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We have a Ford Escape (2005 V6) with approximately 125k on it. I have done most of the maintenance on it myself since we bought it at 90k and it has overall been a great vehicle.

The past two winters, I've noticed it's hard to start when it's cold (<40 degrees). Hard start meaning: Cranks for several seconds (3-5), and it seems 'labored' while cranking.

I run Valvoline 5w20 Synthetic in the motor, and it has a new battery (installed this past summer) which floats at 12.5 volts. Doesn't smoke, and I replaced spark plugs with NGK's at the same time as the battery..and also cleaned the TB. No engine lights, but admittedly have not scanned for codes which don't trip CE light.

Not familiar with the starter motors themselves...do they "get weak" over time and worse in the cold? I can't think of anything else that would be affected by colder weather. In warm weather it starts immediately, and runs well.

Edit:

Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. I am going to start with a scan this weekend, and barring that turning up anything definitive, I will test/replace the coolant temp sensor, and see if i can test the ignition coils (it's coil on plug)

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temp sensors? Coolant temp, intake air temp if so equipped...maybe you're not getting enough starting enrichment ("choke") because the computer isn't getting the right temperature. This wouldn't explain the hard cranking, but might explain why you have to crank for 3-5 seconds before it fires. –  mac Nov 14 '12 at 18:22
    
An electrical problem, starting with your battery. I'd also check the health of your ignition coil if all else fails. –  kolossus Nov 15 '12 at 7:05
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1 Answer 1

Remember that auto parts stores generally let you borrow a scanner for free (maybe you have to leave your ID as collateral).

Things I think could be wrong:

  • Battery maybe new, but that doesn't mean it has enough muscle to crank that motor. If it's cold cranking amps are high enough it should be fine, but best to measure voltage during cranking to find out. You can also find a way to heat it, then crank while the battery is warm. Try leaving it somewhere warm in the house then bringing it out to start the car before it cools.
  • Also is your fuel going bad? Sometimes a bit of a long shot, but cheap none the less and usually worse come winter.

UPDATE: After rereading, forget bad fuel. The labored cranking is indicative of something wrong between your battery and the mechanics of the engine turning.

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Your answer reminds me I didn't mention that the Escape cranks normally (healthily) when left in the garage overnight (unheated, but attached...stays ~50 degrees). –  BLSully Nov 15 '12 at 13:46
    
Cranks and starts normally? –  Eric Fossum Nov 15 '12 at 18:49
    
When left in the garage, yes. –  BLSully Nov 15 '12 at 18:53
    
I'd consider a stronger battery then, try asking the parts store about return policies just in case. –  Eric Fossum Nov 15 '12 at 19:05
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