CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

Cranking But Not Starting in Coldish Weather

Hi Friends,
I am a blossoming home mechanic but know very little about cars. Just started doing my own repairs this last year on my 2005 Toyota Corolla. I just moved and no longer have a garage to keep my car warm. Every time it gets below 35 degrees Fahrenheit the car takes a lot of cranking to get started. I replaced the battery. Went to try to start again and my starter died. Got the car to start by wacking the starter. I replaced the starter successfully and went to start the car this morning. It was 34 degrees and it took about 5 minutes of cranking to get started. It has no problem starting above 37 degrees. What would cause this problem? What can I do to diagnose at this point? I don’t know what to do know and Google is failing me. I hope some one may be able to help.

The next time you know that the engine is going to be hard to start, turn the ignition switch on so the dash lights come on for two seconds, and then turn the ignition switch off.

Repeat this a dozen times and then try starting the engine.

If the engine starts right up, the problem is with the anti drain back valve on the fuel pump assembly.

Tester

1 Like

Should start right up at those temperatures.
How many miles? Have the correct spark plugs been installed at the specified interval?
If the cranking is sluggish, do you have the correct oil?
Bad gas?

Here is my 2 cents…
Since you replaced the battery and starter, there shouldn’t be any trouble with those two. Assuming that the starter is getting enough current to crank the engine, at high temperatures, the starter is able to get the job done and unable to do so at low temperatures. There must be more resistance in starting the engine at low temperatures.
Do you have the right viscosity engine oil?

Maybe an oil change might help. Maybe some of the experienced folks on this forum can comment on this.

Just for my own knowledge, wouldn’t that affect warm weather starting too?

No.

Tester

I agree with advice to try the “key dance” suggested by Tester. I have had this kind of problem with my 1999 Honda Civic. It crops up mainly in cold weather and with low fuel level in the tank. The key dance, done 2 or 3 times in my case, always gets the fuel pressure and volume up to where the car starts right up and runs faultlessly. Good luck and please let us know the outcome.

@Tester, you suggested this to me before with my old Pathfinder, and it looks to be quite applicable for this scenario too.

In my case it was also a direct correlation of having the tank under half full with the problem to appear: cold weather would make vapors to shrink and some vacuum to really expose the back valve problem. I did not replace the fuel pump yet (Pathfinder has valve as an internal part in fuel pump), but keeping tank above half full made that problem not to appear for me.

I would suggest OP not only to try “priming the pump”, but also see if any correlation to fuel level exist.

Taking a lot of cranking to start in cold weather is usually a fuel system problem. It take quite a bit richer mixture (more gas, less air) to start in cold weather than warm weather. So Tester’s right, anything that reduces the starting mixture richness will cause it, and the gas in the fuel rail draining back into the tank overnight is a common cause, so that’s where to start. A fuel pressure test would confirm this is the reason btw, as it would show you had low fuel pressure on the first start of the day.

Other common possibilities are: cylinder compression is too low an lack of a healthy spark due to spark plug, coil, crank position sensor, or other ignition system problems. Faulty engine coolant temperature or ambient temperature sensors could cause it too. The engine computer uses those as inputs to decide how much to enrich the fuel/air mixture on cold starts.

If you intend to do some of your own diy’er work on your Corolla over the long term, information is your most precious resource. You can skimp on tools, but don’t skimp on your information budget. Buy the factory service manual if you can find it. It will often be available used in paper form or for a lesser cost in CD ROM form by searching on the internet. The factory service manual is best b/c it focusses only on the Corolla and only on one single model year. If you can’t find a repair manual that way, then buy both a Chilton’s and a Haynes aftermarket manual. Those are abridged manuals offering service info on multiple years and models. It’s quite common they don’t get the info 100% correct b/c of that, or if they do, it’s confusing whether it applies to your car or not. It’s best if you have to rely on aftermarket manuals to have both brands as what one gets wrong, the other might get right or at least add clarity. Popular Mechanix publishes a good summary of how modern cars work and how that affects the repair process, Complete Car Repair Manual I think is the title. A lot of libraries have that book. It’s a good place to start reading for a newbie, advance you up the learning curve a bit before you focus on the procedures just for the Corolla. If all else fails you can subscribe to a single car repair manual computer database service like All Data for what is usually a small fee.

1 Like

Thanks @Tester. I will give it a try Tomorrow morning.

150 k miles. Not sure about the spark plugs. I just changed the oil with the specified oil. If it is the gas it has been a year and a half of bad tanks. Was in my warm garage and my offices warm garage. Only happened in the past below 35 degrees. Happened a few times last year but now that I am at my new house with no garage the problem is rearing its head again.

@Tester. It worked this morning! Thank you very much. Is this a problem that I may be able to fix on my own? I will google and try to get info but there are some repairs that are just way beyond my meager abilities.

Kind regards,

JB