Please help an old lady

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Hi there, I really know close to nothing about cars and I was wondering if one of you nice gentlemen would help. It is currently -20 below (-40 with the wind chill) here in Wisconsin. When I go out to my car, 94 topaz, it just won't start. It sounds like it keeps cranking and once in a while it will start but will quit after five seconds. I can only stay out for about 4 min at a time as it gets too cold for my skin (you can throw a cup of water high in the air and by the time it hits the ground it shatters). Could it be something with my coolant? I looked real quick under the hood (I had no idea what I was doing) and I saw that the coolant reservoir was empty. I have never had this problem before but it rarely gets this cold. I know it won't start because of the cold but I really need to get to my daughters house tonight. Is there anything I can do or do to prevent this in the future? Thank you so very much!

posted by  helpme

Friend of mine had a similar problem with his '96(?) Accord. Initially we thought it could possibly be a blocked fuel filter ( change a fuel filter on that Accord is a serious PITA!!!) but turned out to be an ignition problem, I later found out.

Other than my limited mechanical knowledge, I don't think it has anything to do with your coolant reservoir tank being low.

You'll have to wait for the Master Online Diagnostic Technician - vwhobo.


posted by  BavarianWheels

Sometimes the engine is just too cold to start. My sister's 1989 Dodge Daytona had the same problem and every once and a while, it wouldn't even start. I too live in Wisconsin and it is very cold out. I think the engine just might not be able to start when it's this cold. But like BW said, you'll just have to wait for VWhobo to get some help on all the different problems that could be going wrong. Sorry I couldn't be of more assistance.

posted by  Satty101

It was a 1995 Accord... (thanks for reminding me Satty)

I had posted it here ( at the time.

posted by  BavarianWheels

beats me...we just keep our cars in the garage....

posted by  SuperJew

with a Familly that has 5 cars (my familly) we don't have enough room. Sometimes, we have to park on the road.

posted by  Satty101

All of the nice gentlemen have left the building, so it looks like you're stuck with me. There are a number of things that could keep a car from starting in cold weather such as you describe. However the fact that it will occasionally start, run for a few seconds, then quit, point me in a fairly specific direction.

My educated guess, based on your description, is that the gasoline has moisture in it. Of course at 20 below zero that water, which is everywhere the gas is, is frozen solid. That means in the tank, pump, lines, fuel filter and injectors. A common problem at very low temps, this allows a small amount of gas to be injected into the engine, sometimes enough to run for a short period.

How do you fix it? The hard way is to disconnect everything and get rid of all of the old gas and water. The easy way is to wait until the temperature warms up and the ice melts. How do you prevent this? First, keep your gas tank as full as possible all year long, the less empty space the less chance for condensation. Second, only buy gas from a place with fast moving pumps, usually being the cheapest place in town. Third, every three months add a bottle of gas dryer to a full tank of gas. This absorbs the moisture and allows it to mix with the gas so it goes right out the tail pipe.

Finally, I'm diagnosing this from about 1,000 miles away, so please don't expect this to be an absolute diagnosis. For that you need to find a local ASE certified technician. Good luck and let us know how it works out.

posted by  vwhobo

yeah we have 5 cars too...although two are in storage during the cold days and the one outside is like never driven

posted by  SuperJew

Get a heater for the engine. If you can't get one in Wisconson, go to canada of get one sent to you. Just make shure your'e close to an outlet. Works in Quebec.

posted by  Hiens

You folks in Wisconsin and Canada make me glad we dont have to cope with starting cars in the cold. In the Southeastern US, we just deal with heat

posted by  tbaxleyjr

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