Times Have Changed: Cold Starting

Discussion in 'General Motoring' started by Richard, Jan 20, 2005.

  1. Richard

    Richard Guest

    Has anyone in the north country noticed that on very cold, below zero F
    mornings almost every vehicle starts right up. Twenty years ago and back, it
    was very typical for many if not most cars to die during the starting
    process. Possible reasons:

    Near universal use of 5W-30 oils and more common use of synthetics. (10W-40
    used to be the most common oil used).

    More efficient starters.

    Better battery/charging technology.

    More common electronic ignitions and distributors.

    Richard, Jan 20, 2005
  2. Richard

    Steve Guest


    Its ALL because of multi-port high-pressure electronic fuel injection
    that can keep the mixture spot-on where it needs to be for any engine
    temperature, and doesn't depend on fully vaporizing the fuel upstream in
    the intake manifold. A carburetor has a REALLY hard time keeping the
    mixture anywhere near optimized in sub-zero temperatures, especially
    through the starting process where the air flow varies from almost none
    (cranking) to fairly high (fast idle) in a big hurry. In fact, a carb
    works by pumping a small puddle of fuel into the manifold before
    cranking (remember "depress accelerator fully twice and release"?) to
    aid start up, since it can't possibly add enough fuel during cranking.
    And once the engine fires, that slug of fuel immediately makes the
    mixture too rich for a few seconds until it burns out... at which time
    it *may* go too lean again for a few seconds and the engine may stall if
    you're not quick enough at fluttering the accelerator pedal to pump more
    fuel in.

    Frankly, I kinda miss that spluttering, snorting, shaking process for
    the first 30 seconds or so after start-up. Sounds really neat on a
    big-block v8 :)
    Steve, Jan 20, 2005
  3. Actually, Steve, yeah, that is one of the factors in the much greater ease
    of super-cold starts. You live in Texas. I live in Toronto. That alone
    makes me more qualified to comment on it than you (which is hardly a fair
    exchange: You get to have barbecues and mow your lawn in the middle of
    January, I get to prattle-on about cold starts. No fair.) What's more,
    I've got direct and recent (last month) experience with the difference oil
    weight makes in ability and ease of starting an engine from cold. So,
    shutchyer mouth, you!
    Naw, it isn't. That's a major factor, but certainly not the only one. EFI
    makes newer vehicles much less tricky to start in the very cold, but other
    factors apply to new and old cars alike. Oils with lower pour points and
    better cold pumpability, gasolines that burn cleaner (leaving the spark
    plugs cleaner so they require less arcover voltage), etc.

    Daniel J. Stern, Jan 20, 2005
  4. Richard

    Steve Guest

    While I'm sure that the better oils increase cranking speed and allow
    the engine to start quicker and idle with less effort, I don't think it
    has anything to do with the sputter/die/restart that everyone used to
    know about with carbureted cars.

    I live in Toronto. That alone
    You can come mow my lawn in January ANYTIME, if you miss mowing lawns so
    much :p And maybe you can snort some cedar pollen while you're at it so
    I don't have to breathe it:)
    Again, I don't really disagree, but I don't think any of that has so
    much to do with start/sputter/die/restart as EFI does. EFI can meter,
    vaporize, and evenly distribute fuel FAR better at low temperatures than
    a carburetor can, while at higher temperatures the difference is far
    less noticeable. Oil thickness, plug condition, and battery power all
    matter, but those are second or third-order effects compared to the
    better fuel control from MPEFI. And there's even a noticeable difference
    beetween low-pressure throttle-body injected cars and moder
    high-pressure EFI cars in the "cold" weather we get here in Texas, too.
    TBI cars often gripe and grumble a lot like carbureted cars because the
    intake manifolds are "wet" and fuel distribution is very poor in cold
    temps, whereas MPI cars almost never do.
    Steve, Jan 20, 2005
  5. And I'm telling you, from firsthand experience, that you're wrong on this
    exact point. With 15w50 Mobil-1 at 20 below (C), it took two or three
    starts for the engine to stay running. With 5w30 Mobil-1 at 20 below (C)
    and no other changes, the engine stays running after the first start.

