Climbing into a frigid car that hasn’t been pre-warmed generally leaves you with two options: Endure the cabin’s subzero temperatures until warm air arrives, or bundle up in so many protective layers that you can barely move. Either way, you’ll likely be uncomfortable. Plus, numb fingers, fogged windshields and a cumbersome jacket can be hazardous if they impede your vision or slow your response time.
Use these tips for warming up your car to help keep your winter drives warm and safe.
How Long Should I Warm My Car in the Morning Before Driving?
The ritual of fully warming up a car in the winter is actually a holdover from the days of carburetion — to prevent stalling, the cold metal needed plenty of warming time before it reached optimal temperatures. These days most fuel injection systems are sophisticated enough to make the appropriate adjustments for blustery conditions. There’s also little reason to worry about whether your engine oil and other fluids will operate in cold weather; synthetic products manufactured today are designed to provide protection even when the mercury dips below zero. Basically, modern cars have evolved to the point that a driver’s discomfort and external road conditions are the main safety risks in cold weather — especially if you’ve done your research about proper tires for the season.
Fuel injected vehicles generally need only 30 seconds of warming up before they are ready to go, even in cold weather. After that, the best way to increase your engine’s temperature is by driving the car. Not only will this get hot air into your cabin faster, it saves gas and cuts emissions. If temperatures dip to 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, warm the car for a minute or two to ensure the oil thins and circulates fully.
Even though your engine only requires a minute, you may want extra warm-up time to thaw the rest of the car. The best method for this is to start your car, turn on the defroster and let the engine warm while you scrape the windshield and clear away snow. Try not to idle for longer than five minutes to conserve fuel, and check to see if your region has a limit on idling time.
3 More Tips for Warming Up Your Car
If you don’t want to be left in the cold while your car idles, you have a few options:
- Park in the garage. Even without a heater, the enclosed space blocks out ice and wind, maintaining a higher ambient temperature than an exposed driveway.
- Warm the engine before you start. An engine block heater is typically installed to pre-heat the engine’s coolant. Plug the heater in when you park at night and set a timer to turn the heater on 2-4 hours before you plan to leave the next day. Block heaters can be added as a factory-installed option on many new cars, or owners can purchase an aftermarket heater.
- Start from afar. Remote starters use a transponder similar to a standard key fob, allowing you to start your engine without taking a step outside. The door locks and the security system stays active, which keeps your car secure as it pre-heats. It’s still best for fuel economy and carbon emissions to keep your idle time to five minutes or less. Do NOT use this feature when parked in a closed garage, as deadly carbon monoxide can build up and overwhelm you.
Check out all the heating & cooling systems parts available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on engine block heaters, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.
Photo courtesy of Jaime Kop/Flickr
As a freelance automotive writer, I create articles, how-to guides, web content and white papers for online magazine site and automotive companies. I passionately believe that cars and motorcycles should be appreciated for the works of art they are, and fantasize about owning a white Ducati 899 Panigale to display in my living room. I am currently the Corvette expert at About.com, cover alternatively-fueled vehicles and technology at HybridCars.com, and hold the imaginary title of Formula One test driver on the back roads surrounding my Oregon home.