Severe cold car starting

Ok, I’ve looked all over the internet and can’t get any solid info on this. I moved from Texas to Edmonton, AB Canada. I brought my Toyota Sienna with me. I have a one year old battery I bought in Canada. Its 875 (ish) CCA and my car requires 580 (ish) CCA. I park in a heated garage at night, but I work during the day. I’m looking at -30 F temps right now. Can I park for 8 hours and reasonably expect my car to start? I don’t have a block heater or a car starter, and it will take 8 weeks to get a car starter installed.

I have heard many people start their cars at lunch time and let it idle for 10 minutes or so, but that just doesn’t make sense to me. I mean they aren’t driving it, so only the oil heats up, it doesn’t have time to charge the battery, so what good would that do. I mean if the engine cools within 3 hours, then theoretically isn’t it the same as starting it 8 hours later? And actually I’m not at work more than 7 hours, so would that be better than 8? Oh, and what temp is the “cut-off” temp? You know -25 F is ok, but -30 F isn’t? Is it -40 F?

Any help would be greatly appreciated. I don’t have time to start my car during the day, and definitely no time to drive it, but I need it to start because I have only an hour to pick up my son, and it takes that long to drive it in the snow. (Its only 20 min away in the summer.)

Starting at -30F is pretty iffy for ANY vehicle…A block heater is a MUST. 0-20 synthetic oil is also a must. It takes an engine 24 hours to get “cold soaked” It’s hopeless after that. 12 hours is bad enough. But starting it every 3 or 4 hours and letting it warm up will work until you can get a block heater. A remote starter is more trouble than it’s worth… Open the hood and put a blanket over the engine when parked. It helps. Things must be REALLY bad in Huston…

Yes you can expect it to start. Only Fords in the 1980s and early 90s with fuel injection would not start without a block heater. Don’t park it in the shade and don’t face it into the wind unless the wind is coming from the South. I lived in Northern Maine a few years ago and sunshine really helped.

Engine heaters (block, oil pan and circulating pump…in addition to the battery pad or blanket) are mostly not about warming the battery, but the oil and the block. Those are, in the long term, far more important than the battery.

The battery heater helps make sure your battery is putting out enough voltage to start the car. It might also help the longevity of the battery…I’m not certain about that. The other heaters keep your engine from running without proper lubrication, and minimize the extreme, fast temperature changes that occur between -30 and operating temperature. If you don’t do that, every seal in that engine will fail, and it can happen quickly.

Letting your car sit all day in the cold won’t kill it if you do it once or twice…and some cars can start in temperatures as cold as -50 without being plugged in. But it isn’t a habit you want to get into.

The running the car during lunch thing is not to charge the battery. The battery is fine. It’s to warm the engine up. I’m not sure it works…I’m not sure exactly how long it takes for the engine to cool off. But you might try throwing a heavy blanket or sleeping bag over your hood to hold as much heat in as you can…that ought to raise the chances that it hasn’t cooled until the oil congeals.

The car starter is meaningless in terms of the longevity of the engine or actually being able to start it…unless you mean to just hit the button and run the car for 10 minutes every hour or something. It is not a required element of winterizing a car.

Oh, and if you haven’t bought snow tires yet, do so.

It’ll probably be fine this year, but expect to replace the battery on a bi-yearly basis if you want the car to start reliably (and assuming you haven’t come to your senses and moved back south by then). The reason why people’s cars won’t start when it gets really cold is that they have a 3-4 year old battery that works fine when the temperature is above, say, -10, so they don’t feel the need to replace them.

Other than that, on a modern fuel injected car in otherwise good shape it should be able to start in any temperature you’re ever going to see in Edmonton. Things like block heaters and lower viscosity oils would be nice things to do for the longevity of your engine, but they’re not required.

You can warm up your battery by turning on headlights and listen to radio for 3 minutes or so.
If battery is good and it just Bearly turns over try this it works.
Another thing you can do is just before throttle body on plastic tube drill a small hole, just big enough for straw to fit from a can of starting fluid. You will need to put can in a bag and take it inside with you.
Put a piece of tape over hole or or a tappered plug.
This is only for extreme conditions.

It has 5w-30 oil in it right now. And I do have snow tires. I also can’t use a block heater as I park on the street with no plug in. And I only work 3 days a week, and we are moving back this summer. (Or coming to our senses.)

And thanks for the info everyone!

I’ve done a stint in your area as well. If you have a one year old battery that’s oversize for the car, all you need is 0W30 or 0W20 SYNTHETIC oil, such as Mobil 1. These oils pour much beter at those low temperatures than dino oils of the same weight, contrary to popular belief that 5W20 is 5W20, regardless of oil type.

If the car sits out for 8 hours at that temperature, it should still start, but you need to let it warm up for maybe 5-10 minutes, and then drive off slowly since the transmission fluid is still very cold. You also want to clear the windows.

My main concern is to make sure your engine coolant is good for that temperature. I would also add one of those small bottles of gasline antifreeze, available everywhere to combat any possible ice crystals in the tank.

