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Good Question: How Often Should We Start Cold Cars?

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(credit: CBS) Heather Brown
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – On Monday, AAA and mechanics across the Twin Cities were flooded with calls from people whose car batteries had died.

So, that had Jeff from Minneapolis and Kristen from Cottage Grove wondering: How often should we start our cars when it’s this cold?

Paul Hagen, owner of Hagen’s Auto Body, says cars are made very differently from twenty years ago, making them more likely to start in the cold.

“A lot of it has to do with the fuel injection versus the old carburetor cars,” Hagen said.

In the late 1980s, fuel injection replaced how fuel was delivered to the engine. With a computer involved, the delivery system supposed to be more efficient.

It dramatically reduced the number of dead batteries in the winter, but did not eliminate the problem.

Hagen says most cars don’t need to be started every few hours, but it does come down to maintenance.

“Not just an oil change, but checking the battery, you know, and having the service place check it out and make sure it’s putting out top-cranking amps,” he said.

Hagen says it’s hard for most of us to tell if we have a good, fully-charged battery or not, so make sure you specifically ask your service place to check for you.

When it’s cold outside, the chemical reactions inside the batteries are slower and produce less power. This happens when the colder, gooey oil makes it harder for the engine to turn over.

If your car doesn’t start right away, Hagen recommends turning off all the accessories, like the heat and the radio.

“Turn it over for maybe 10 to 15 seconds. If it doesn’t start, stop,” he said. “Don’t keep cranking it over. Let the vehicle sit for a minute or so, then pump the pedal one time and try it again.”

Hagen says most cars will start again when it gets warm. But also be aware that if a battery isn’t fully charged, it can freeze and cause damage.

As for how long you should warm up your car before driving in the cold, Hagen recommends waiting until you feel some heat coming out of the vents.

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