Whitney Russell
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What Is Starting Fluid and Does My Car Need It?

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mechanic working under car hood engine
Starting fluid is an essential product to have on hand during frigid winter temperatures

If your vehicle’s engine needs help starting this winter, it might be time to try starting fluid. Here’s what you should know about this product, as well as when and how to use it.

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What it is

As its name implies, starting fluid can help your car start if there’s a problem with the ignition system or the engine is too cold to start due to extremely cold temperatures. This liquid typically comes in a spray can and contains a volatile chemical called “ether.”

It’s wise to use starting fluid only after you’ve ruled out other engine problems, as Blain’s Farm and Fleet blogger Andrew Gardner confirms. That’s because it can cover up more serious mechanical issues. Gardner recommends checking your alternator, starter, and battery. In many cases, a frozen or dead battery is a common reason that a car won’t start.

A few caveats

Before you use starting fluid, it’s important that you use only a small amount with your vehicle. It’s also a good idea to consult your vehicle’s owner manual to calculate how much starting fluid is best to use for your particular model.

Some vehicles aren’t compatible with starting fluid. If this is the case with your vehicle, you might be able to try an alternative product like carburetor cleaner, as auto technician Tom Eisenberg shares with wikiHow.

How to use it

If this is your first time using starting fluid, here are some additional tips to use it safely and effectively. For starters, locate your vehicle’s air intake. Though an air intake always attaches to the engine, its exact location differs a bit depending on the make and model. Consult the owner’s manual for help finding the intake on your vehicle.

Next, it’s time to spray the starting fluid into the air intake. Per Eisenberg, you might also have to remove the filter covering the air intake before doing this. Hold the spray can in a vertical position and hold the nozzle about a foot away from the air intake. Spray one, two-second blast then try to turn on the engine. If it doesn’t start, repeat this step.

If your vehicle’s engine fails to start after you’ve tried applying the starting fluid a couple of times, it’s time to call the professionals. Take your car into a certified dealership in case there’s a more serious problem with your engine that you could have overlooked.

For more winter car-care tips, check out our article on how to determine the age of your car battery. Then read up on engine block heaters, another useful tool in helping your vehicle’s engine function smoothly in frigid temperatures.

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