What to Do When a Cold Engine Is Hard to Start

Jumping a car in the snow.

Cold engine won’t start? There are few things as disheartening as getting all bundled up and braving the cold, only to find that your car engine won’t cooperate with you. Find out what to do to get yourself on the road again, and what you can do to prevent this from happening in the future.

Starting a Cold Engine

Cars really aren't made for the cold. The battery, the oil and fluids, and even the rubber are all susceptible to cold temperatures and can potentially fail because the weather is freezing. Oil and other car fluids become thicker and more sluggish in cold weather, which forces the battery to work even harder. Even your fuel can become sluggish in the cold. But it's just not possible to keep your car warm all the time, or to always store it in a garage. So on those days when your car doesn't want to start in freezing weather, here's the extra steps you need to take.

Step 1 - Turn Everything Off

Make sure your heater, defroster, windshield wipers, headlights, and radio are all turned off. Keeping electronics on when you try to start a cold engine will only sap more energy from the battery and make it more difficult for the car to start.

Step 2 - Warm Up the Battery

Battery blankets are designed to warm up batteries in extremely cold weather, but an ordinary heating pad will do the trick just as well. Heat up an electric heating pad and place it directly on the car battery for just a few minutes to help warm the battery.

Step 3 - Crank the Engine

A woman turning the key in an ignition.

Turn the key and crank the engine. If it doesn't start, turn the key back to the off position, wait a few minutes, and try again.

Step 4 - Jump the Battery

If your engine still will not start, use jumper cables to jump-start the battery. You will need a friend with a running, working car and a set of jumper cables. Pull the friend's car as close to the hood of your car as possible, then make sure both vehicles are turned off. Connect one end of the cables to the working car, and the other end to your car. Make sure the positive and negative symbols are matched up. (You will see little positive and negative symbols both on the cables and on the batteries.) Double-check that positive is with positive, and negative with negative. When the cables are securely connected, start the working car. Now, attempt to start your own cold engine again. When the car starts, spend a few minutes at a fast idle and letting the engine warm to get the fluids running through the engine and get everything heated back up. Remove the cables—do not let the metal ends touch!—and be on your way.


There are going to be a lot of cold winter days, and you don't want to spend extra time working on your battery on every single one of them. Avoid future cold engine problems by taking a few extra precautions.

Check Your Car's Manual

Make sure you're using the right kind of motor oil in your car at all times. Use only the manufacturer recommended grade of oil to avoid engine troubles in cold weather.

Park Close to Something

A car parked by a house in the snow.

Even if you can't park in a garage or under a carport, you can park close to a building, a tree, or large shrubbery. Anything that you can park near can potentially block some of the cold from getting to your car.

Replace Your Battery

Your battery will become sluggish after about three years. Even if it is still functioning, it is no longer operating at its peak and it's much more likely to lose power in cold temperatures. Have your battery tested every three years, and replace it if necessary.