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What Is Starter Fluid?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 23, 2024

Starter fluid, also known as starting fluid, is a product people can use to encourage an engine to start rapidly. It can be useful for an infrequently used vehicle or a vehicle running on fuels known to have starting problems. Once the car exhausts the supply of fluid, it will switch over to the regular fuel source and should run smoothly. Many auto supply stores carry this product, and people can also order it directly from manufacturers.

Companies manufacture the fluid in aerosol cans with a propellant so people can spray it into the air intake of the car. A brief squirt is all the driver should need. The fluid has a very low flash point, in addition to a low freezing point, making it suitable for use in low temperatures. The high British thermal unit (BTU) yield of the fluid provides an ample source of energy for the engine to start.

This product can be hazardous. The same properties that make it useful for starting engines also make it explosive. When people use starter fluid, they need to stand back from the engine. If they apply too much, there is a risk of creating a fire outside the engine, and people can damage engine parts by using this product improperly. It is also not suitable for engines where the fuel must be mixed with a lubricant; lawnmowers, for example, rely on a two-stroke engine design where the lubricant must be added directly to the fuel, and the engine can be damaged with starter fluid.

Using starter fluid can reduce wear on an engine by getting it started as quickly as possible. On cars that are not used frequently, it can extend engine life and make starting more reliable. Some people also use it for diagnostic purposes. Generally, if a car is having trouble starting and it is regularly driven, people should not use the fluid. The sluggish start may be a sign of a problem with some aspect of the starter or ignition, and a mechanic should look at the car.

There are also some safety concerns about the recreational use of starter fluid. This product contains psychoactive compounds and drug users may inhale it to achieve a desired high. This can cause serious health problems, in addition to exposing people to the risk of burns and other problems. In some regions, retailers keep their supplies in a secure area to reduce the risk of shoplifting, and may request identification from buyers to avoid selling the product to minors.

WikiMotors is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WikiMotors researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Buster29 — On Aug 21, 2014

My local hardware store doesn't make it easy to buy starter fluid, especially the kind of starter fluid with ether. I have to show my ID to buy it, along with gold or silver metallic spray paint. I accidentally oversprayed some ether-based starting fluid one time and my head was spinning for hours. I can't see how anyone could stand breathing in those fumes every day.

I agree with Phaedrus that starter fluid is not compatible with fuel injection. I only use to spray it into the air intake of a carburetor, and that was when most cars had one. Now I'll just let the car rest for a few minutes if it won't start. The engine is probably just flooded with gas.

By Phaedrus — On Aug 21, 2014

Now that most cars have fuel injectors instead of carburetors, I don't even bother keeping starter fluid in my garage. I might use starter fluid for my lawn mower once in a while, but I'll only buy it if the mower won't start at all. 30 years ago, I used to carry a can in my car's trunk all the time.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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