Revive my frozen, plugged-in car!
January 13, 2005 8:56 AM   Subscribe

So its -36C (about -33F with a windchill of -49C or -56F!!!), and needless to say, my plugged in car is frozen solid. Any tips on getting it going again?
posted by Quartermass to Home & Garden (24 answers total)
make, model, year and type of fuel please.
posted by Mayor Curley at 9:06 AM on January 13, 2005

You don't have an engine block heater?
posted by chicobangs at 9:13 AM on January 13, 2005

That works in that kind of cold, I mean?
posted by chicobangs at 9:14 AM on January 13, 2005

If it's not sitting in a garage, there's very little you can do. Your best bet is to put some cardboard in front of the radiator to keep out some of the wind, and then just wait.

If you've got it garaged, a space heater is your friend.
posted by nathan_teske at 9:19 AM on January 13, 2005

When I've been in your situation, people have suggested I take the car to a DIY carwash, close the bay, and hose it down with hot water. This sounds like total horseshit to me and I never tried it, but I'll throw the idea out in case you don't have any better ones and are feeling adventurous. If the car washes are even open in this kind of cold, which I doubt.

By the way, I'd really appreciate it if you guys could keep your Canadian cold air masses on your side of the border. This sucks.
posted by COBRA! at 9:51 AM on January 13, 2005

Does "plugged in" mean that you do have a block heater ?

By "frozen" do you mean that the starter won't turn the engine over ?

We need more details ...
posted by rfs at 9:51 AM on January 13, 2005

And I was whining because it was in 50F this morning and my heater wasn't warming up fast enough. [It has been unusually warm here this winter with the lows in the upper 60s].

Good luck on that.
posted by birdherder at 10:00 AM on January 13, 2005

The carwash idea is a little odd, considering he can't drive the car. Also, putting hot water on a cold car is a great way to crack the glass.
posted by knave at 10:51 AM on January 13, 2005

Response by poster: I have a block heater, but it appears that something has been keeping it from circulating, so essentially the battery is fine, but I can't get the engine turned over.

It is a 1994 Eagle GTX 2000 (essentially a Mitsubishi Galant). I use regular unleaded.
posted by Quartermass at 10:53 AM on January 13, 2005

i remember swearing through similar situations (silly canadian winters!) and i'm very sorry to say that there probably isn't much you can do about this until it warms up a bit (especially if your car is sitting outside). your luck may improve marginally if your car is sitting in a sunny place.

be careful trying to start your car, though: i once killed a battery trying to start my car in the cold. i would strongly recommend against trying to do anything with hot water - in addition to potentially cracking glass, you may very well freeze your doors shut and, if you try to open them, you may destroy the rubberized seals that keep out the wind and cold.

as the temperature drops in the future, you may want to try starting your car every couple of hours. for me, this entailed sitting in a running car until the heater had warmed up. if in a garage, ensure that the garage door is open so that exhaust goes outside.
posted by lumiere at 11:15 AM on January 13, 2005

Response by poster: Someone told me that if I get a container of 5W30 oil and put it in boiling water for 20 minutes (with the lid off), and then put the heated oil in the engine, that it would work.

Has anyone tried this?
posted by Quartermass at 11:20 AM on January 13, 2005

My only suggestions would involve things you probably don't have on hand. I'd cover the car with a technalon cover, then slide a radiant heat source -- like a sunlamp, nothing with exposed filaments -- under the front of the car. A few hours of that combination should thaw it nicely.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:21 AM on January 13, 2005

Best answer: Check to see if your block heater is actually working. You can often hear them hissing. If not plug and unplug it a few time and see if there is a spark when you do. If not your heater probably isn't working.

My powerwagon can be a little cranky to start in these kind of conditions as well (-33C here the windchill doesn't make much difference to cars left out overnight). Here are somethings that can increase your chances:

1) An automatic battery charger will make sure your battery is fully charged and while doing so warm it a bit which will increase it's ability to function.

2) you can buy magnetic heaters at decent auto parts places. These will stick to anything steel and can be stuck to plastic stuff with duct tape. Sticking one to the bottom of your oil pan will warm your oil which makes for better flow and less load on your starter.

3) in extreme cases covering your engine with an old blanket or two can increase the effectiveness of your block/pan heaters. Obviously remove before attempting to start.

If your block heater isn't working first check the cord for continuty. Replacements are cheap. If the heater itself is defective I wouldn't bother replacing it (not a fun outside job at -30) but instead get an inline coolant heater. ICHs install into your lower heater hose and circulate the coolant while heating it which will better heat the parts of your engine that most need it (heads, throttle body).

A common problem in winter is condesation in gas tanks which can freeze in fuel lines preventing your engine from getting fuel. If this is your problem the only solution besides getting the car towed to a heated garage to thaw out is to try and find the blockage and clear it with a heat gun. Not a fun job at the best of times which -30 isn't. A bottle of gasline antifreeze every once and a while will mix the water with your gas preventing this problem. Or use gas containing 1-5% ethonal like Husky or Mowhawk premium.

