Combustion instability is investigated during the cold starting of a single cylinder, direct injection, 4-stroke-cycle, air-cooled diesel engine. The experiments covered fuels of different properties at different ambient air temperatures and injection timings. The analysis showed that the pattern of misfiring (skipping) is not random but repeatable. The engine may skip once (8-stroke-cycle operation) or twice (12-stroke-cycle operation) or more times. The engine may shift from one mode of operation to another and finally run steadily on the 4-stroke cycle. All the fuels tested produced this type of operation at different degrees. The reasons for the combustion instability were analyzed and found to be related to speed, residual gas temperature and composition, accumulated fuel and ambient air temperature.