    Cranking speed is pretty irrelevant unless an engine is so whipped that
    the compression pressure leaks past the rings so fast that a high cranking
    speed is needed. GM proved in the early 1960s that a typical passenger car
    engine (of the day!) would start at cranking speeds as low as 6rpm.
    Fine. I'll accept payment in trips to Kreuz'.
    Daniel J. Stern, Jan 20, 2005
  6. Richard

    Art Guest


    I hate to agree with Dan but "always", "all", "none", and "never" are almost
    always the wrong answer. :>

    Art, Jan 20, 2005
  7. Richard

    kmatheson Guest

    The problem that I usually had on older cars was the choke. A light tap
    on the accelerator was needed to set it. Too much would flood it. Then
    there was the problem of the choke not disengaging when it should,
    causing a rich air/fuel mix. EFI and AIS stepper motors pretty much
    eliminated these problems.

    One of the most troublesome setups that I had, was a Dodge Caravan with
    the 2.6 and the Minuki carb. The choke never worked right from day one.
    -Kirk Matheson
    kmatheson, Jan 20, 2005
  8. Richard

    Matt Whiting Guest

    I think computer controlled fuel injection vs. carburetion is the main
    reason, but I don't disagree with anything you list above.

    Matt Whiting, Jan 20, 2005
  9. Richard

    Don Bruder Guest

    Hell, my old, but reasonably healthy, '82 Mazda 626 will push-start in
    third gear with somewhere between three and five feet of roll - not a
    "fast" roll, either, although it does fire even quicker if I can get up
    some serious speed before popping the clutch - just "moving" - *MAYBE* 1
    or 2 MPH, if that. In reverse, a foot or so of roll, at *WAY* below
    typical walking speed, and a quick clutch-bump is all it takes to fire
    it up every time. Dunno what the effective RPM is in either case (too
    lazy to do the math) but whatever the number, it's obviously sufficient
    for this beast :)

    Guess that means it ain't quite whipped yet... :)

    This saved my bacon one night at about 3 in the AM... Stopped out in the
    middle of nowhere to watch the Perseid meteor shower dropping something
    like 80 streaks per minute before continuing on my newspaper route, and
    when I decided it was time to go, the starter said "Nah, I wanna stay
    here and watch the sky-show" (Turned out later to be the starter
    literally falling apart - One of the two long screws that held the
    end-caps on it had vibrated loose, allowing some flex, which bound the
    bearings - minor miracle: The screw that fell out dropped into a groove
    in the engine cradle, where it rode safely until I found it later that
    day while I was doing the wrenching to change out the starter.)

    Damn fool me had decided to stop at the bottom of a little valley, or
    maybe gulley would be the better word, in order to screen out the lights
    on the horizon that were interfering with viewing the meteors - Great
    view, but both directions were uphill - Figured I was screwed royally.
    Grunted and heaved and cussed and sweated, and probably strained
    something, but finally managed to get the front wheels about 2-3 feet up
    the forward incline before gravity took over and started pushing me back
    down the slope. Reached in and set the P-brake, sat down and caught my
    breath, then turned it on, put it in reverse, mashed the clutch, and
    released the brake. It started rolling back, exactly as expected. It
    might have managed to hit the dizzying speed of half a mile an hour by
    the time I bumped the clutch. The front end was still on the slope when
    the engine fired up.
    Don Bruder, Jan 21, 2005
  10. My '91 Spirit R/T would reliably start by just turning the ignition "on",
    putting the trans in "Reverse", releasing the parking brake, rolling a few
    feet down the driveway, then releasing the clutch. Two compressions was
    all it took.
    Daniel J. Stern, Jan 21, 2005
  11. Richard

    Don Bruder Guest

    Yep, that's about what it takes with this beast of mine. As soon as one
    cylinder even half-assed fires, the engine is running, and keeps on
    running until I turn off the key. I *LIKE* that in a vehicle. :)
    Don Bruder, Jan 21, 2005
  12. Richard

    howard Guest

    my OLD DATSUN 66 or so had a HAND CRANK that went through a hole in the
    bumber to the fly wheel...hard starting, tired battery, NP

    even had a "dog" to kick it out after it started.......... opened up some of
    the "oldtimers" eyes in town, when for chuckles, I crank started it......
    it was a bullet proof OLD PICKUP......no comfort, no pep, but was reliable
    for many miles!

