5 Causes of a Car That’s Hard to Start (Especially When Cold)

(Updated on February 24, 2021)

It can be a terrible feeling when you have trouble starting your engine. When it’s cold outside, the feeling is even worse although the situation is more likely during winter.

You might have a dozen ideas running through your head about why your engine is so difficult to start. Perhaps you worry that your engine is damaged in some way and that you’ll have to spend a whole lot of money on repairs or even a new engine.

The worst possible scenarios may run through your head whenever your engine fails to start easily. However, in most situations, an engine that’s hard to start has nothing to do with its overall health.

The problem likely pertains to something wrong with one of the many electrical components in your vehicle or maybe even the motor oil. Keep reading to see the main causes of a car or truck that’s difficult to start, especially in cold weather.

See Also: 10 Causes of a Car That Starts Then Immediately Dies

Top 5 Reasons for Hard Starting When Cold

car hard to start when cold

There are many things that can cause an engine to be hard to start, especially in cold weather. Below are five of the most common causes that you should investigate immediately upon experiencing this kind of problem.

You may simply get a jumpstart from another vehicle or portable jump starter and call it good. But if you continue to ignore the problem, then it will eventually get to a point where you won’t be able to start your engine at all and it may not be in the confines of your garage or driveway.

1) Battery Issue

jumpstart car in cold

Car owners are surprised to learn that the cold temperatures outside can have a negative effect on their vehicle’s battery. There are chemical reactions which need to take place inside the battery for it to function properly.

Cold temperatures will slow down these chemical reactions, resulting in a battery that does not produce a powerful enough energy current for the starter. Once that happens, your engine will have a difficult time turning over.

While it’s possible your car battery has simply reached the end of its lifespan and needs to be replaced, a poor connection may be the culprit as well. Be sure to clean off any corrosion from the battery terminals and make sure the battery cables are connected tight.

Related: How Long Does it Take to Charge a Car Battery?

2) Bad Ignition Switch

bad ignition switch symptoms

The ignition switch exists within the internal combustion engine. It is responsible for starting the vehicle’s electrical components after you turn the key in the ignition.

The engine requires the ignition switch to be functional for it to start and run properly. If the ignition switch is bad or worn out, then your engine will be hard to start.

3) Malfunctioning Starter

bad starter motor

A starter motor is what starts the engine. If you have a bad starter motor, then you will have trouble starting the engine. Like most components in a vehicle, wear and tear will eventually get the best of the starter motor.

When you turn the key in the ignition and nothing happens, then you’ll know you have a starter problem. If you see dimmed lights after turning the key, the car may start but it will be very slow to do so.

See Also: What Does a Bad Starter Sound Like?

4) Wrong Oil (or Too Thick)

low oil symptoms

When the temperatures get colder outside, the oil inside the engine will get thicker. If the oil becomes too thick, it will be harder for it to circulate throughout the engine and lubricate the components.

Once that happens, the engine must work harder to push around the oil. This ultimately creates problems while you’re starting the car and as you’re driving your car. Make sure you use the correct oil type and viscosity as your owner’s manual states.

Alternatively, you could have thicker oil because you simply haven’t gotten an oil change in such a long time. Make sure you regularly get oil changes, according to the car manufacturer’s recommended oil change interval.

5) Bad Starter Solenoid

The starter solenoid is responsible for transmitting an electric current within the starter system. This cylindrical wire coil may become worn out as time goes on.

If this were to occur, it will be difficult for the electrical components and engine within the vehicle to start up. You will need to replace this coil if you want to fix the problem.

19 thoughts on “5 Causes of a Car That’s Hard to Start (Especially When Cold)”

  1. Am so impressed with this enlightenment. Thanks. Pls may i know the specific engine oil for Honda civic 2002 series.

    Reply
  2. We just got a 2011 Malibu LS 4 cylinder that starts hard the first time and then starts fine after that first time. We replaced the crank sensor since that was coding and also the cam sensor but it still starts hard the first time.

    Reply
  3. I have a Honda Shuttle and for some time I’ve been finding it difficult to start my car early in the morning. It usually takes time to start. Even when it’s hot, it still takes time to start. What should I do? Thanks!

    Reply
    • I’d have the battery and alternator tested to make sure they’re both good. Check your spark plugs and make sure they’re in good condition. If all of that checks out, next I might think about doing a compression test.

      Reply
  4. 2010 F150 XLT 5.4L 3v – Has Long Crank In Cold Weather After Sitting Outside Overnight.

    Hey guys, this is my first post on a vehicle forum page. I have a 2010 F150 XLT Extended Cab with a 5.4L 3v Engine. I bought this truck about 5 months ago in the summer and it has started fine and quickly in warm-hot conditions with no problems noticed. Right now in Michigan, we have been approaching freezing temperatures and I have noticed that in the next morning ( after truck sitting overnight) the truck has been starting long and rough in these cold temperatures of less than 35 degrees. It is like a long crank 5-7 second crank and it will finally start. I might even have to give it 2-3 tries for it to finally start. This does not happen every morning though. Here is a video link of what the long crank sounds like before finally starting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9F-59rXebyw&feature=youtu.be

    Yet, when it finally starts the whole vehicle shakes and vibrates for a quick second (It feels like a quick 3-second long rapid misfire occurring). After this is over, everything is fine…….. there are no issues, it will drive fine and I can even shut it off after only a minute of running and it will then start immediately. It only occurs when I leave the truck sitting overnight alone for 8+ hours I would say. I brought it to a local mechanic and left it overnight. They could not figure out the issue and I ended up paying them for labor without any solution.

    I am starting to suspect something with a fuel injector (but I hear no ticking noises and I have no misfires while driving). I also thought it could be something with coolant temperature readings or sensors in the engine but I have to do more research into this. I am also using thicker oil of 5w-30 instead of 5w-20 but I am not sure if this could cause this issue. Besides moving to Florida does anyone have any solutions?

    Things I have done or tested (I hope I did them correctly):
    – I brought my battery to NAPA to have it tested and has tested fine.
    – Inspected air filter
    -Changed my Spark Plugs and Coil Packs (no difference noticed)
    -I kept finding issues about “EVAP Purge Valve” so I inspected for leaks by placing my finger while the vehicle is running to test for any suction and it came out fine. The channel Fordtechmakaloco mentioned doing this.
    -Cleaned the Mass airflow sensor with purchased CRC cleaner.
    -Also Cleaned the Throttle Body.
    -I have also tried cycling the key a few times to better prime the fuel pump.

    None of these worked. 🙁
    Please help!

    Reply
    • Hmm, that’s a little vague. You could do a compression test. If you’re not able to narrow the problem down yourself, you should take it to a local mechanic for a diagnosis.

      Reply
  5. 1995 Isuzu Pickup 2.3L 95k mi. 2wd FI.
    Suddenly I have a hard start issue. I replaced, fuel pump, fuel filter, fuel pressure regulator, distrbtr. cap, plugs & cleaned MAF with Alcohol & MAF cleaner. I also put check valves in fuel line although the fuel pump has one built in. When cranking, fuel pressure gets to 42 PSI. then “if” truck starts, PSI goes to 36 psi. & runs perfect. When I remove vacuum line from Fuel pressure reg. fuel PSI jumps to 42. There is no fuel in vacuum line (NEW Fuel pressure reg).
    If I use a little ether/starting fluid, the truck starts immediately.
    I’ve got about $200 throwing parts at it. It’s OBD-1 & the code is #34 ,which i get different opinions on what #34 is? “MAP”? I don’t have a MAP?
    Any help?
    THank you

    Reply

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