Originally Posted by helpme
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!
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.