Should You Warm up Your Car in the Winter?

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Hitting the road in wintery conditions brings with it a particular set of challenges, so naturally, drivers have adapted to accommodate for them. Studded tires make handling more agreeable in snow and ice, seat heaters can make a chilly interior bearable and remote start systems allow you to turn on your engine without actually being in the car.

Regarding that last cold-weather practice, though — how long is it necessary to run your car’s motor before you drive? Some folks insist on allowing the car to warm up for five to 10minutes or more. Isn’t that a waste of fuel?

Technology to the Rescue

The answer is yes: It is a significant waste of fuel. Allowing your car to warm up long enough for the heater to warm the interior is one thing, but you won’t do any engine damage or suffer poor performance by driving a modern engine that was cold only seconds ago. Changes in engine technology have eliminated the need for engines to warm up.

Specifically, it is the change from carburation to fuel injection that has fixed this cold-weather issue. Carburetors are susceptible to poor performance when moving parts are cold, but fuel injection and modern computers have engineered this effect out of your car’s engine. Unless you drive a diesel, your motor is effectively up to temperature within two or three minutes of initial startup.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Choosing to keep your engine running for a prolonged period does burn through gas. In fact, idling engines contribute to 1.6 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. However, even if you don’t believe your car will drive differently, you might be turned off by the idea of a frigid car.

You can avoid that uncomfortable scenario by keeping your car in a warm place, like a garage. If you live in a cold climate and drive regularly, a well-kept, insulated garage will ensure your car serves you well for many years to come. Just make sure your garage door works properly so you can keep the cold where it belongs — outside.

A Thread of Truth

Like many car myths, the idea that your engine benefits from running at a warmer temperature is, in a basic sense, correct. Modern engine management systems can make enough adjustments to the way your engine runs to accommodate for a multitude of conditions.

When starting a car in cold weather, particularly if it is very cold, you will potentially see the car’s computer run a richer air/fuel mixture, resulting in lower fuel efficiency. In such a situation, you would be wise not to jump behind the wheel and hot-shoe it to work. There are internals such as the engine’s valves that might be damaged because oil has not warmed to a sufficient temperature to coat components effectively.

Driving normally, you’re very unlikely to do any damage, and you will avoid burning fuel pointlessly by skipping the warmup. So rather than let the car run for half an hour before leaving home, consider testing the heater before you buy and insulating your garage instead.