My other car is the millennium falcon
January 5, 2010 1:57 PM   Subscribe

(Probably) really basic car question: my car is taking longer to start than it used to. Battery problem or something else?

Particularly with the cold, my car is taking its time starting up. I even pump the gas before I turn the key but it makes no difference. Could it be my battery - I think the connections (?) are corroded - or because my antifreeze level is low, or something else? Car is a '97 but in good shape. Recommendations welcome.
posted by bunny hugger to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Important: What kind of car is it?

First Thing. Check your distributor cap, replace the cap and rotor. This should not run you more than 20 bucks. This wildly changed things on my old Saab.

Other important factors:
-Old spark plugs
-Bad spark plug cable
-Dirty air filter
-Automatic choke that isn't closing in the cold (we thought our Subaru was dead before we stuck a rag in the air intake).
posted by dunkadunc at 2:07 PM on January 5, 2010


How old is the battery? If the battery is over three years old it may be time for a replacement. If you antifreeze is low, refill it. Or better yet, go to a jiffy lube, change the oil and let them top off all the fluids. At some Jiffy lubes they can test your battery for you as well.
posted by Pastabagel at 2:09 PM on January 5, 2010


I would swing it by an Autozone and have them test the battery. You probably just need a new one.
posted by NoMich at 2:13 PM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


My car started doing this, and a few days later, I had to get a jump start and a new battery.
posted by Comrade_robot at 2:17 PM on January 5, 2010


Any vehicle made after 1990 has electronic fuel injection and the pedal does not need to be pumped, it does nothing. If you hear the starter trying but it doesn't seem to start right away it could be the fuel pump. If it dies a little when you try to start, lights dimming or clicking then your battery needs replacing or charging.
posted by bravowhiskey at 2:19 PM on January 5, 2010


What exactly is it doing? Just turning over a bunch of times before starting up?
posted by bitdamaged at 2:20 PM on January 5, 2010


@bitdamaged -- yes, it is turning over a bunch of times before starting up.
posted by bunny hugger at 2:22 PM on January 5, 2010


That, to me, means your engine isn't getting enough of one of the three things it needs to start up: Spark, Air, or Fuel.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:23 PM on January 5, 2010


What does it sound like as you start it?

If it's all Ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh as normal but the VROOM is taking longer to kick in, you battery is probably fine but you should get your automatic choke checked.

But if it's starting to do Ruh-ruh... ruh..... ruh. A-ruh. Ruh. Ruh. Rrrrrruh. Rrrrrrruh. then it's probably new battery time.
posted by flabdablet at 2:24 PM on January 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


I even pump the gas before I turn the key but it makes no difference.

It won't. That was a technique from the days of carb fed engines that used a small pump attached to the throttle to add fuel. This mechanism no longer applies with fuel injection, so it's a waste of time.

Could it be my battery - I think the connections (?) are corroded

Most likely. Bad connections will never help, but all cars are harder to start in cold weather than warm. Batteries don't work as well in colder weather and also this is the time that a less than ideal one will show its age. If your battery is more than 3 years old, then it may (although not definitely) need replacing, if it is more than 5 it would be a wise investment.

or because my antifreeze level is low, or something else?

It has absolutely nothing at all to do with anti-freeze level. However, this should be checked and maintained as part of the varied and regular maintenance of your car (like tyre pressures and oil level checks).

Additional elements will be the length of time between servicing for the various wearing components (spark plugs, leads, air filter, etc) as the state of these will affect how easily the car starts. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that petrol is just harder to burn at lower temperatures and so cars may not be able to easily cope with the cold without it being apparent to the owner in terms of longer cranking times.

How serious is the issue? Noticeable? Or actually several times longer cranking before firing up?
posted by Brockles at 2:26 PM on January 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


you battery is probably fine but you should get your automatic choke checked.

There is no automatic choke on fuel injected cars.
posted by Brockles at 2:27 PM on January 5, 2010


Typically, hard starting comes in two varieties.
Slow cranking: Most likely weak battery.
Fast cranking: Most likely spark or fuel.

It is worth bearing in mind, however, that petrol is just harder to burn at lower temperatures and so cars may not be able to easily cope with the cold without it being apparent to the owner in terms of longer cranking times.

Totally true. Adding to that, most cars run richer when they're cold so there'll be more fuel, and worse atomization. Old ignition components will have a hard time delivering adequate spark to ignite the cold, rich mixture.
If you were having a fuel delivery problem, the car would most likely sputter as it starts since there'd be enough spark to light off the inadequate fuel supply. Since you describe a prolonged, regular speed crank, I'm going to recommend someone take a look at the ignition system on your car. You might be due for a tune up.
posted by Jon-o at 2:46 PM on January 5, 2010


Wow, lots of dino tech in this thread.

