Is your car cranky this Winter?
A good friend asked me the other day why her car took such a long time to start in the morning. As the Mercury drops lower and lower it takes a punishing toll on our cars. Here are a few answers to questions you might have as you sit in the driveway in gloves hoping it catches:
Now it may be normal for your car to take a little while to start in the morning after sitting out all night in the cold. On average, it should take between 3-5 seconds to before the engine starts. This feels like a long time as your hear your starter cranking but it's normal. If your car takes longer than 5 seconds to start in the cold we may need to address a few things. One thing I routinely see people doing that works against them is pressing on the gas pedal when trying to start the car. All cars built now are fuel injected and certainly computer controlled so when you press the gas pedal you're actually confusing the car's computer which can make it take longer to start. Just don't do it.
So you're not pressing on the gas but she's still cranky? Well, how old is your battery? This is the most critical part of your car during the cold Winter months. It has to maintain power in sometimes very cold conditions and then instantly push that power into the car to start. If your battery is more than a few years old or you don't know how old it is this could be your slow start problem. You can get it checked for free at most auto parts stores and replacements run between $40-90 depending on your car. It's also extremely important that the battery connections are tight and clean of corrosion. A loose batter connection will play havoc with your car. I've seen strange things happen like heaters turn on by themselves or engines that just stall out because the battery connections are loose.
Another thing to think about here is fuel. The engine for your car is most likely in the front, under the hood. Well, the gas tank is in the back under the trunk. When you start your car the fuel pump has to again start bringing fuel the entire length of the car to get it to the engine. Modern fuel systems have check-valves to prevent gas from trickling all the way back into the tank when sitting overnight, but over time these can fail in my experience. If your car takes a long time to start you could have a bad fuel-check valve or even a fuel pump that is starting to fail. A huge contributing factor to killing your fuel pump is running your gas tank down all the way. Gasoline acts as a cooling agent as it goes through the pump. If you run it dry, the pump can overheat quickly and fail. Also, over time crud and sediment collects in the bottom of the gas tank. Run it low and you're literally sucking that through your fuel pump.
The final element working against you here is moisture. If moisture of any kind has found its way into your car's electrical system you'll have issues starting. I know where I live in Oregon, cold dark morning almost always come with a layer of moisture or just all out rain. Sometimes items like your distributor cap can crack slightly over time, which allows moisture inside. This will cause a hard or no-start condition because you can't get the electrical spark requires to start the engine.