Car Won’t Start in Cold Weather? Here’s What to Do

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If your car won’t start on a cold day, you might need to try filling up your oil, unplugging extra accessories, or tapping the clutch while turning the ignition.
Winter driving can be challenging even on a good day. However, icy roads and frosted windows may be the least of your concerns if your car won’t even start.
If you can’t get it started with the tips below, call roadside assistance for a driveway jumpstart. Jerry’s roadside assistance program is only $6.99 per month. Add it to your car insurance plan today so you don’t have to worry about it in that -10 degree weather.
That said, the sound of a struggling engine is not necessarily the end of your upcoming day. Keep reading for some fixes that may still get you out the door on time.
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Top reasons why a car won’t start in cold weather

Cold weather affects a few key parts of your car. Let’s quickly touch on the major ones.
  • Battery: Your battery’s electrical current simply isn’t as strong when the temperature gets low due to the slowed chemical reaction required to produce electricity.
  • Thick motor oil: When oil can’t flow around the engine as smoothly as usual, this places additional strain on the battery. If your battery is already struggling, this can make things even worse.
  • Blocked fuel lines or carburetor: While a bit of moisture usually doesn’t have a big effect, ice can quickly stop up your thin fuel line. You’ll only need to worry about this if you have an older vehicle.

Try these tips to get your car started

Okay, enough explanations! Try these tips if your car won’t start in cold weather.

1. Turn off accessories

Turn off anything that draws electrical power from your battery. Your goal is to reduce the demand on your battery and tempt it into turning on with a lighter load. Try:
  • Turning off the headlights
  • Turning off the heaters
  • Turning off the radios
  • Unplugging accessories
If this works, hooray! Be sure to let your engine run for a while before you turn on any of these accessories again. Otherwise, you could kill the battery with too much demand.

2. Tap the clutch while turning the ignition

If your vehicle has a manual transmission, you can use your clutch to encourage the battery to turn on. Try tapping or dipping the clutch slightly at the same time as you turn the key in the ignition.
In a cold car, this can reduce the amount of work your battery needs to perform and gives the engine a better chance of turning over.

3. Fill up your engine oil

The sound of a struggling engine may be caused by low oil. Low oil creates more strain on the battery. If you already have a cold battery—or an older or poor-quality battery—then low oil can exacerbate the problem.
Use your dipstick to confirm that your oil levels are low and then top it off before starting the engine again. Keep your oil levels high in the winter to avoid this in the future.
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4. Check your battery leads for connection (or corrosion)

It’s also smart to pop the hood and examine the battery cables. If they’re corroded, you’ll see a crusty or salty-looking accumulation on the terminals. Corrosion makes it difficult for the battery to make a connection.
Prepare a cleaning solution of baking soda and water, grab an old toothbrush, and don protective goggles and gloves. Clean the battery by disconnecting the cables—negative end (-) first—and then removing the corrosion. Wipe clean and then reconnect, negative last.
Don’t see any corrosion? You should still check for connectivity issues. Loose cables and clamps can hamper or stop the flow of electricity, so check them for tightness before attempting to turn your car on again.

5. Jumpstart your vehicle or call roadside assistance

Still no luck? It’s time to jumpstart your vehicle. If you have jumper cables, try knocking on a friendly neighbor’s door. Otherwise, call roadside assistance to perform a driveway jumpstart.
Here are the basic steps to safely jumpstart a vehicle:
  • Put both cars in neutral with the engines off, parking them nose to nose so the batteries are near one another
  • Pop the hoods and grab your cables—don’t let the black and red clamps touch each other!
  • Start by attaching the cables: Place one end of the red cable to the positive (+) terminal on your own dead battery
  • Connect the other end of the red cable to the positive terminal on the other vehicle
  • Attach the black cable to the negative (-) terminal on the other vehicle and affix the other end to an unpainted metal surface on your own vehicle
Once the cables are in place, start the engine of the healthy car and let it run for a few minutes before attempting to start your own vehicle with the cables still in place. If your car starts, remove the cables and don’t turn the car off again for at least another 20 minutes.
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Preventing the problem in the future

Prevention is powerful. To avoid a situation where your car won’t start in cold weather, here are a few tips to implement.

Winterize your car

Keep your fluids topped up, like antifreeze and washer fluid. Equip your vehicle with snow tires and get it tuned up by a mechanic before the cold weather hits. It’s much better to catch a brittle tube now than on the morning of a big meeting.

Keep it covered overnight

You can’t stop the snow from coming down outside, but you can cover your vehicle to help reduce the overall impact of the temperature.
It may only be a few degrees of difference, but a winter car cover could mean the difference between a live battery and a dead one. Even cars parked indoors in the winter can benefit from a cover.
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Replace your battery

If you’ve cleaned your battery and your connectivity is still off, it’s time to replace your battery.
A new battery will hold plenty of charge, have clean terminals, and last a long time. There are also special ratings for cold weather batteries, so be sure to ask your mechanic which battery is best for your situation. It will cost you about $100, but that’s a low price for peace of mind.

Use a trickle charger for unreliable batteries

Trickle chargers are a perfect solution for providing consistent power to your battery, especially in cold temperatures. A trickle device is plugged into the wall and then attached to your battery.
This means you’re always ready to go and the car will start without hesitation—if your battery is in good condition, that is. Trickle chargers are easy to use and cost less than $50.

Keep your tank full and use the right oil

A full tank of gas is a smart idea for winter driving. The right oil can make a big difference, too. Did you know that there are different oil ratings for cold weather and warm weather? Ask your mechanic about the right kind of oil for your vehicle and your local climate. You might be surprised at their recommendation.
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Why you need roadside assistance this winter

Roadside assistance is not just a squeaky old truck and a costly tow to an auto shop.
Today’s roadside assistance programs are all-inclusive and surprisingly affordable! Jerry’s is only $6.99 a month and it covers all the essential winter rescue tasks: fuel delivery, flat tire help, lockout assistance, winching, and more.
Winter roads are unpredictable, no matter how much experience you have. You never know when a snowstorm or black ice will crop up and try to ruin your day. But you can give yourself peace of mind by investing in the right roadside assistance plan.
“Super practical! It’s my first time getting car insurance and I’m forever grateful that I found Jerry. So simple and so easy!” —Deyja H.

FAQs

What do you do if your car won’t start in the cold?

Try turning off everything that’s drawing on the battery—headlights, heater, radio, and other accessories—and then try again. Topping up your oil can help, too.
You can also try cleaning off your battery terminals to improve the flow of electricity—just be sure to wear protective gear. Otherwise, ask a neighbor for a jump or call for roadside assistance.

Is it normal for a car to not start in the cold?

Yes. In very cold temperatures, your battery may struggle to produce the chemical reactions that create electricity. It’s not a personal failing and it’s probably not a manufacturer flaw!
A well-maintained battery and car can prevent this problem to some degree, but it’s normal for cars not to start sometimes when it gets cold outside.
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