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Are there any benefits to warming up my car on a cold day?

Posted by Scott Stueber on Jan 22, 2013 12:29:00 PM

GettyImages-1392088747Since I began driving, I was always told to warm up the car before driving. This was especially important when I took out my parents’ Oldsmobile station wagon on cold winter days. Many years later, I still start my wife’s car so she can enjoy a nice warm ride.

But now that my wife’s car requires premium gas, I started to re-think this. Does warming up a car before driving actually reduce engine wear or does it simply waste gas?

It appears that warming up the car doesn’t benefit my pocket book OR the car. For your information, here are some myths and facts I discovered.

Myth – It’s a good practice to let my car idle (warm) on cold days.

Fact – The only reason to idle a car is to circulate the engine oil. Experts recommend letting your car idle up to 30 seconds; there are no benefits to letting your engine idle any longer. The best way to bring your engine up to operating temperature is to gently drive your car. By simply driving your car, the engine and its components (brakes, transmission, etc.) will warm up faster which allows your car to run more efficiently.

Myth – Idling my engine can reduce engine wear.

Fact – Idling for long periods of time can potentially damage your engine and its components, including the cylinders, spark plugs, and exhaust systems.

With today’s modern cars, electronic fuel injection regulates how much fuel your engine needs to run efficiently. When your car engine is cold, the fuel injectors send more fuel through the system. As the engine warms, it needs less fuel to run efficiently. So the longer you let a cold engine idle, the more fuel you waste and the more you increase the chance of fuel residue build up. Fuel residue build up can lead to poor engine performance and a reduction in mileage.

Myth – Idling my car doesn’t harm me or my family.

Fact – Did you ever notice that the exhaust is extremely stinky when your car idles on a cold day? That’s because the engine is cold and it’s not running efficiently. A cold engine releases more unburned hydrocarbons which means more pollutants are being released into the environment.

And if your garage is attached to your home, carbon monoxide and other gases can enter it without you knowing.

To learn more about how fuel injection works, click here.

Getting into a cold car is uncomfortable. However, you'll warm up faster by gently driving it!

Do you have any car safety tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them; please share them in the box below.

Disclaimer: This information is based on average winter temperatures in the Midwest. If you experience extreme winter temperatures, consult with your owner's manual or local mechanic.

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Topics: Auto Safety, Auto Repair

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