Fact or Fiction: You Need to Warm Up Your Car in the Winter
Have you ever heard that you should warm up your car before you drive it in cold weather? It’s a commonly held belief. When a vehicle is parked or sitting with the engine running, it’s called idling—a practice that wastes money and causes unnecessary vehicle emissions. If each car in the United States idled just 6 minutes a day, it would waste about 3 billion gallons of fuel and $10 billion.
Idling Has Health and Environmental Costs
Cars produce emissions that contribute to ozone (smog) and particulate matter (haze). When your car is idling, it is getting zero miles to the gallon and causing unnecessary emissions. Both ozone and PM can lead to health problems, especially in groups that are sensitive. Learn more about the health effects of ozone and particulate matter.
Modern Cars Do Not Need to Warm Up
Today’s cars can be driven within seconds of being started. Major vehicle manufacturers and suppliers hold the view that idling modern engines is unnecessary and can cause excessive wear—even damaging a car’s engine components.
The engine will warm up much faster when you drive it, which will allow the heat to turn on sooner, decrease your fuel costs, and reduce emissions. However, the engine should not be subjected to extreme loads until it has reached its normal operating temperature, which takes longer in cold weather.
What Can You Do?
- Most manufacturers recommend that you drive your car within about 30 seconds after you start it.
- Drive your car gently for the first few minutes, until it reaches its normal operating temperature.
- Park your car in the garage or somewhere warm to increase the initial cabin and engine temperature.
- Keep an ice scraper in your car to remove frost, ice, and snow from your windshield. That way, you won’t have to idle to clear your windshield.
- Prioritize safety, even if it means that you have to idle your car.
- Limit accessory use, such as seat warmers and defrosters. These features decrease fuel economy.
- Check your owner’s manual for information that is specific to your car or truck. The recommendations for cold weather driving can vary based on the age and type of vehicle you drive.