Car starts but immediately dies when the weather is cold

I have a 1991 Chevy Cavalier. It usually runs fine, but recently the weather has been colder and it is having issues when I start it in the morning. Granted, I live in Florida so “cold” is only in the 40s. The car will start, but then it immediately dies. I had taken to a mechanic (a family friend) and he said that it was fine the whole time he had it and didn’t recommend any repairs. It was running fine for about 2 weeks and now it is doing it again. It does appear to only be doing this when it is cold out, because the issue began when we got our first cold snap. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Your car may have two coolant temperature sensors - one for the temp gauge or warning lights, the other to signal the ECM (computer) to send extra fuel when the engine is cold. That second one, or its wiring, may be at fault.

Is the radiator full of coolant and is there enough in the expansion tank? Too-low coolant could cause this problem and some that are much worse.

+1 to shanonia’s post.
My guess is also the temp sensor. Your symptoms are classic for this problem.

Is the temp sensor an inexpensive fix? Or should I just see this as something annoying that happens during the winter and not even bother having it fixed?

Yup, it’s an inexpensive fix. If that turns out to be the cause, the fix will probably run you an hour’s shop time plus the cost of the sensor (under $50).

I know my radiator is not low on coolant because when my car works it is not overheating or anything. I am only having this issue when the mornings are colder than usual (below 50 degrees). This morning it was about 48 degrees when I left, but every morning last week when it was in the 50s it was fine. I left it with the mechanic for a whole week and since it didn’t have this issue at all during that week he didn’t suggest any repairs. We had thought I maybe flooded the engine, but this morning I didn’t have my foot anywhere near the gas pedal when I started it.

I would be wondering about an idle air control motor that’s slow when cold.

This morning when I tried to start my car (it was just about 50 degrees), it didn’t appear that the engine was even starting at all. And it kinda makes a noise when it shuts off. I don’t know how to describe the noise really, but below I will link to some youtube videos. Since this is an intermittent problem, will a mechanic be able to diagnose it if it is not happening?

Here is a link to a video of what my car is doing. This was taken when this first started happening about 3 weeks ago.

This is a video of the same thing, except my boyfriend is revving the engine before it dies.

Temp sensor sounds like your best bet. A 1991 is OBD1 and has very few inputs compared to newer engines. I would also clean or replace the idle air control valve.

Another idea, sometimes a weak spark will cause this symptom. When was the last time the spark plugs, wires, rotor, and distributor cap were replaced?

The Temp sensor does sound like the problem concerning the engine dieing.

Didn’t the rest of the posters hear, what sounds like the starter rubbing on the inspection plate??
I’m not sure if this engine has an inspection plate…but that is what it sounds like to me.

Of course this would nat have anything to do with the engine dieing. But is a problem to have looked at.


Temp sensor was the first thing I thought about. If you can get at it, it just unscrews and pop the new one in. If its hard to get at then best to take to a shop.

I broke one off working on the alternator on the kids car that was on the side of the road. We had to leave it for the next morning and I had a heck of a time getting it started in cooler weather. The computer uses it to set the fuel mixture depending on the engine temp.

Did you resolve it. My 98 tahoe does the same thing my mechanic says it’s spark plugs. Ughhj i freaking hate Texas weather.