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What Is Starter Fluid?

A car's ignition switch and key.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 21 March 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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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 starter 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 starter 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.

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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 starter 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.

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