Frozen Fuel Line, What To Do

Is it a dead battery or a frozen fuel line?

In the cold months of winter, many drivers are requesting our roadside assistance because they cannot start their vehicles. Many times, the reason why the cars cannot be started is because the battery is very low, but sometimes, drivers are basically "killing" the battery attempting to start the vehicle, not knowing that the fuel lines are frozen. Developing a frozen gas line takes some very chilly weather, time and usually a bit too much air in the system. There are numerous symptoms specific to frozen gas lines, and the problem can be treated quickly once it has been diagnosed. Most of the time, it's usually both!

Common symptoms of frozen fuel lines in your vehicle

There are a number of symptoms associated with frozen fuel lines, here are some:

  1. Engine turns over, but the vehicle won't start. In some situations, the engine may be able to turn over, but the car simply won’t start. This usually means that the fuel lines are only partially frozen. They’re allowing enough gas through the lines to get the engine turned over, but not enough to actually start the car.
  2. Sputtering. If manage to get your car started, the icy buildup in the lines may cause the engine to sputter. This happens because the system is getting enough fuel to run, but not enough fuel to run properly or efficiently. In this situation it is recommended to allow the engine to run for a while and warm up, while revving the engine a few times may help the sputtering problem.
  3. Stalling or stopping after running. If the lines can’t get warm enough to get rid of the icy buildup due to extreme low temperatures or too much air in the fuel lines, the lack of gas could cause the car to stop or stall. This is one of the most dangerous frozen gas line symptoms as suddenly stopping or stalling in the middle of the road can be a dangerous situation, especially on slippery winter roads. This could be prevented by taking the time to let the engine warm up as much as possible before driving away.
Frozen car covered by snow. Generic in-article image for this "Frozen Fuel Line?" blog post.

Frozen fuel lines prevention and treatment

If your vehicle is parked outside the garage door, you can try pushing it in and warm up the garage for an hour or two using an electric heater (never use open flame heaters near the car). If you don’t have a garage or any other warm location to put the car, try covering the engine over the hood with a blanket and hanging a drop light on the hood for a while. The heat from the light should help warm up the engine and the fuel lines. Even getting the lines to thaw a little bit will help move fuel through the system.

If you have successfully started the vehicle, keep the car running for a while. If you experience sputtering, try revving the engine a couple of times. It’s best to avoid taking the car out if the engine is sputtering as this could be a precursor to sudden stalling.

If all of above fail or you’re pressed for time, you may try calling for roadside assistance (but make sure you tell them that you suspect a frozen fuel line), so they can send someone experienced who carriers the proper tools to boost your car battery and thaw your fuel lines. Alternatively, you could use fuel additives that can be mixed with the fuel in your tank, or, if your tank is not full, try adding some gas to get air out of your gas tank.

In order to be able to start a vehicle with frozen fuel lines, the car battery must be fully charged and be adequate for your vehicle (CCA - Cold Cranking Amps). Again, a roadside assistance service would have the appropriate equipment and additives to bring your car back to life.

During the winter time, make sure your gas tank is always full and if possible, try to keep your vehicle in a warm place to prevent your fuel lines from freezing. It is also very important to keep your car battery fully charged, there are a number of quality battery maintainers on Amazon or in automotive stores that you can use to maintain your battery in good working order during the winter months.