When the weather is frigid, it can be hard to convince yourself to head out into the freezing cold. It can even feel like your car doesn’t want to go out—especially when your car is slowly cranking. A car slow to start doesn’t have to be a normal part of cold weather; if it is, there are a few key reasons why your car starts slowly on a cold winter morning.
Why is a car slow to start in winter?
When the temperature drops, engine oil turns to the consistency of molasses. It takes more power to turn over an engine when the oil is sludge. If a battery is low on power, the result is the slow cranking of the engine on a cold morning. Eventually, the battery stops working.
Car batteries can decrease in power due to age or the heat. Summer heat can cause battery fluid to evaporate, damaging the battery’s internal part and decreasing battery performance. Older batteries can also lose power over time; car batteries should usually be replaced every 3-5 years. (Schedule an appointment to get a new battery installed.)
Slow cranking is only one sign of a dead battery. You can also tell if a car battery needs to be replaced if it needs to be jump started on a regular basis. Some cars also have a dashboard warning light that comes on when battery power is low.
In extremely rare cases, cars might not start in cold weather because of moisture in the fuel lines. Put simply, condensation can get into the fuel lines. The moisture can interrupt the flow of fuel and cause a slow start (or no start at all).
Older vehicles with carburetors can also have issues in the cold weather. This problem primarily occurs after the car has been sitting for a long time.
Sometimes, the slow start of a car has nothing to do with the cold weather. A slow-starting car can be caused by old spark plugs, which should be replaced every 30-100,000. (Ask your mechanic if it’s time for the spark plugs to be replaced.) A failing starter or corroded wiring can also cause a car to start slowly (or not at all).
How can I keep my car starting smoothly in the cold weather?
To avoid the annoying slow start of a car in cold weather (and other winter breakdowns), use these cold weather car maintenance tips:
- Have the battery checked on a regular basis. A mechanic can test the battery to determine when it is low on power.
- Regularly schedule oil changes. Ask your mechanic how often the oil should be changed.
- When the temperature drops, check the tire pressure on every tire (including the spare). Frigid temperatures cause a sharp drop in air pressure (use these step-by-step instructions for checking tire pressure). Make sure to check the spare tire as well, so it is in good shape in case of a flat tire.
- Make sure car fluids are topped off. Add checking the oil and antifreeze level on a regular basis. Both of these fluids are essential for a smooth-running car.
- Pack an emergency car kit. A car kit may not stop a car’s slow start, but it can be helpful if a battery suddenly goes dead or the car breaks down. Use this list of emergency car kit essentials to assemble a complete kit—and don’t forget to pack cold weather gear that can keep you warm when you get stranded in the freezing weather.