Prepping for “the great white north” winters

Go directly to:     Ice Warning Indicator


The tire treads have no snow in them – did they air-lift this car in for a photo shoot?  😉  Click image to enlarge.

cold start disableTobias (from Germany) has observed that while starting the 124 SPIDER in COLD conditions, there are extra “delays and relays”, before the starter engages, especially noticable while a lamp, adjacent to the Low Fuel lamp in the instrument cluster, is steady on (not flashing).

Next to the low fuel warning light there is also a pre-glow indicator. You’d think that this hardly makes any sense on a car that isn’t offered with a diesel engine but it still seems to serve a purpose on the 124.

As far as i have figured it out on mine, whenever the ambient temperature is below 41 °F (5 °C), and the engine is completely cold (i.e. car sat overnight) and you switch on the ignition you see this light flash up, hear a relay clicking a few times and the light will go out after 1-2 seconds.  If you don’t switch on the ignition first, but start the engine right away, this also happens, but it will delay engaging the starter for the above mentioned 1-2 seconds.  None of this happens if temperatures are higher or the engine has some residual heat in it.

Seems to be a Fiat thing, since my dads’ Panda (mighty 1.2L NA) also does this.

Tobias also stated that nothing is mentioned about this light in the German edition of his Owner’s Manual, so I decided to look into the subject further.  Per my U.S. Owner’s Manual (page 99), that amber lamp is identified as the “Cold Start Disable Indicator Light”, and the manual continues…

If you attempt to start the vehicle and the ambient temperature is below -22°F (-30°C), the ECU module will prevent the starter from engaging with the engine, as indicated to the driver by a flashing amber “Cold Start Disable Indicator Light”.

Place your vehicle in a warm garage until the temperature has risen to a sufficient level, to enable engine starting.

So if your car won’t start, just how are you supposed to “place it” in a warm garage?  😉

I had a paragraph on cold weather starting in my trickle-charging article regarding the extra Cold Cranking Amps (CCA) of the battery Fiat chose for our vehicles (520 vs. 350 in the MX-5), that you will really appreciate when it is …


but I never realized that the car is programmed to prevent you from starting it, should it get too cold.

Well, that ambient temperature pre-check accounts for some of the delay…

I imagine the Multi-Air brick won’t function properly when the oil is too cold, and the steady activation of that light while starting when temperatures are at, or below, freezing, is indicating that cold weather “pre-check” logic is in-process, as Tobias sort of guessed.  An explanation of why the correct oil, and the actual oil temperature are so important:

The viscosity of the oil actually affects the speed of intake valve movement when the solenoids trigger. To make sure that the valves are timed correctly, the ECU needs to know the EXACT viscosity of the oil in the Multi-Air brick. The easiest way to do this is to measure the VVT oil temperature (that’s why the sensor is in the brick), and then simply do a lookup of Pennzoil 5w40 synthetic @ the given temperature and it will return the correct viscosity – and that’s what the ECU does.  Engine performance based on these calculations is probably how the ECU determines when to display the change oil message.

What this means in practice is that if you are not using the correct viscosity oil, there will be (hopefully minute) variances in actual intake valve timing versus the timing the ECU is expecting. This is probably most likely at the extremes, either low or high, where different brands and formulations behave vastly differently even if they’re labeled as the same viscosity. Or if you’ve decided to do something silly like put 20w50 in your engine (which some old timers do as a way to reduce oil consumption).


I decided to download the Canadian FIAT 500X Owner’s Manual, since the same engine powers them as well.  I became curious as to why the label for that same symbol (page 6), states “glow plug”.   Then on page 279, I found this:

Cold Weather Operation
To ensure reliable starting under extreme cold conditions, an externally
powered electric block heater (available from your authorized dealer)
is required for the 1.4L Turbo engine below -20°F (-29°C).

To prevent possible engine damage while starting at low temperatures,
this vehicle will inhibit engine cranking when the ambient temperature
is less than -34°F (-35°C) and the oil temperature sensor reading indicates
an engine block heater has not been used.

