How to start a frozen car.
January 4, 2014 6:14 AM   Subscribe

Both of my Hondas are frozen and won't start. Help!

2 Honda CRZ hybrids, parked outside. Lights all come on but won't start. I'm in CT, where it is below zero currently.

I do not have the option of getting them into a warm garage, nor am I skilled enough to remove the battery or any of the other solutions I have read online.

Both tanks are full of gas. Both cars are barely a year old.

My neighbor said cover the car with a tarp and put a space heater on. Is that nuts?
posted by archimago to Travel & Transportation (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Jump it.
posted by sanka at 6:31 AM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does your neighbour or someone else you know have a car that will start?
You will also need jumper cables, and you can, as sanka states, jump start it. Read this wiki how.

If not, you will need to call a garage or AAA to come and do it for you.
posted by Snazzy67 at 6:46 AM on January 4, 2014

No, it's not nuts.

But it will be faster and less of a pain to get a jump. Cables cost like 20 bucks. If you live in northern climates, you should always have a pair in the car somewhere.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:47 AM on January 4, 2014

My neighbor said cover the car with a tarp and put a space heater on. Is that nuts?

This is crazypants nuts. Don't ever do it.

I personally witnessed the failure condition of this suggestion when a flap of the tarp came into contact with a high-wattage floodlight being used in place of the space heater. It caught fire and the car ended up being a total loss.

A much better and safer plan is to get a jump starter that you can keep charged someplace warm and take out to car when it won't start.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:20 AM on January 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Jump starting hybrids may be a whole different ballgame, just had this discussion with my neighbor whose Prius won't start in balmy 40 degree Savannah. Call AAA, or call your local Honda dealer who will, we hope, know what to do with cars this new.
posted by mareli at 7:27 AM on January 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Short-term solution: Assuming no one is willing to give you a jump, call AAA and ask for a jumpstart. If you're not a member, they will let you join when you call. Given the weather, you may have a bit of a wait. Also, keep in mind once your car is jumped you're going to need to drive it around for a bit to keep it charged. Typically they recommend 15 minutes, but I always did 30 but my car was entirely dead (no lights or anything).

Long-term solution: When I was working from home and didn't drive my car very often, my (new) battery died on a semi-regular basis. I bought this Jump N Carry and it solved my life. I drive a 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid, no special issues with using it.
posted by katemcd at 7:35 AM on January 4, 2014

do not cheap out on jumpers! You want a LARGE gauge and COPPER......
posted by raildr at 7:42 AM on January 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Thx everyone. I'm sure I can find someone to jump me today and I can plan for the future. I live and I learn. Which is why I now have a generator after so many storm outages in recent history.
posted by archimago at 7:46 AM on January 4, 2014

You might also want to invest in a block heater. This is a small $100 or so heater built into your engine block. You plug it in on a cold night, and it keeps your engine warmish.

I've never needed one, but some people have them here in Quebec.
posted by musofire at 8:57 AM on January 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I drive a 2004 Honda Civic hybrid. The battery was weak and I jumpstarted it many times. In very cold weather, batteries are prone to fail. Starting attempts drain the battery, but it still might start if it gets warmer. I have always carried jumper cables, have used them for my car and others', and now carry a jumper box - basically a backup battery.
posted by theora55 at 9:56 AM on January 4, 2014

I'd get a jump, but also call the Honda dealer. It doesn't seem like the CRZ is an old enough model that your battery should have worn out, unless you've run the battery flat a couple of times already.
posted by wotsac at 10:35 AM on January 4, 2014

How far below zero is it? The cold cranking amps (CCA) rating for the battery – the number of amps it can provide at 0°F when new – should be listed on the battery's label, and the number of amps required to start the car should be in the owner's manual. If it's only a little bit below zero fahrenheit, and you're using the stock battery and haven't abused it by running it dead and leaving it that way, then the battery ought to be providing pretty close to its CCA rating. Honda should have specced a battery for the car that is capable of starting it in all but the most extreme cold, and if the battery is only a year old it should still be providing close to its rated performance (again, unless it has been abused).

