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Car won't start in cold temperatures

I’ve had my '96 Saab 900S for almost 6 years and it has 119K miles. Last weekend w/ the below freezing temperatures, she decided not to start on me again. I’ll reiterate the word “again” as this non-starting problem happens once or twice every winter, when the temperatures are very cold, usually 20 degrees or colder. I’ve taken it to the mechanic who doesn’t know why it continues to do this to me every winter during a really cold spell. As soon as the weather warms up 30 degrees or higher, the car starts up fine w/in a couple tries. During the non-starting fiascal the car will turn over, but then just dies, as if it is “starving for fuel”. On a few occassions I’ve tried the “cold start”, or pushing the gas pedal while turning the engine on for 5-10 seconds, and then trying to start the car normally right after. This has worked on occassion in the past, but isn’t a sure bet, this last weekend it didn’t work. Recent work includes new battery, distributer cap and rotors, spark plugs, fuel line checked out “ok”, and fluid changes are regularly maintained. Has anyone ever experienced this before, or have any idea what the problem could be? Does it sound electrical or mechanical? No check engine light comes on so it makes it hard to diagnose. As this car was built in Sweden, it shouldn’t be so tempermental in the below freezing weather every winter. I’d appreciate any information or help. Thanks!

During the non-starting fiascal the car will turn over, but then just dies, as if it is “starving for fuel”. On a few occassions I’ve tried the “cold start”, or pushing the gas pedal while turning the engine on for 5-10 seconds, and then trying to start the car normally right after

I think you are confusing the term turn over…You said it is turning over and then dies as though it is starving for fuel…Do you mean it turned over…STARTED…and then died? If you mean turned over and STOPPED turning over…we have a different issue…

Turning over= THe starter “turning the engine over”… This usually preceeds the engine Starting…

Pushing the gas pedal is not something to do in a fuel injected car…

Re-reading your post I am coming away properly confused…with your useage of turn over and turning the engine on… Please clarify…I’m confused.

Let me clarify. The car always turns over, sometimes it starts for 1 second and dies, and sometimes it doesn’t start at all, but just turns over. So the engine will run for a split second and then just fade off and die, which the mechanic described as “starving for fuel”. But apparently the fuel system was in working order.

When I wrote about turning the engine on for the “cold start”, I actually mean turning the ignition key to ON to see if the engine will start. I didn’t realize that this was not supposed to be done in fuel injected cars, as it came directly from the owner’s manual. The owners manual has a section for “cold start”(hold the gas pedal down and turn the ignition to ON for 5-10 seconds; then try and start the engine normally as you would), and talks about how this gets a too rich of fuel out, but was confused by this. This “cold start” process, which to my surprise, actually has worked on a few occassions this winter and previous winters, but after many repeated “cold start” tries. Unfortunately it was a no go this time.
I really don’t want to have to rely on a “cold start” the next time it happens, especially if this is a no-no on fuel injected cars.

i am the tech manager at Prestone. Have your mechanic check the resistance of the engine temp sensor when its frozen, it is likely out of range and needs to be replaced

Im not certain but on many of my Saabs they had a cold start injector used only when the engine was cold. Obviously it uses a temp sensor to tell the ecu when and how long to spray this “enrichment injector” I will look it up to see if they still use that same system…if so…it may not be firing that injector…this would cause symptoms like you are seeing. Stay tuned.

I think the Cold Start Valve (an extra injector) was used on the earlier 900’s and not yours…I still havent confirmed this yet.

I would do the following…

Look carefully for vacume leaks and or broken vac hoses

Clean your MAF sensor heres a link for it…

It also wouldnt hurt you to clean out your AIC valve…this is a very common issue on the 900…it controls your idle by a controlled vacume leak…it is temperature controlled and over time they get clogged up with carbon…By far one of the most attention getting (I should say neglected) parts on the 900…if you havent cleaned it or never heard of it…look it up.

Make sure your Air filter is clean…

How is your fuel filter? Also your fuel pressure regulator…check that vac line as well…

Aside from that its been a long time since I turned wrenches on my Saabs…I’d have to have the car in front of me to rapid fire check all the things that come to mind.

If you cant find help there you cant be helped…they have seen your issue before and fixed…many X over…great people too. That website is invaluable to ANY Saab owner and really a MUST HAVE for anyone owning a Saab. CHECK IT OUT FOR CERTAIN

Thanks for the suggestion. We have mild winters here in Oregon, and aren’t expecting any more below freezing temperatures until next winter. But I will have this on the list of things to check in the future. Do the conditions have to be frozen, or can it be tested for replacement in above freezing temperatures?

You might try swapping the fuel pump relay to see if that helps. I would also make sure that the ignition system is working while the trouble is occuring if that hasn’t been checked already.

True if your fuel pump relay is dirty or it isnt being triggered by the ignition at all times upon startup…it could be a combo of both of those items. Luckily you have othert relays in your fuse box under the hood…swap the fuel pump relay with another and see if this helps…if it does, you found the issue…if not you have to keep on eliminating possibilities…

The MAF was replaced last time this problem occurred, and it’s happened since. Air filter, fuel filter are recently replaced. The fuel system checked out “ok” so the fuel pressure regulator should be good. I’ve never cleaned the Air intake control valve though, it’s probably fairly dirty. But why wouldn’t it act up all the time, and not just in below freezing temps? That weblink looks good, nice step by step instructions. I’ll check out that other website too. Any suggestions on books or engine diagrams for this model?