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Loss of electrical power when very cold

I’m having an odd problem with my car when conditions are cold outside.

I have a 2001 Chevy Prizm with about 90k miles on it. When the temp outside gets down to about 25-30 degrees, my car tends to completely lose electrical power when starting/before starting.

I turn the key and the engine will turn over, but before the car finishes starting everything in the vehicle loses power. The clock will reset, the dome light will not come on, nothing. Essentially the car acts like battery is not connected.

At this point, depending on the tempurature outside, the car may stay without power for a few seconds to a few minutes. After which the electronics start working normally again. The colder the outside temp, the longer the car stays without power.

Also, the colder the temp, the more sevear the problem is. Last night it was 6F outside and I could not even get to the point of starting the engine without losing power. I turned the key to the on position, had the radio and blower on, and soon as I turned on the headlights, the same issue occured, total power loss. It also took several minutes for electrical power to return.

The issue does go away the more I try to start the vehicle. The issue may be sevear at first, but after the 4th-5th attempt, the car will often start. And the problem seem less sevear after each try. Also, once the engine is warmed up, the engine can be restarted without any problem.

I’ve tried jump starting the car during the issue and it made no difference what so ever. Leading me to believe it’s not the battery (but I don’t know that much about cars so…)

If anybody has an idea what might cause this, I’d greatly appreciate the help.

Sounds like the battery to me. The voltage is simply too low for the electronics to work. After a jump start, the alternator tries to charge the battery, but since it is bad, it cannot do it effectively.

Replace your battery and I doubt you will have any more problems.

I should clarify what I said about jump starting.

I’ve tried to jump start the car while this issue was happening and the issue still occured. I used my wifes car to try and jump my car, and my car still lost power even while jumper cables were connected.

If you think it’s still the battery, that’s fine. If that were the case though, I would think having another battery hooked up would provide enough voltage so that there wouldn’t be an issue.

Just want to be sure I’m being clear.

How old is the battery?

You can have the battery tested. Most auto parts stores will do it free. It could be the battery, but it could also be a bad cable connection, or some other electrical connection at a main power junction.

For the clock resets the battery would be too weak to even turn the engine, but you say the starter works and the engine turns over.

If a cable is losing contact, however, at either end, you would lose ALL power to everything, which is what you are describing. Check both ends of the battery cables and check the ground between the engine and the chassis.

After power loss the starter makes no noise and the engine won’t turn over, nothing in the car has any electrical power. Sorry if I wasn’t clear on that.

I checked the battery connections on battery, but forgot to check the other end of the cables. I’ll try your suggestions and report back.


If you have a shorted cell (or cells), then hooking another source in parallel will also tend to drag the other one down with it.

You know how all the consumer electronics have that warning about not installing new batteries with old ones - this is the reason.

Get a parts store to check it out, and you’ll know for sure. You could also hook it up to a smart charger which will tell you the same thing.

Still no answer to the burning question. How old is the battery? If it’s the original, then it should have been dead and buried years ago.

The earlier posts are all pretty much irrelevant, as (IMO) it’s clearly not a battery problem. I was looking this subject up because my daughter-in-law’s car in cold Peoria, IL had a very similar problem, which I would normally attribute to a bad battery cable connection - either at the battery or at the chassis connection; either positive or negative.

I just looked at it about an hour ago, and am posting the results of the troubleshooting and the fix. The car was essentially totally dead when I got to it, although I could get a very dim glow off of the cruise control LED when the ignition switch was in “run” and nothing was turned on. This was the only sign of electrical life at all. Put parking lights on and the glow extinguished. Clearly an almost dead battery or lousy (high-resistance) connection somewhere close to the battery - before the circuits separate.

I put a voltmeter at various places and no voltage - even directly on the battery terminal bolts (It’s a Saturn, and has those GM-specific battery terminals with 5/16 inch bolts (like Curtis-B’s car). I’m wiggling the battery cables a bit (significant pressure) and voila, power - as indicated by the parking lamps coming back on) comes back on. Voltage now there. OK, clearly a bad connection.

So I loosen up the negative terminal, and the power is solid until it loosens way up. Tighten up and power again. Loosened the positive terminal (you have to be very careful doing this because the wrench is at +12V right off of the battery) and the power cut almost immediately. Likely culprit. Loosened way up, rotated the cable about 10-20? (these connectors have 4-6 “prongs” to dig into the lead battery-side connector surface), and tightened back up. Solid connection. We’ll see in a day or two if the fix was adequate, but I’d give it a 90+% probability of a permanent fix. If not, it’s just a matter of dealing with the physical aspects of the connection.

FWIW, the battery was changed commercially about 2 years ago.

I recommend you clean the battery connections using a battery terminal cleaning brush. If the trouble still persists then check the smaller wire running from the positive post of the battery and see if there is any corrosion in the wire. If that is ok then check for a bad connection closer to the main power panel under the hood.