Too cold for internal combustion engine?

I was driving around with my friend the other day (he’s a mechanic) when we happened to see another friend driving around on his ATV. MY mechanic friend then remarked how ATV engines are not built for the cold (I live in canadian arctic) and that running one in really cold weather will wreck the engine.

I asked: “How can this be? Cars, trucks and skidoos have no problems up here (as long as they’re cared for) and they all run on the good ol’ internal combustion engine”

He replied that the difference is that ATV designers did not intend or build ATV engines to stand up to the abuses of a cold start. (My friend DOES ride his ATV year-round, with many layers of clothing) And by cold start, I’m talking -50 degrees C.

I think he’s full of hooey.

Am I right?

      • I don’t know, but someone once told me a story about how in the (Illinois) winter, they had a Harley-Davidson they had ridden somewhere during the daytime when the temperature was relatively warm, and as evening fell the temperature dropped quite a bit. And so the guy started it and after a minute or two got on it and rode down the street, and the engine stalled and would no longer start. It ended up that the spark plugs had to be replaced, because “running the engine too cold” had fouled them. I said that this was significant evidence in my mind that Harleys were pieces of crap, but he simply explained that this was always a shortcoming of small engines in cold temperatures, that they would fail if not warmed up enough before running (?). …I had never heard of this happening before, with any other sort of small engine. And some people do have snowblowers in Illinois, and snowblowers seem to use the same type of engines that lawnmowers do. They certainly don’t start up their snowblowers in August and leave them idling until January.

Further to what DougC said, as I understand it you need special “cold weather” spark plugs to stop this from happening.

Nopt that I need to know this - here in the south of England anything below freezing is “cold”, and even -10ºC is almost unheard of…

I have only heard of this as a problem in connection with diesel engines, which use a “glow plug” to warm the fuel enough for compression ignition. I have been told by a friend who was an “army brat” in the Canadian north that, in the coldest weather, they used to keep diesel engines running constantly if the temperature dropped below -30 or they might be impossible to start until the spring (or until they could otherwise be warmed up somehow).

Newer technology might have overcome that problem, but I have never heard of internal combustion engines having the same kind of difficulty.

I doubt it although it’s possible some ATV manufacturers don’t make ATVs for cold weather.

Other than the block cracking from being too cold (possible in any engine) there’s not much cold start proofing an ATV maker can do. The starter might burn out a little faster (from trying to move a cold engine) and I know you’ll need a battery blanket and block heater, but other wise ATV engines are fine (with proper engine oils suited for -50).

Ideally, cold weather ain’t the way to start or run an engine, so be carfeul about the actual premise.

“…cold will wreck an ATV…”

While ultimate engine life might be gotten by running the engine in 50% humidity and 60 degree weather all the time, it is a far stretch to say 'cold wrecks ATVs".

Sure, some engines might be finicky in the very cold, due to their design or (in)ability to regulate air/fuel/etc, it doesn’t mean doom.

Ask this: Can the puppy be properly lubed? Can it run without such fouling that pre-ignition takes place? If the lube operates in the range, then it’s ok. If the engine doesn’t misfire or pre-ignite the fuel, then it’s ok. If the op temp is outside the lube’s, or the engine has a alot of pre-ignition, then someone has a case about the cold. Although, the best case they have might be about the plugs, the air/fuel setting, or the lube used.

I doubt it has to do with the very engine design being proned to being ‘wrecked’.

His ATV always sounds OK to me…and everyone runs 0w-40 oil up here. I can’t remember the name of the stuff, something like “Arctic Extreme”.

On a related note, how long should you let a car idle in very cold conditions before you drive away? I usually just remote start from my apt. window and by the time I take the elevator down and get in, 5 min has elapsed. Is this long enough?

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