Winter storm

Do I Need to Warm Up My Car? A Winter Primer

“Do I need to warm up my car” is a question posed by anyone living in a climate where the mercury often drops well below the freezing point. Whether you’re getting ready to go to work in the morning or heading out to the parking lot after a full day, the prospect of a cold car is uninviting, to say the least and, according to some automotive folklore, potentially damaging to your mechanical components.

Is warming up your car really that important? Are you shortening the life of your vehicle by driving it before the temperature gauge moves at all? The truth might surprise you.

Carburetor Blues

Once upon a time, the question of “do I need to warm up my car” was an important one because each and every automobile made use of a carburetor to mix air and fuel together under the hood. In colder weather, the amount of fuel needed to keep an engine running was much greater than when the snow wasn’t falling. In fact, driving a carbureted car with the choke activated was an unpleasant experience that could actually lead to stalling and potentially fouling your spark plugs — not to mention carbon build-up inside the motor itself.

Modern Cars Are Much Better

Winter streetEverything changed when fuel injection became the norm for every new car roughly 25 years ago. By using a computer to control the exact amount of fuel being introduced to each cylinder, it was possible for engine management systems to compensate for colder temperatures in real time. This means that cold start conditions pose no significant challenge for modern vehicles, and in fact, most cars and trucks need to be operated normally to warm up quickly — not sit in your driveway idling.

The Verdict

Still, whether you need to warm up your car is a question that continues to be asked even today. The answer, for the vast majority of drivers, is “no.” The only real reason to warm up your car is to get the heating system up to a reasonable temperature to ensure the windows clear and keep you toasty on your journey. Only in the most extreme conditions, where engine oil may have congealed to the point where it’s not providing enough protection to your components, should you prioritize letting your vehicle idle for a few minutes before putting it in “Drive” (-40 F, for example).

Check out all the maintenance parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on keeping your car humming this winter, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Freeimages

about author

Benjamin Hunting

Having been bitten by the car bug at a young age, I spent my formative years surrounded by Studebakers at car shows across Quebec and the northeastern United States. Over ten years of racing, restoring, and obsessing over automobiles lead me to balance science writing and automotive journalism full time.  I currently contribute as an editor to several online and print automotive publications, and I also write and consult for the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

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