What that boils down to is that unless it's like -20°F or colder where you are, your cars should be starting. Since they're not (and since weather reports say it's actually +25°F in Connecticut) I think there's probably something wrong with the batteries and you should take wotsac's advice and call your dealer about it. The cars are under warranty, and the batteries probably are too – they should replace your batteries at no charge, ideally with a different model. Maybe this battery was even from a bad batch; perhaps they've even been recalled for exactly this problem. Either way, they should sort you out at no charge.

All that said, a jump start will get you on your way. The batteries probably aren't dead either, just cold. After you've driven for a while and the cars have warmed up, the batteries should work until they cool down again. If you're worried about this happening again you can buy a portable jumpstarter kit like what katemcd mentioned, and keep it indoors where it's warm.

You could also warm up the batteries. Don't do this with a space heater and a blanket, that's a great way to start a fire. What you could do is put an old electric blanket over the engine bay and wrap it around the battery as best you can, or you could remove the battery from the car and bring it indoors for a couple of hours to warm up to room temperature, or you could pour some hot – not boiling! – water over the battery. Or you could just open the hood so that the battery catches some sun (if there is any) and wait until the warmest part of the day (typically around 2PM) and try to start the cars then.
posted by Scientist at 11:40 AM on January 4, 2014

Did your generator come with charging leads? Many generator have a 12 volt output meant for charging batteries.
posted by Talk To Me Goose at 11:50 AM on January 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and just for the sake of completeness, make sure that you didn't inadvertently leave anything on in the cars which may have drained the batteries (even partially). If you mistakenly set the interior light to stay on all the time or something like that, or if you have something plugged into the cigarette outlet like, I dunno, a laptop or a flashlight or hell let's say even a cell phone it might have drained the battery some overnight. Maybe not enough to cause problems in normal weather, but maybe enough to prevent the battery from providing its full CCA under unusually-cold conditions.

It's also just possible (though very unlikely, especially with two new cars) that your alternators are bad or there's a bad electrical connection between the battery and the starter motor. Given that we're talking about two identical nearly-new cars something like this would only be likely to happen if there was a manufacturing defect of some kind. If you get your batteries replaced and you continue to see problems like this in the future, take the cars back to the dealer and ask to have them checked for this sort of thing. It's unlikely, but it could happen. If it's a manufacturing defect they should repair it at no charge.

Final thought: if you have a lot of corrosion at your battery terminals, it may be enough to just clean them. Here's a handy guide (use Method One). Basically you just disconnect the battery (this may put your radio into anti-theft mode, so you may have to enter a code or something which should have been given to you when you bought the car) and get in there with a small wire brush or old toothbrush and some baking soda paste, cleaning both the battery terminals and the connectors. You then rinse everything off with some water, dry it with a rag, and reconnect the battery. If your terminals have a lot of corrosion this can interfere with the connection between the battery and the rest of the car, reducing the amount of current that it's capable of delivering to the starter motor.
posted by Scientist at 11:53 AM on January 4, 2014

When we lived in Montana, we always had block heaters, even in cars that were garaged. You might find a battery charger that work off of house current would be useful.
posted by Cranberry at 1:17 PM on January 4, 2014

If you don't live in a house with external power, or in a frozen wasteland where block heaters are so ubiquitous that every parking space has its own outlet (Edmonton's like that), you might have trouble finding somewhere to plug in a block heater.

But, yeah, as long as you have somewhere to plug it in, a block heater's definitely the way to go.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:11 PM on January 4, 2014

For what it is worth, Toyota Hybrids still depend on the 12v system to start. The 12v system powers the computer and various interlocks. I wouldn't be surprised if Hondas were the same.

We've had to jump ours a few times for various (stupid) reasons. Try jumping yours. If this becomes a common occurrence, you may want to replace the battery.
posted by Good Brain at 3:32 PM on January 4, 2014

I was going to say that you should plug in your car (which keeps the block heater going) if it's below -30C, but you're only at around -20C, so I'm going to with a bad battery. Last winter, I was needed a boost over and over, especially if I didn't plug in. I got a new battery and this winter I've forgotten to plug in a few times was able to start my ancient Tercel even at -27C (ambient, I don't even want to think what the windchill temp was that morning).

I've also heard hybrids are worse in the cold, which is why I'm not considering one from for my next car.
posted by Kurichina at 3:40 PM on January 4, 2014

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