Winter Driving Tips | Car Won’t Start

Winter Driving Tips | Car Won't Start


If this is still autumn, what’s winter going to be like? All across Canada, “Its bloody cold” – just like those Ice Pilots promos say on the History Channel.


And chances are that in the past week someone you know – maybe even yourself – has had trouble starting the car. When temperatures dip down below -20 degrees Celsius things mechanical just don’t work as well as they do when its balmy.


So I asked my mechanic pal Charlie Appleman of Port Hope, Ont. – where it was -22C ask we spoke – for the three most common reasons a vehicle won’t go when it’s cold.


“Almost always, it’s the battery,” Charlie says. “All the electrical equipment on today’s cars – heated seats, windshield de-icers etc. – take their toll. A five- or six-year-old battery may be okay in summer, but it will let you down if it really gets cold.”


I had interrupted Charlie from trying to figure out why a customer’s Jetta diesel wouldn’t start. Likely it was a weak battery and the diesel’s much higher compression ratio was making matters worse. His advice for diesel owners when the cold gets extreme: “Use a block heater.”


If the dead vehicle’s battery is cranking okay, Charlie’s next suspect is a frozen fuel line. “I like using a couple of cans of gas line anti-freeze in the fall,” he says, “to get rid of condensation in the fuel tank. And it goes without saying that the best way to keep condensation at bay is to keep the tank topped up in winter.”


Often a boost or some gas line anti-freeze will get a frozen car started, but if those aren’t the problem it likely needs a tow to the shop, where it can be checked for bad ignition coils or bad wiring – especially if it’s an older model.


In the old days of strong bumpers and manual transmissions, usually a push by another vehicle while the owner of the balky car popped the clutch would get it running. That’s not possible today. Not only are most transmissions automatics, but the plastic facias on modern cars would break, causing thousands of dollars damage.


Of course, maybe your vehicle won’t start because the locks are iced up and you can’t get a door open. This usually happens when there has been an extreme temperature shift during wet weather. The solution costs just pennies: a small plastic squirt bottle of lock de-icer in pocket or purse.


To avoid misery this winter, join an automobile club, keep a warm hat and gloves in the car, a set of jumper cables in the trunk and make sure your cellphone is charged so you can make an emergency call.


And get that battery checked!