Whether it’s a cold morning or simply the start of winter, if you’re finding your car won’t start when the cold weather hits, you’re not alone. It’s a common problem during the winter months, but it’s also one of the most misdiagnosed problems.
That’s why we came up with this guide to highlight 13 of the most common reasons your car won’t start in the cold. Not only that, but we’ll help you figure out which one is the problem and get your vehicle back running in no time.
13 Reasons Why Car Won’t Start In Cold
If your car doesn’t start in the cold, don’t jump straight to the battery. While that certainly could be the problem, there are tons of other potential reasons. We’ve highlighted 13 of the most common reasons your car won’t start in the cold for you here. That way, you can get your vehicle back on the road in no time!
1. Car Isn’t In Park or Neutral
This probably isn’t the most likely reason your car won’t start, but it’s by far the easiest to rule out. And when you head out to your car on a cold winter morning and it won’t start, the first thing your mind jumps to is the worst-case scenario, and sometimes you forget to double check the little things.
Before you start freaking out and trying to figure out what’s going on with your vehicle, rule out the easy stuff. Ensure it’s either in park or neutral before moving on to any of the other potential causes. And if that is the case, don’t feel too bad, we’ve all been there.
2. Bad Battery
This is the first thing most people start to think of when their car won’t start when it’s cold outside. And while it’s not always the reason the vehicle won’t start, there’s a good reason it’s the first thing that comes to mind.
It’s the most common problem by far, and this is especially true if you only start noticing problems once it starts to get cold outside. Batteries operate better in warmer temperatures, so a battery that can start your vehicle during the summer might not be able to do the same thing during the winter months.
If you’re finding that when the weather gets cold, your vehicle won’t start, it might be time for a new battery. Just ensure you test the old battery before you replace it. That way, you don’t end up spending money on a new battery when the problem is actually something else.
3. Loose Battery Cables
In order for your car’s battery to start your vehicle, the electricity needs to travel from the battery to the starter motor. The battery uses cables to move the electricity from one place to the other, and you need solid connections for maximum voltage flow.
A little bit of a loose connection might not seem like much, but those loose connections lead to a lot of wasted electricity. The good news is this is usually a pretty easy fix. Gently pull on the battery cables to see if they’re loose and if they are, simply tighten up the connections.
4. Excessive Battery Corrosion
A little bit of battery corrosion might not seem like much, but just like a loose connection, it’s seeping power out of the lines. It does this by creating an excessive amount of resistance that the voltage must force its way past.
The electricity that makes its way through might be enough to start your vehicle, or the corrosion might create enough resistance that there’s not enough amperage left to start your vehicle.
5. Faulty Alternator
While your battery provides the power to start your vehicle, it relies on the alternator to keep it at full charge. An alternator that’s beginning to fail might only charge the battery to a fraction of its full potential.
This partial charge might be enough to start your car during warmer weather, but the battery needs a little extra oomph when the weather gets cold. Don’t just assume the battery is the problem without testing the alternator first.
Related: Signs of a Bad Car Battery vs Alternator
6. Parasitic Draw
It might sound like something out of a horror movie, but a parasitic draw is when there’s an electrical component that’s drawing power even after you turn the vehicle off.
This could be something as simple as a light that won’t turn off, or there might be a more complex component that isn’t shutting down properly. Disconnect the negative battery cable and use a multimeter in the amperage mode to check for a draw.
Anything between 50 and 85 milliamps is a normal reading on newer cars. If the reading is higher than that, then there’s something drawing power even after you turn the vehicle off!
Also read: Which Battery Cable to Connect First? (Correct Order & Why)
7. Defective Starter Motor
While a defective starter motor typically won’t struggle more during the colder weather, it still could be the problem. There are tons of ways a starter motor can fail, but when it does, you won’t be able to start your vehicle.
The motor itself could be missing a few teeth, or it might need more power to turn over the flexplate or flywheel once it engages.
8. Faulty Ignition Switch
The ignition switch is what tells your vehicle you’re trying to start it. So it makes sense that if your vehicle has a faulty ignition switch, you won’t be able to get your vehicle to start. If this is the case, you won’t even notice your vehicle trying to start.
It could also be that your vehicle doesn’t recognize that it’s in park or neutral. You can try the other gear to see if it helps with this problem.
9. No Fuel
Your vehicle needs fuel to run! It’s something we all know, but when the vehicle won’t start up, our mind often jumps to more complex problems. You could simply need a little more fuel in the tank.
Of course, the problem could also be that fuel isn’t making its way from the fuel tank to the combustion chamber. That could be a problem with the fuel pump, fuel lines, or injectors.
10. Dead Key Fob Battery
Did we mention that batteries lose some of their effectiveness when the weather gets cold? But while the battery under the hood is the one we think about most, in most modern vehicles, it’s not the only battery your vehicle needs to start.
If your vehicle has a push start system it uses power from the key fob to start your vehicle. The cold weather can affect that battery too. If this is the case, you shouldn’t even notice your vehicle trying to start.
A workaround that usually helps if this is what is going on is for you to use the key fob itself to press the push start button.
11. Damaged Flywheel/Flexplate
This is another unlikely scenario, but it is possible. Manual vehicles use a flywheel and automatic vehicles use a flexplate, but they both serve the same function and work in the same way. They have teeth on the outside that the starter engages with to turn the engine over and start it.
But sometimes the flywheel and flexplate lose a few teeth. When that happens sometimes the starter will grab an area without these teeth and won’t be able to start the engine. When this happens you typically hear a grinding sound when you try to start the engine.
And normally you can start the engine if you try a few times. However, you’re damaging the starter when it grinds up against the missing teeth on the flywheel or flexplate.
12. Damaged Timing Belt
This is a pretty rare occurrence, but it can happen. The timing belt controls the timing of just about everything in your engine by linking up the camshaft with the crankshaft. When it’s all working the way it should, the engine runs perfectly in a 2:1 harmony.
But if there’s a problem with the timing belt, your engine won’t run as it should. And if it snaps completely you likely won’t even be able to start your vehicle in the first place.
13. Locked Steering Wheel
When your vehicle has a locked steering wheel it’s making use of an anti-theft device the manufacturer installed in the vehicle. You need to turn the key a bit while turning the steering wheel to unlock it, and then you should be able to start the vehicle.
However, typically if your vehicle has a locked steering wheel you won’t be able to even try to start the vehicle until you unlock it.
With so many potential reasons your car might not start in the cold, it can be a little overwhelming trying to narrow it down to just one. But start with the simple things, rule them out one at a time, and before long you’ll figure out exactly what’s going on with your vehicle and you can replace the right part the first time!