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Simple tricks for making sure the car starts on a cold morning

A car buried under snow.
A car buried under snow. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Automotive engineer Raiko Ausmees shares a few tips and tricks of how to get your vehicle started in freezing temperatures and what to keep an eye on to avoid hefty tow truck bills.

"One reason a car might not want to start when it's very cold outside is the fuel," Ausmees said. "I recently helped someone who had refueled their vehicle before Christmas. There are different kinds of diesel fuel, ranging from grade one to grade five in terms of cold resistance. We asked the fuel company and it turned out they were selling grade two fuel at the time, which starts getting thick at around -17 degrees Celsius," the expert said, adding that while the gas station did nothing wrong, a full tank of fuel tends to last for a long time. "I recommended adding fresh fuel to have a more cold-resistant mix in the tank."

Buy the right kind of fuel

"How to determine which grade of diesel is on sale at the gas station? You just ask them," Ausmees said. "It was okay to sell that grade of diesel fuel before Christmas. Considering how much fuel a gas station moves, that grade will usually run out in time and will be replaced by a more cold resistant variety. But the lower grade fuel might not run out as quickly for the owner of the car. Considering the Estonian climate, gas stations should stop carrying grade one and two diesel fuel," the expert commented.

Take your vehicle some place warm

"If at all possible, the car should be kept somewhere warm if it is not being driven," Ausmees said in terms of what to do when you have a tank full of not very cold resistant diesel. "It will start in that case."

"The thing with starters is that the grease in them tends to run out over the years," Ausmees also said. "That is when condensation sets in and the starter might simply get stuck."

Ask for a battery test when getting the vehicle serviced

"I usually prepare my car for the winter by getting it serviced in October, making sure there is fresh oil in the engine and that a mechanic has checked the more important components. But an old battery might not be able to start a car when cold weather arrives. Cars need to be serviced regularly and owners should ask for a battery test if they are not offered one by the service center. Electric vehicles are the surest to start in winter, followed by gasoline-powered cars and finally diesel where the problem might be with the fuel having become jelly or faulty glow plugs."

Buy a battery booster

"Simple portable boosters or power banks than can also be used to boost a car can be bought for a relatively sensible price these days. While you can also use it to charge your mobile phone, such devices come with jumper cables for starting cars. We managed to breathe life into a three-liter diesel engine with one of these in Lapland."

Make sure you start the car right

"If your car is slow to start, the problem is low voltage. When starting in very cold weather, turn the ignition into position one, turn off climate control and the radio to leave as much energy as possible for the starting process itself. Modern cars can do this automatically."

Drive around before parking the car for the night

"If the car has to spend 12 hours parked in front of your house on a cold night, drive around for half an hour to an hour before leaving it parked. It should start just fine in the morning in that case," Ausmees said. "But one thing I do not recommend, especially in the case of newer vehicles, is leaving them idling for a long time."

Warm up the car evenly

"A modern car runs at such low revs that it creates very little residual heat. Older vehicles emit a little more. But at the end of the day, it is not healthy for any vehicle. The car should be allowed to warm up evenly – the engine, gearbox, suspension and all the rest of it. But all these things do not get warm if you just leave the engine running. They only do so when driving."


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Editor: Annika Remmel, Marcus Turovski

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