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The first Cold Front of 2022 is scheduled to hit Gauteng this weekend, bringing with it rain and near-Artic temperatures (by South African standards). The majority of South Africans dislike cold weather (and let’s be honest , our local definition of cold is anything under 150 C), according to a survey I saw recently, where Seventy something percent of respondents preferred Sunny South African summers.
You know who else dislikes the cold and wet? Your car. That’s right - cold (and damp) weather can play havoc with batteries, fuel systems, starter motors, alternators, oil and – where fitted – carburettors. As we move towards winter, the probability of your vehicle not wanting to start increases. In this article, we will look at the possible causes.
If your car will not start in cold conditions, by far the most likely cause is the battery.
If you hear a faint whining noise when you turn the key in the ignition, but the starter motor does not turn over, the likelihood is you have a flat battery.
If the battery is totally depleted, or the cables to the battery have come loose, you may not hear anything.
Further signs of a completely flat battery include the ignition lights on the dashboard failing to illuminate, and the car refusing to unlock via remote central locking.
If you are in a hurry and need to get moving fast, you can attempt to jump start your car. You will, however, need access to jump cables and another vehicle.
Alternatively, you can invest in a battery charger which will completely charge your battery in a matter of hours.
If you think your battery needs replacing, visit our car battery section to find out which product you need. We will deliver the battery to you.
1.3 How can I maintain my battery during the winter?
With more and more vehicle equipment demanding electricity, battery maintenance is more important than ever.
Cold temperatures affect the chemical process that produces and stores electricity inside the battery, slowing the battery down and reducing its ability to hold a charge.
If you are using your car regularly for short trips, it may be worth charging your battery at least once a week during the winter months, particularly if it is more than three years old.
You can find more about how to charge car batteries on our car battery chargers page.
Older, weaker batteries will typically have reduced performance and cold temperatures can reduce this even further, to the point where the battery will discharge or go flat very quickly.
If you are finding your battery is not holding a charge very well, it might be time to replace it. We recommend visiting our car battery section to find the correct battery for your vehicle.
1.4 What else can I do to help my battery during winter?
A bit of basic preparation and maintenance can work wonders for battery life.
Avoid using heaters, heated screens, and heated seats for longer than you must. They all put high demands on the vehicle’s battery. Some satnavs, in-car DVD players and MP3 players can also drain the battery if left connected.
The alternator is an electrical generator that charges your car’s battery when the engine is running. If you have a relatively new battery and it keeps going flat, the problem probably lies here.
If you jump start your car and the engine dies immediately, this points to a faulty alternator.
You may also notice your headlights and dashboard lights flickering, the car’s gauges moving in a jerky manner – and even a burning smell filtering into the cabin if the alternator has recently overheated.
If you have our Battery & Alternator Tester, you can quickly see if the alternator is faulty.
The alternator is connected to the battery and the engine, so, unless you are an able mechanic, replacing one is a job best left to the experts.
It shouldn’t be difficult to source a new part, just have a look here on Start My Car and contact us if you cannot find your particular alternator listed online. We have access to 1000’s of unlisted parts that we can source for you.
Alternatively, you can opt to have your existing alternator reconditioned. Have a look online for companies offering this service.
The starter motor does exactly what you would expect; it uses electricity from the battery to jolt the car’s engine into life.
Many modern cars now have stop-start systems with stronger starter motors to cope with the demands of frequent engine on/off cycles in traffic.
The most obvious sign of a broken starter motor is a clicking sound when you turn the ignition key, followed by the engine refusing to turn over and start.
If all the lights and in-car electrics are working fine, this also points to an issue with the starter motor – rather than the battery.
Even jump starting will not work if the starter motor has failed.
Again, replacing a starter motor is generally a task for a trained mechanic. They’re not hugely expensive parts, especially on Start My Car, but the work may take up to half a day.
If your budget is tight, you can also look online for places which exchange and recondition starter motors. Although possibly cheaper, they will not come with a comprehensive warranty like our Start My Car products, so may cost you more in the long run.
If your car was built more than 30 years ago, it is likely to use a carburettor.
These regulate the mix of fuel and air for combustion but are particularly vulnerable to icing up.
If the nozzles of the carburettor become clogged with ice, the engine may not start – and certainly will not run properly. You may power loss (RPM or manifold pressure), followed by a rough running engine.
With your left foot on the clutch, try gently pushing the accelerator pedal when you start the engine in cold weather.
This will pre-inject a small quantity of fuel to give the engine a helping hand.
All modern cars use fuel injection, and thus are not affected by this problem.
Due to space constraints, we will not be able to explore these fully. But keep these in the back of your mind!
5.1 Incorrect Engine Oil
Oil also becomes less free flowing in cold conditions. And that, in turn, puts additional strain on your car’s battery by making it harder for the engine to turn over and start. If your oil has too much cold viscosity (resistance to flow), you will not be able to start your car in cold temperatures.
At Start My Car, we have listed the correct grade of oil for your car by application. Head over there and you can be sure this will never be a problem.
5.2 Moisture in Fuel Lines
Over time, car fuel systems may become contaminated with water. This can cause combustion problems and, if cold weather makes the water freeze, prevent the engine running altogether.
The issue is most acute in the fuel lines, which feed the individual injectors.
These are very narrow and can be blocked by tiny ice particles, starving the engine of fuel. And as for diesel drivers, bear in mind that diesel ‘gels’ in the cold, meaning it will take longer to deliver power to the engine on start-up.
Have a look here at some of our additives which improve cold starting, as well a host of other benefits to you fuel system!
The cold dark mornings have crept back into our daily lives and once again, our cars are bearing the brunt of the frosty weather and becoming sluggish as we head deeper into winter. If your car doesn’t start, reach out to us! We are here to help you, and to get you mobile again as soon as possible!
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