Should You Warm Up Your Vehicle in the Winter?

The research is in, and the results are consistent: Don't “warm up” your car or truck in freezing conditions before starting to drive. This unwise practice adds to harmful greenhouse gases.

Professionals such as the EPA, the government of Canada and the late host of NPR's “Car Talk” program agree - idling before you start moving has basically no benefit for your car's engine. On occasion, letting the engine run can help defrost your car to a slight degree, but even then, getting the vehicle moving is the best strategy to increase the engine's temperature.

Nevertheless, a 2009 survey of about 1,300 people in the U.S. found that on average, people believe that cars should be idled for 5.1 minutes when the weather is wintry. The results of that misconception are as follows:

  • For each auto, $9 per year in unnecessary wear-and-tear costs
  • Increased personal exposure to pollutants while sitting in unmoving vehicles
  • On a national level, 13 million tons per year of unnecessary carbon dioxide emitted into the environment
  • Throughout the U.S., 3.8 million gallons in wasted gas
  • For each automobile “warmed up”, up to $183 per year in wasted fuel

The myth used to be a truth. Before the advent of electronics in the starting and fuel delivery systems, automobiles used carburetors to mix air and fuel for the engine. If a car wasn't properly warmed up, that mix could be wrong and cause the motor to stall. Almost all new cars have much better technology. Besides saving gas when you turn the ignition, electronic parts track engine temperature and adjust for it. Now, it is widely agreed by experts that you should run your car for 10 seconds or less before starting to drive.

If you stop idling, there will be many beneficial effects. First, your car will work better and heat up sooner. A car that is on the road also begins the process of filtering the tailpipe air faster. When you are stopped, the catalytic converter doesn't kick in for approximately twice as long, and the polluted air your car is emitting always gets to your lungs because, of course, you're just sitting in it.

If you have concerns about this or want to find out whether your automobile needs to be warmed up in the winter, contact the auto professionals at Christian Brothers. Skipping the idling saves time and is better for your car or truck, good for the environment and good for your pocketbook.