The message “plug in engine heater” will be displayed in the instrument
cluster when the ambient temperature is below -4°F (-20°C) at the
time the engine is shut off as a reminder to avoid possible crank delays
at the next cold start.

(I found this identical information on page 255 in the Jeep Renegade’s Canadian Owner’s Manual, as well.)

…perhaps an additional delay is attributed to a pre-check of the Oil temperature and calculating the Δ

aha4aiconSo, even though it isn’t mentioned in my U.S. Owner’s Manual, the ECU modules associated with the 1.4 L Turbo, manufactured by Delphi for various FCA vehicles, are probably programmed to not only check the ambient temperature, but also the oil temperature, and determine if a block heater has been plugged in.

Since there is no mention of a block heater in my U.S. Owner’s Manual, that explains why it sounds like the 124 SPIDER has instead, been programmed to not allow the starter to be engaged at a “warmer” temperature (-22°F vs. -34°F), when in fact, perhaps the logic is actually all there to allow starting if colder than -22°F, as long as it also determines that the oil temperature is warmer, because a block heater is in-use.

Consider a block heater

In my opinion, just because the 124 SPIDER isn’t able to display the block heater reminder message in the cluster, doesn’t mean they would alter the programming (creating yet another part number to account for the changes) ~ something for you brave souls living on the frozen tundra with a convertible, to keep in mind, and investigate further…

Ice Warning Indicator

Apparently, the European manual does mention an ICE WARNING indicator (and the Canadian manual calls it an ICE BREAKER indicator??? ), that kicks in at temperatures at or below 41 °F (5 °C), which I was never aware of.  It is the snowflake icon    located just above the outside ambient temperature reading, and since I’ve never seen it displayed in my 2017 U.S. Spider in Fahrenheit mode, I’m wondering if it…

  1.   may have been added after MY 2017?
  2.   is it unique to certain markets?
  3.   is it unique to the Centigrade configuration?

I guess because I don’t drive it much in the winter months, it simply hasn’t had the opportunity to display, because according to the the online Miata manual:

Outside Temperature Warning 

When the outside temperature is low, the indication flashes and a beep sound is heard to warn the driver of the possibility of icy roads.

  • If the outside temperature is lower than about 4 °C (39 °F), the outside temperature display and the    mark flashes for about ten seconds and a beep sound is heard once.
  • If the outside temperature is lower than -20 °C (-4 °F), the beep sound does not operate.   However, the    mark illuminates and remains on.

photo courtesy of Emilietto Mazza


5 thoughts on “Prepping for “the great white north” winters

    • Dan, here is all the Canadian manual has to say on the topic of cold weather operation:

      Cold Weather Operation
      Regarding Cold Start Disable
      When the ambient temperature is
      extremely low, the engine may not
      crank even when the engine starting
      procedure is performed. At this time,
      the Cold Start Disable Indicator light in
      the instrument cluster flashes. However,
      this does not indicate a problem.
      Perform the necessary procedures (see
      “Warning lights And Messages”
      paragraph in “Getting To Know Your
      Instrument Panel” chapter).
      Regarding Ice Breaker
      When the ambient temperature is low,
      the start of cranking may be delayed
      after engine starting procedure is
      performed. At this time, the Cold Start
      Disable Indicator light in the instrument
      cluster illuminates. However, this does
      not indicate a problem.
      Refer to your authorized dealer
      regarding other related parts which are
      to be input such as function name,
      operating scenario (condition) of each
      function, indicator operation, and user
      operation/procedure information


      • Thank you Bill! That’s a lot of words that aren’t very informative or helpful 🙂 I think the Canadian writers should have used the U.S. text or the Fiat 500 text instead, so you at least know what to expect. As I expected, there is no mention of a block heater.

        They call the snowflake icon “Ice Breaker” rather than “Ice Warning”? I’m not comprehending that…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s