It’s a cold, cruel world for cars



Last weekend’s bone-chilling cold was yet another reminder for me how much better today’s cars are than 20 or 30 years ago.

Before the days of electronic ignition and fuel injection, a car that sat out all night in sub-zero cold would have had about a 20% chance of starting.

When I was a teenager in the 1960s, Dad would have me drive the car around town for a half hour or so to warm up the engine and charge the battery. Then when it was parked in the driveway, it would be plugged into an electric outlet to keep the engine warm all night. I have to admit, as a teenage driver I didn’t mind taking the car out for a spin, even if it was a big old family station wagon.

To get the old beast started in the morning you’d have to pump the accelerator pedal three times, then hold it to the floor while praying to St. Jude, patron saint of hopeless cases, hoping that you hadn’t flooded the engine and it would come to life. Otherwise, you’d wait a half hour to try again and pray this time there was enough juice left in the battery to kick it over. You couldn’t crank the starter too long in fear it would burn out.

Today, we can sit in our living room and start the car by remote control, using either the key fob or cellphone app. Cars today come to life in the worst weather without a second thought.

Well, all cars don’t start 100% of the time. There’s still that pesky battery.

After sitting all day Saturday in the driveway, Mary’s car wouldn’t start Sunday. The car is four years old with the original battery, and four years for a car battery is equal to about 90 human years, I guess. It got a battery transplant Monday and came right back to life. You have to figure that if your battery is guaranteed for four years, it will fail in the 49th month.

In the transition days between old and new engine designs, fuel injection could be a problem.

In the late 1970s I had a car with fuel injection before that new technology was widespread. I was driving to Omaha on Christmas Eve and as I passed Onawa my car started to sputter. I pulled into town around 5 p.m., just as it was getting dark, and found a gas station that was ready to close. The owner came out and offered to take a look at the car. He opened the hood, peeked inside and slammed it shut. “You’ve got fuel injection, and I can’t help you,” he said. “You’d better hope it’s bad gas.” He filled it up with fresh gas and that did the trick.

In full disclosure, I don’t know a thing about cars, other than how to start them. All my technology knowledge comes from what I hear other guys talking about.

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