Best Engine Starting Fluids

Updated January 2022
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Buying guide for Best engine starting fluids

If you’re experiencing problems with starting an engine in cold weather, you may want to boost the chances of success by applying engine starting fluids. These fluids are highly combustible and ignite at a lower temperature than traditional vehicle fuels, which improves the chances of the engine starting.

Because engine starter fluid allows the engine to start easier and faster, its use can reduce wear and tear from unsuccessfully trying to repeatedly start the engine in low temperatures. Having a bottle of engine starting fluid stored in your trunk or glove box could be the difference between starting your vehicle on a cold winter night and being stranded.

Even though engine starting fluid is highly flammable and could cause a fire when applied incorrectly, its benefits typically outweigh such concerns — just be sure to use it with care. If you find yourself having to apply engine starter fluid repeatedly, you should have a mechanic check out the engine, since you may have a serious problem with it.

Engine starting fluids provide a lower ignition temperature than other types of fuels, which makes them useful for starting an engine on a low-temperature day.

How to buy the best engine starting fluid

Gasoline vehicle engine

The majority of engine starting fluids work safely for vehicles that contain typical gasoline engines. There are rarely restrictions or problems when applying the fluid to this type of engine.

Diesel vehicle engine

For a vehicle that runs on diesel fuel, there are some restrictions on how you can use the engine starter fluid. Some fluid brands simply are not compatible with diesel engines. Of those fluids that are compatible, some may not work for diesel engines that have heated elements, such as glow plugs, attached to them.

Fuel injection system engine

Because a fuel injection engine doesn’t rely on intake air to mix with gasoline and create the ability to start the engine, engine starting fluids are not as effective with these systems. Fuel injection systems don’t have a carburetor. 

If you decide to use engine starter fluid on the fuel injection system engine, spray it directly into the injectors. It’s important to place the starter fluid in the correct spot with this type of engine.

Carbureted engine

A traditional engine with a carburetor works nicely with engine starter fluid. The majority of the time, you add the fluid to the air intake area. However, the instructions on some bottles may recommend adding the fluid near the spark plugs or in the carburetor bore.

Two-stroke engine

A two-stroke engine is a type of engine that has less power than a traditional four-stroke engine. A two-stroke engine may appear in a chain saw, snow blower, or leaf blower. They run off a mixture of gasoline and motor oil. 

Because the majority of engine starting fluids don’t have oil or another lubricant added to them, you shouldn’t use these fluids on the two-stroke engine. If you want to use starting fluids on a two-stroke engine, look for one that includes a lubricant.

Did You Know?
Some engine starting fluid formulas consist primarily of ether, which also has a history as a medical anesthetic.

Features of engine starting fluids

Ether content

An engine starting fluid typically contains diethyl ether as its primary agent in the mixture. Some fluids use ether as the primary agent, but this is less common now than it was years ago.

If you choose a starting fluid mixture that primarily contains ether, it has a greater chance of creating a spark in extremely low temperatures. However, it’s far more flammable and volatile than diethyl ether, so it’s important to have the knowledge to use the ether-based fluid correctly and safely.

Fuel additive included

Some engine starting fluids contain fuel additives. These can provide lubricants that resist rust or that can clean the parts of the engine. For someone who uses engine starting fluids frequently, having a fuel additive included can be helpful. However, having the engine maintained regularly or adding fuel additives to the gasoline typically are better long-term solutions.

Temperature recommendations

The majority of engine starting fluids have a minimum temperature at which they work. A rating of -65 degrees Fahrenheit is common among the most popular fluids.

Some mechanics believe using starting fluid isn’t harmful for the engine over the long term, while other mechanics recommend never using starting fluid — there’s no consensus on this topic.


Helpful accessories for engine starting fluids

Engine degreaser

One way to keep the engine cleaner is through the use of an engine degreaser. This type of product loosens contaminants on the engine, simplifying cleanup. A cleaner engine should start easier, even in low temperatures, which may reduce the frequency with which you need to use engine starting fluid. 

Jump starters

Sometimes, an engine that won’t start needs a jump for the battery rather than the use of engine starting fluid. When jumper cables won’t work for starting your car, a jump starting machine is a solid alternative. Some jump starters can also provide a trickle charge for the battery, keeping it fully charged in cold weather. 

Cost of engine starting fluids

Manufacturers sell engine starting fluid in bottles. A standard bottle of starter fluid has 10 or 11 ounces of capacity. However, because each bottle may have a different capacity, try to compare the cost of different brands of fluid by the ounce.


The least expensive starter fluids cost about $3 to $6 for a 10-ounce bottle (or about 30 to 60 cents per ounce). If you choose a starting fluid in this price range, you may have to buy a pack of several bottles at once.


Mid-range starting fluids for engines cost $6 to $10 for a 10-ounce bottle (or about 60 cents to $1 per ounce).


The most expensive starting fluids cost $10 to $20 for a 10-ounce bottle (or about $1 to $2 per ounce). These fluids may contain lubricant or may have a formula that helps with a flooded engine.

Did You Know?
Not every engine starting fluid product is the same. Some have lubricants added to them, for example. Be certain that the product you’re using is capable of performing the task you want it to do.

Engine starting fluid tips

Here are some tips for applying engine starting fluid correctly and safely to an air intake engine with a carburetor:

  • Find the air intake. The majority of engine starter fluids require application in the air intake area. If you’re unsure of the location of the intake in your engine, consult your vehicle’s user manual. Some air intakes have a filter or cover that you should remove before applying the fluid.
  • Aim the nozzle. The bottle of starting fluid has a nozzle at the top, and it works similarly to a can of spray paint. Always aim the nozzle correctly before depressing it. 
  • Hold the nozzle at the correct distance. Hold the nozzle about 12 inches from the air intake area before applying the fluid.
  • Apply the correct amount. Apply a small amount of engine fluid, following the instructions on the bottle. As a general rule, depress the nozzle for about two seconds. 
  • Don’t oversaturate the air intake. If the engine doesn’t start after the first application, you can spray the fluid a second time. However, the majority of engine starting fluid makers don’t recommend going beyond two attempts in a short amount of time.
If you’re unsure whether you should use engine starting fluid or where you should apply it, ask your mechanic.


Q. Can I use engine starting fluid on a flooded engine?

A. When you try to start an engine repeatedly, you can “flood” the engine, meaning its fuel and air mixture is too rich to allow the engine to start. Some brands of engine starting fluid alleviate this problem, bringing the air/fuel mix back to balance. However, some fluids don’t work for this purpose. Check the instructions included with the bottle of fluid.

Q. Is it safe to use engine starting fluid on a diesel engine?

A. As long as the diesel engine doesn’t have a preheat system installed or glow plugs, using a starting fluid on the engine should be safe. These preheated items could cause the fluid to ignite as you’re applying it. If your diesel engine manufacturer doesn’t specifically say it’s safe to use starting fluid on the engine, you may not want to use it.

Q. How many times can I apply starting fluid?

A. If the engine doesn’t start after a couple of applications of starting fluid, you may have a more serious problem with the engine. At the very least, the first application of a burst of starter fluid should cause the engine to show a little bit of life and sputter. If you receive no sign of sputtering from the engine after a couple of applications of fluid, don’t continue to add more fluid.

Q. Can I add starter fluid directly to my gas tank instead?

A. No, you shouldn’t add the fluid to the gas tank of an automobile. Apply the starter fluid to the proper part of the car’s engine. Follow the directions on the bottle of engine starting fluid, or you run the risk of starting a fire.


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