So, if it's a '97 and a car, it's most likely a Camry, a Civic, a Taurus, or an Accord. All of these cars, in '97, had coil-on-plug ignitions and fuel injection. It has no choke, all cold start enrichment is automatic and computer-controlled, and all have sealed batteries. None require any pedal pumping or other rain dances.

Cold weather has a negative effect on the performance of lead-acid batteries everywhere, and I'd bet you $10 that your battery is just getting old. Any auto parts store can test it for you. Do that before it fails utterly.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 2:50 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, the poster's history indicates that this is a '97 Civic.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 2:53 PM on January 5, 2010


Could be partially clogged fuel injectors as well. Judging from the phrasing of your question - "Could it be...because my antifreeze level is low..." - you don't have much, if any, mechanical knowledge & I would suggest you take it to a qualified mechanic before you start throwing money at this problem.
posted by torquemaniac at 2:54 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is no automatic choke on fuel injected cars.

Wow, lots of dino tech in this thread.


Oops... sorry about that.

I drive a '91 Daihatsu Mira. It has a manual choke.
posted by flabdablet at 3:20 PM on January 5, 2010


All of these cars, in '97, had coil-on-plug ignitions
I don't want to derail, but the Civic in 97 had a cap and rotor. The Civic didn't get coil-on-plug until 2001.
The 3.0L Taurus didn't have a distributer, but a coil pack of six ignition coils molded into one unit. It still had a rats nest of ignition wires. Toyotas also came with a distributer.
BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Volvo and Saab, were making coil-on-plug engines in 97, since it was still pretty expensive technology back then. Civic owners, they figured, could get by with pedaling and rubbing two sticks together ;)

Unlike coil-on-plug, caps and rotors wear out, and plug wires break down and allow spark to find a ground through the insulation. A coil-on-plug failure will result in a dead misfire and a check engine light. A cap-and-rotor set up can cause hard starting and poor performance long before a complete failure.

I wouldn't rule out weak ignition as a source of hard starting in this case.

posted by Jon-o at 3:24 PM on January 5, 2010


nthing battery as the most likely culprit.

If not, my money is on either old plugs or a fuel pressure/atomization issue. Spark components (cap, rotor, coils, wires, etc) tend to cope with cold ok. Moisture, not so much, but cold isn't usually a problem. Plugs could be borderline and not want to light cold fuel, but more likely you have fuel pressure issues (pump, pressure regulator or whatever) or a bad engine temp sensor. Could be a vacuum leak as well. Either way, I suspect if you're asking here you aren't going to fix any of those things yourself without some help from a trusted friend or a mechanic.

If this is a new problem, it could just be bad gas, though that's pretty rare these days as well.

Swap the battery, but if that doesn't do it, find a good local independent mechanic and have them fix it. Eventually it may leave you stranded otherwise.
posted by paanta at 3:35 PM on January 5, 2010


When it's cold, try turning the ignition to "on" for 3-5 second before you actually start it.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 4:01 PM on January 5, 2010


Have you been through more than one tank of gas? As paanta mentioned it's much harder to get "bad gas" now than in the past, but some water in your tank might cause the hard start - especially if you are close to empty. So one simple step would be to fill the tank and see if things change. If so, there are lots of additives (dry-gas) you can add to help remove the water from the tank...

One other useful data point, does the hard start change after the car has warmed up? If for example you start the car in the cold and then drive to work. Turn off the car and try to start it again - does it start right away or do you still have problems. If you still have problems, this might rule out many of the cold related issues mentioned in this thread.
posted by NoDef at 6:23 PM on January 5, 2010


I don't want to derail, but the Civic in 97 had a cap and rotor. The Civic didn't get coil-on-plug until 2001.

Oh, well, mouth into foot, then. My '97 Camry (V6) had c-o-p, and all of the Civics of that era I've had my hands on in the last 8ish years had contemporaneous Integra or Prelude engines in them, so I was half-presuming that they all had done away with dizzies.

posted by TheNewWazoo at 8:19 AM on January 6, 2010


Update: I had an old mechanic friend look at it. He cleaned off the terminal connection thingies really well and that helped a bit. He recommended a new battery. Thanks.
posted by bunny hugger at 11:18 AM on January 6, 2010


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