    even like going mudding.....and easy to find mud here!
    howard, Jan 21, 2005
  13. Richard

    Whoever Guest

    I would suggest that the biggest improvement is the elimination of
    distributors and hence the much improved insulation of the HT path from
    the coil to the spark plugs.
    Whoever, Jan 21, 2005
  14. Wrong, unless you were dumb enough to try to start English or Italian cars
    somewhere other than Tucson, AZ.
    Daniel J. Stern, Jan 21, 2005
  15. Richard

    aarcuda69062 Guest

    Nope. The insulation of the HT path hasn't changed in over 30
    years and many modern engines still use distributors and cold
    start just fine, as the OP opined.

    Steve Lacker hit the nail on the head, it's the advantages of
    having a fuel injector right above the intake valve that makes
    the biggest difference.
    aarcuda69062, Jan 21, 2005
  16. Richard

    aarcuda69062 Guest

    I've been to Tucson, it gets dark there at night.
    That rules out the English cars, no?
    aarcuda69062, Jan 21, 2005
  17. Richard

    Whoever Guest

    Maybe the insulation has not changed, but removing the distributor is a
    major change to the HT path. Removing an air gap and a number of
    connectors (all of which are affected by dirt and damp) is clearly a
    significant change.
    Many old cars also start just fine, even in cold and wet conditions. They
    all (well, mostly) started just fine when new. It was always the cars that
    were marginal in some way that did not start properly.

    My point is that your premise that (some) new cars with distributors start
    fine does not negate the point that the distributor is a significant cause
    of reduction of HT voltage at the plug, especially in wet conditions and
    especially with older cars that may have dirty distributor caps.
    Whoever, Jan 21, 2005
  18. Richard

    aarcuda69062 Guest

    The rotor air gap increases firing voltage.
    Comparing spark patterns on an ignition scope, the DIS voltages
    (all else being equal) are lower, lower ionization voltage and
    lower voltage across the plug gap compared to a distributor type
    ignition system.
    An old tow truck drivers trick when trying to start a stubborn
    engine in the winter is to pull the coil wire slightly loose from
    the distributor cap, this increases the voltage output from the
    coil secondary (greatest gap theory).
    Marginal because of neglect, or marginal because of design?
    Any properly operating ignition system will put out 24 KV from
    the ignition coil (even breaker points) , that's more than enough
    spark energy to start an engine no matter how cold it is. It's
    the intake and fuel system that varied so much that made the
    Now you're talking about vehicles that aren't properly maintained.
    A DIS system is just as subject to not working properly due to
    damp conditions as a conventional system was, maybe more so if
    the design of the DIS is such that the ignition coil placement
    necessitates extremely long spark plug wires such as would be
    found on the early Chevrolet built 60* V-6 engines (2.8 and 3.1)
    and dirty distributor caps can be directly compared to dirty DIS
    coils, hell, I see more problems now with carbon tracking on DIS
    coils than what used to be 30 years ago on distributor caps.
    You're not making an 'all things equal' comparison.
    The first PFI GM engines used the exact same ignition system as
    the previous years carbed versions (Chevy Camaro for example),
    the cold start characteristics were night and day, the cold start
    drivability was night and day, the hot drivability
    characteristics were night and day, it all had to do with how the
    fuel was handled.
    In the winter of 81, we were stacking flooded Chevy Citations and
    Cavaliers up like firewood, in 82 when both vehicles went TBI
    injection, the problems for a large part went away as long as
    people followed the proper cold start procedure, the ignition
    systems were exactly the same.
    aarcuda69062, Jan 21, 2005
  19. Well, it rules out *driving* them. They sometimes don't fail to start
    after dark there, though.
    Daniel J. Stern, Jan 21, 2005
  20. Richard

    me! Guest

    Have to go with Daniel on this one.. I can remember some research in the
    70's having to do with pour points and cold start/running.. and they found
    at certain temperatures.. they could crank an engine @ 600rpm and it just
    wouldn't produce enough power to keep itself running with the heavier oils..
    darned if I can find a reference to it on the web though.. don't remember
    who did it either.. but think it was one of the oil companies.
    me!, Jan 21, 2005
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