Since 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 reduce engine wear or waste gas?
Here are some myths and facts about warming your car on frigid winter days.
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 for up to 30 seconds; there are no benefits to allowing your engine to idle any longer. Driving your car gently is the best way to bring your engine up to operating temperature. By simply driving your car, the engine and its components (brakes, transmission, etc.) will warm up faster, allowing your car to run more efficiently.
Myth – Idling my engine can reduce engine wear.
Fact – Idling for long periods 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 requires 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 buildup. Fuel residue buildup 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 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 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!
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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.