One of the hurdles of ethanol is cold (winter) starting. As temperatures begin to drop below 50, vehicles can begin to have issues with cold starting.
In any liquid there is a constant movement of molecules. As temperature increases, the molecules speed up, some acquiring enough energy to escape from the liquid surface as a vapor. When vapor escapes from a flammable liquid into the air, a flammable or explosive situation can occur, dependent upon the proportions of the air/vapor mixture.
Flash point is the lowest temperature of a flammable liquid at which it gives off vapor sufficient to form an ignitable mixture with the air near the surface of the liquid or within the vessel used.
Ignition temperature is the minimum temperature to which flammable liquid vapor in air must be heated in order to initiate or cause self-sustained combustion independently of the original heat source.
Ethanol has a greater requirement of temperature (compared to gasoline) before it is able to vaporize. Ethanol has a flash point of approximately 56 degrees where as gasoline is minus 45 degrees. The low carbon content of ethanol makes it a considerably less volatile fuel than gasoline however considerably cleaner for the environment.
Tips to help with cold starting:
- Pausing... Turn the key to the run position. Wait 2 seconds. Crank, but for no more than two seconds. Turn the key off. Repeat. Pausing allows the fuel system to get up to full pressure and allows some of the fuel to vaporize.
- Add gasoline to ethanol. E85 is widely available in retail locations and is good for spring, summer and fall. In the winter, E85 pumps become E70 to help with cold starting. Some vehicles run fine and have no issues with cold starting on this mix. Other vehicles may require a little more gasoline for easier starting. Try adding 2 or 3 gallons of gasoline. Newer vehicles with push to start buttons don’t give you this flexibility or control over cranking. If you are having issues with push to start, we recommend adding gasoline to eliminate the issue.
- Spark Plugs. Ignition begins with spark plugs. Having fresh spark can assist with cold starting. Many plugs claim that they can go 100,000 miles. We recommend changing them every 30,000 miles no matter what fuel you use.
- Engine Heaters. In the Northern States, many people have engine block heaters as they are unable to start engines on gasoline in the frigid temperatures. Engine heaters are the only thing that allows sure starting in the mornings. These are beneficial for ethanol users too and are the most reliable. Lower radiator hose heaters are another option.
- Ether. These cans of instant starting spray are available at any auto parts store and should only be used for emergencies. Ether is a vapor even at extremely cold temperatures and will ignite in your engine creating heat, thus assisting in vaporizing the ethanol.
- Synthetic Motor Oil. By allowing the engine to crank more freely in colder temperatures, synthetic motor oils will allow the engine’s movement to generate more heat by moving faster to help with vaporization.
- Warm Garage. Keeping your car garaged during the winter also helps.
- Battery – if your battery is reaching end of life, it may not have the oomph required to get the engine cranking when cold. If your battery is out warranty that is a good indicator that failure is imminent. Plus changing it now will keep you from getting stranded.
- Starter – If your starter is very old, it may be turning slower than normal. The slower turning in winter can adversely affect starting.