Going out at lunch time to run the car for 10 minutes makes no sense to me either, since the “cold soak” cooldown time is about 3 hours. I’ve worked in the far North at -50 and there we would often leave the vehicle running for an hour at the time, if no block heater outlet was available, or start the car every 2 hours and let it run for at least 15 minutes.

Also, a remote starter is a bad idea in my opinion. These often malfunction and you could destroy your starter or flywheel.

Putting a quilted blanket over the engine when you park actually works as it retains a lot of heat. Make sure you remove it before starting the car!

You are on the right track, but please get a block heater installed; You can plug it in at restaurants, hotels, airports, and other places; it will save a lot of engine wear, battery wear and starter wear.

In the mean time enjoy the second most cultured city in North America (after Seattle). Edmonton has 5 live theatres, opera, symphony, and the second most sales of subscriptions to cultural activities, such as opera, symphony, theatre, etc. Also world class hockey.

Enjoy the brisk and healthy Northern air!

THE OIL DOES NOT CONGEAL at the temperatures that OP is talking about!!! Unless he has straight 40 weight dino oil in the crankcase. A 5W20 or 0W20 specified these days will allow the car to start, but I recommend synthetic 0W20 or 0W30 since it flows better and has a pourpoint of -50!

There are one miliion people living in the Edmonton area and -30 is something they are used to. Most have block heaters, but ski resorts and other out of the way places often do not. These people have been driving their cars for ages, and many get to over 200,000 miles before and engine rebuild.

The 2 key items are the battery, I would have a 1000 CCA one if I could not ever plug in and having light oil in the engine.

My poor car will be dealing with 100 F temps come this summer, so I’m sure a new battery will be in order having dealt with both extremes.

Cars can be made reliable starters at -30 with much of the good advice here. The good news is, batteries actually wear faster in warmer climates than cold with increase plate corrosion and loss of electrolyte. The bad news is, deficiencies show up when it’s cold. The max cold amp starting power and the least oil drag will help. Synthetics as mentioned and CR review of best batteries for your purpose is a start. My cars have always started the few times in -30 or more weather as long as these basics were adhered to. LET IT WARM UP some before you drive and pay attention to local advice. It takes a substantial time to recharge a depleted battery, so keep it running for a while after each start in cold weather. BTW, have battery checked every fall before winter. And,if you park in the sunlight and decide to use a battery heater or such, there are solar assist units available for this purpose.

Hmm…okay, I guess the meaning of the word is a little more specific than I thought. It’s still going to thicken, and it’s still not going to lubricate as well for the first few seconds. It’s not going to kill the car instantly, but over time, it’s a bad thing.

If you can’t put the car in a warm place, at least bring the battery inside. A warm battery will make a huge difference in starting ability…

I have to say I burst out laughing with this one! I mean I get it, but seriously. If its -30 outside and there’s a wind chill, I’m (being from Texas) going to stand out in the cold and take the battery out. I’m sure it can be done quickly, just not by me, and not with gloves on. I guess at least the engine is warm, but I’m also likely standing in ankle deep snow and ice. If it gets that bad I’m just gonna have to call a taxi! And looks like the weather is warming up tomorrow, so maybe less to worry about. The high is -11 F. Lets just hope I get lucky on all my work days.

I have used this technique to squeeze an extra season out of an old battery, but I would only recommend it if you’re so broke you can’t afford a new battery.

Caddyman made a sincere valid comment. I too have brought cold batteries inside to warm them up. A cold battery has far less cranking capacity than a warm battery.

If you’re stuck and it’s your only option, I don’t think you’ll find it laughable.

A little less than laughable is to have a portable jump start portable battery you could take inside with you and keep warm as an aux. They’re cheap and some have compressors to top off those cold tires.

Yes, a second, warm booster battery is cheap insurance against not starting…Google “lead-acid battery capacity by temperature” At 30 below, you will find “cold Cranking amps” has plummeted to the point starting becomes unreliable, Also fridged batteries do not charge back up very well either.

Of course, oil should reach the valve gear 15-20 seconds after startup to avoid excessive wear. Using 40 weight oil at that temperature will require several minutes to do so, and quickly destroy the engine.

EXXON made an excellent video some years back, called “The Cold War”, illustrating that at -40 their 0W30 oil still flowed freely to do the lubricating job. The 5W30 is marginal at low temmperatures, and that’s why I recoomended OP go to 0W20 or 0W30.

Caddyman has a good point; a warm battery has much more oomph than a cold one. At -40, the cranking ability is about half of what it is at 70 degrees.

Having said that, my recipe for cold weather starting and operation is nothing new, but:

  1. Make sure the ignition system is up to scratch.

  2. Have a powerful battery; in cold regions go for the maximum CCA.

  3. Use 0W30 or 0W20 SYNHETIC oil in the crankcase.

  4. Have a block heater installed and plug in when you can

  5. If you go from a heated garage to outside parking at work add a small can of gasline antifreeze to each tankful.

  6. Keep the cooling system in good condition and flush regularly to keep the heater core clean so you’ll have enough heat.

The cold snap seams to be hitting most of the continent; this morning my outside thermometer read -20F and although the car started easily, my electric garage door opener could not handle the load and I had to give it an assist.