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Dos and Don'ts: Warming Your Car Up in the Winter

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Winter is coming, and for those of us with daily commutes, that means having to brave a very cold car. There's nothing more horrible than waking up before the sun is even out and climbing into a freezing car. Traditionally, the common balm for this scenario is to leave your car running before actually driving it, but experts claim that this is no longer necessary.

Most vehicles built before 1995 used a carburetor, a device that combined air and fuel. With these types of vehicles, it was essential to let the car idle before driving to make sure the engine ran properly. However, the U.S. automobile industry switched out carburetors for a fuel injection method in the 80s and 90s, thereby eliminating the need for the carburetor. As such, modern cars can handle the cold, and no longer need to be warmed up before driving.

Warming up your car for a long period of time can also have negative effects on everyone around you, including yourself. For one thing, idling your car for prolonged periods is both a waste of money and energy; according to both the EPA and Energy.gov, a car should not idle for more than 30 seconds at a time. (Idling for 30 seconds actually uses more fuel than simply restarting the car.)

Idling for long periods of time is also bad for your health and the health of others; air pollution in the form of exhaust fumes have led to increased rates of cancer, heart and lung disease, asthma, and allergies. Letting your car idle also contributes to lasting smog problems, which have been proven contributors to air pollution.

But still, we get it: It really sucks having to get into a cold car. Here's what you can do instead to get your car warm quickly:

  1. Turn on your ignition without starting the engine. This is the best way to get hot air quickly, as this your fuel pump will be priming the engine to produce heat.
  2. After 5 seconds, start your car.
  3. Instead of turning on the heater immediately, which will have cold air, idle your vehicle for about 30 seconds (nothing more!). This will allow the heater core to pump out warm air.
  4. After 30 seconds, begin your drive and turn on your air. You should feel warm air by this point.
  5. During your drive, point the warm air at your chest area - this will help your body warm up quickly. Once you're warm, point the heat towards your feet, since heat rises.

Images sourced in order of appearance: Victor Xok, Becca Tapert.

Krista Doyle