached to your home, then most likely its carbon monoxide waste and other gases will enter your home and can harm your family.


In addition, there are cases where car owners left their cars unattended while they waited for the engine to warm up. This caused an increased number of car theft reports. This incident doesn’t really happen all the time, but it pays to be extra careful. Presence of mind is always a must! 


Car Struggles to Start When Engine is Cold: Final Word


When a car struggles to start when engine is cold, that doesn’t automatically mean that your car has problems you can’t fix. Sometimes, a simple engine warm-up and little preventative measures can go a long way and can ease the trouble and the hassles of having a car that won’t start. 


The best advice an expert can probably give you is by parking your car indoors, if possible. This way, you don’t have to deal with a cold engine every time you use your car for a drive! 




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