Also the cold may not be causing your problem you could have any of the things wrong that would stop a car from starting on even a summers day: coil(s) plugs, wires, computer, bad battery, poor ground, plugged injectors, etc. etc. depending on the symptoms and the car make, model, and engine.

Also if you've killed your battery dead plan on replacing it at your first chance. A starter battery pulled down below 10V even once is often internally damaged such that they won't hold a decent charge. It may even freeze at these temperatures which occasionally can result in a cracked case and acid spilling all over when it thaws out.

If you want to go the start it every few hours route check into remote starters. Mine will start my car on a schedule if I set it that way. Also if you park in a garage you don't need to keep the door wide open, a couple inches will do if you run a hose from your exhust pipe to the outside. They sell special hose for that purpose at auto parts stores that is heat and crush resistant.
posted by Mitheral at 11:27 AM on January 13, 2005

Someone told me that if I get a container of 5W30 oil and put it in boiling water for 20 minutes (with the lid off), and then put the heated oil in the engine, that it would work.

It may in some cases. It is a similiar approach to my 2 above though with much more risk of getting 100C oil all over yourself. Plus you now have too much oil in your pan which can cause all sorts of problems including hard starting and blown up engines if the crank hits the oil. If forced to take this approach I'd at least drain a litre out first. Also you might as well use 0W30 which will be available anywhere it gets this cold.
posted by Mitheral at 11:33 AM on January 13, 2005

A battery blanket (an electric blanket you wrap around the battery) isn't a bad idea at that temperature either. They're cheap(ish) at Crappy Tire. Same caveats as a block heater though, don't leave them plugged in for more than a few hours.
posted by bonehead at 11:49 AM on January 13, 2005

Hot water works miracles. (Flame on!)

Just be sure to keep it away from the windows. When your car is covered in a thick sheet of ice that resists all efforts of conventional scraping, hot water is very good at thinning down the ice. Yes, it will refreeze eventually. But then you only have a thin sheet of ice to deal with and not a car igloo.

This works particularly well on frozen door locks -- just fill a bucket of water with hot tap water and pour it on the door lock area, including in between the door jam.

The trick to not fucking up your car in the process is to make sure the temperature differential isn't great. Boiling water, for instance, would be a very bad choice. But luke-warm tap water will work great. It'll take you a few trips in and out of the house, however.

If the problem is in the engine bay, I recommend steadily increasing the temperature of the water on each trip. So, luke warm the first couple of buckets, then hot, then scalding hot. The only thing you have to worry about shattering are the headlights, and as long as you increment the temperature increase, it should give it enough time to adjust so Bad Things don't happen.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:51 AM on January 13, 2005

Oh yeah, and keep your car running for a while after you get it started.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:52 AM on January 13, 2005

I can't believe you're required to even go to work in -36f weather. I hate to sound like a wussy American, but that is absolutely frightening, and I live in Utah.

I would worry about water-based solutions, as sometimes the water refreezes, leaving you in worse shape.
posted by mecran01 at 12:58 PM on January 13, 2005

When we lived where frozen door locks might happen, the informed solution was heating the key with a cigarette lighter. The keys currently provided by the manufacturers may not survive direct flames, so ymmv. I have no personal experience of this solution - and have avoided the problem by living at a reasonable elevation in Oregon.
posted by Cranberry at 2:40 PM on January 13, 2005

Now you know why we Canadians are such nice people mecran01. We all have a common enemy, the weather, that we can hate with all our might without it effecting other people.

And the heating the key thing works though I don't think I'd try it on any key with a chip in it.
posted by Mitheral at 3:02 PM on January 13, 2005

you could always shove a different heated key into the lock, it doesn't have to turn it, just fit inside.

as to the original question, I can contribute no other great ideas unfortunately.
posted by defcom1 at 6:44 PM on January 13, 2005

I can't believe you're required to even go to work in -36f weather. I hate to sound like a wussy American, but that is absolutely frightening, and I live in Utah.

I'm just a few hours north here in Montana, and we're going to hit -30 (F) tonight. Life goes on -- this is my third winter here, and I've been amazed that people continue to work, shop, and play even in these temps. Great fun, now that I'm used to it!
posted by davidmsc at 7:17 PM on January 13, 2005

I live in the Alaskan interior, and it has been hovering around -50°F here the past few days.

Are you sure your cord is working? Your outlet is on and working? Try plugging something else into the cord and see if it works.
Are you sure the block heater is working?
Do you have a battery heater? Oil pan heater?

If you really cannot push it somewhere inside (by gathering up a few of your closest friends/neighbors to help push), I have warmed up an engine block with a hair dryer before: but its very dangerous. Heating some oil may work, so may covering the block with a blanket (or even an electir blanket); it depends on what in the car, exactly, is frozen.

Good luck with it. I don't know how it is where you live, but here the cold snaps don't last longer than a few days.
posted by rhapsodie at 8:36 PM on January 13, 2005

Ugh. I'm in Calgary right now, feel your pain. -30 right now. It's supposed to warm up on the prairies starting Saturday, if you can wait that long.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:43 AM on January 14, 2005

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