by Doris Donnerman
(last updated May 25, 2010)
If you are having trouble getting your car engine to turn over in cold weather, the problem is probably one of two things: your engine oil could be too thick or you could have a weak battery.
In cold weather, most motor oils thicken a little. If it has been quite a while since your oil was changed or if you are operating your car in extremely cold weather, your oil could thicken up quite a bit. There are a couple of things to help prevent or minimize this condition.
First, you should check the owner's manual for your car. Most owner's manuals have a section on lubricants or specifically on oil. Read through the manual and you could find that the manufacturer recommends a different type of oil in the winter than it does for the summer. If this is the case, notice that the oil for cold-weather operation is a lower viscosity, which means that it won't thicken up quite as much in the cold. Either change your oil yourself to the recommended viscosity or take it to your local car dealer or oil change store.
The other thing you can do is to purchase an oil pan warmer. If you live in a cold-weather locale, you should be able to walk into an auto parts store and find a warmer that will replace your dip stick or that attaches in some fashion directly to the oil pan. When your car is parked, you plug these warmers into an electrical outlet and they keep your engine oil warm enough that it won't thicken up.
The other possible cause of not being able to start your car in cold weather is a weak battery. To prevent this problem, check your battery before cold weather sets in. At the same time, make certain that the clamps on the battery terminals are securely connected and that they are clean.
To clean battery terminals, first remove the clamps by loosening the bolts and twisting the clamps back and forth—you might have to tap them lightly with a hammer before they'll move. Scrub both the clamps and the terminals with a wire brush. Before you reattach the clamps, apply a thin coat of petroleum jelly at the connection to retard further corrosion.
If this still doesn't solve the problem, it might just be time to spring for a new battery. As batteries get older, it becomes more difficult for them to maintain their charge. This means that in cold weather they are more likely to discharge while the car is parked, making it harder to start the car.
If you suspect that your battery is the problem, you can stop by your local auto parts store to see if they can test your battery. (If the store sells car batteries, they will often test your old battery for free.) If you need to get a new one and you are in a cold-weather area, consider getting a sealed battery that has a high "cold cranking amps" rating.
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