The winter months are some of the most severe your vehicle will ever see—especially if the temperatures reach below freezing. The older the engine, the worse its effects can be.
The best solution to keep your engine running smoothly, along with regular maintenance, is to minimize the harsh conditions the cold weather creates for your vehicle. Warming up your car in the winter before you take it on the road may help.
While mechanics agree that the cold winter months cause damage to vital engine parts, whether or not to warm-up your vehicle before driving is a little more controversial. Some experts say 30 seconds is all you need. Others claim that auto-manufacturing has moved away from the carbureted engine—in other words, warming up your engine before driving is unnecessary.
So, how do you know if you own a car that should be warmed up before you drive? Here are a few things you need to know about your vehicle to protect your vehicle from the unforgiving winter months.
Motor Vehicle Engine Types
The controversy surrounding whether your car needs to be warmed up centers around the type of vehicle engine you’re talking about. Gasoline and diesel engines operate differently than hybrid or electric cars.
Diesel and gas-powered engines are primarily fuel-injected. In the 1970s, fuel-injected combustion engines were built to replace their carbureted counterparts. The myth of leaving your car idle for lengthy periods to allow it to warm up come from the days of people owning carbureted engines.
Hybrid cars were introduced in the late 1990s, with the Toyota Prius. A hybrid electric vehicle has a fuel-injected engine powered by an electric motor. Unlike the fully-electric models, you do not plug in a hybrid car. Instead, this fuel-injected hybrid engine charges the battery through regenerative braking and the internal combustion engine. Hybrids have never been manufactured with carburetors.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are powered solely by batteries. The motor and the engine are both fully electric and plug into a power source to charge the batteries. Along with minimal maintenance requirements—they’ll never need an oil change—you won’t have to worry about the cold weather affecting the viscosity of engine fluids. The manufacturers recommend that you garage an EV to protect it from the elements.
What is an Electronic Fuel Injector?
Electronic fuel injection (EFI) is the technology behind the fuel-injection engine. The fuel injector is responsible for the gas-air mixture supplied to the engine. This is the part that replaced the carburetor. The main difference is that the carburetor uses an intake vacuum, while fuel-injection uses pressure to spray the fuel.
With EFI technology, the carburetor engines are becoming obsolete. That poses the controversial question of whether you actually need to warm up your car in the winter.
EFI in modern vehicles detects when it is cold outside. Your engine can gauge whether an increase in gasoline is needed. For this reason, experts say that your combustion engine is ready to go the moment you start your car.
What the Experts Can Agree On
One thing the experts do agree on is that there is no reason to attempt to “warm up” your electric car. The moment the “on” switch is tapped, the engine is at its optimal temperature.
The exclusion to this, of course, is if you left the EV outside in the elements. The manufacturer does not recommend this.
Likewise, Hybrid vehicles, properly garaged, needs no time to warm up. The only reason there would be to warm up your EV or Hybrid is if it was left outside. Then the only thing to consider is how long it will take for the windows to defog.
The experts also agree that you must prepare your car to handle these winter months. Here are some ways you can do this:
- Check your battery and its cables
- Prepare emergency car tools
- Perform regular tire checks
- Change engine oil
- Maintain coolant ratios
- Change to winter wipers
- Check your heaters
If you do happen to have an older vehicle, experts agree that your car should be warmed up before you drive. These would be any vehicles built before 1995 when the last carbureted engine was manufactured.
Other Reasons You Want to Get Into a Warm Car
Warming up your car in the winter may be unnecessary for the engine. Some experts say it is even harmful to let your engine sit idling for any more than a few minutes. Yet, there are many other reasons you may want to let your car run for a few minutes before you drive down the road.
Chances are, if it’s cold outside, your vehicle will be cold inside—and no one wants to get into a freezing cold car. Turning on your heater (seat warmers too, if you’ve got them) and defogging your windows will make that initial trip to the car worth it.
The amount of time it takes to heat the inside of your car depends on the size of the model you drive. The amount of space inside the vehicle determines how long it’ll take for your automobile to heat up. The difference between a large SUV and a small coupe will still only be a matter of a few minutes.
Older vehicles require more time for the inside of the car to be at a comfortable temperature, as you are likely to lose heat as the seals around the doors and windows deteriorate.
How to Keep Your Car Warm in the Winter
Determining how long to let your car warm up in the winter depends on you, not your vehicle. Ultimately, we at US Junk Cars recommend that you review the manufacturers’ handbook for guidelines regarding your car’s engine.
If you do have an older car, you will want to check all the seals on the doors, as well as other gaskets. Basically, you will want to replace anything in your car made of materials sensitive to cold weather. This will be the best way to insulate your vehicle and keep you warm in the winter.