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Don't let your car idle in the wintertime, experts say
December 11, 2016
Starting your car a few minutes before getting into it seems like a perfectly logical thing to do on a bitingly cold winter morning, but studies show that idling your car may be doing more harm than good.
On the surface, letting your vehicle warm up for a couple minutes prior to driving away — even starting it via remote control so you don't have to brave the cold a minute too soon — appears to be a brilliant way to outsmart the frigid weather. After all, a toasty interior is far more inviting than a freezing one, and some think the act of idling your car for a few minutes allows the engine to heat up to optimal driving temperatures. Unfortunately, this seemingly innocuous "life hack" is not only unnecessary but could potentially damage your car, your wallet, and the environment.
According to WCPO, the myth about idling your car in cold weather can be traced back to the 1980s and '90s, when vehicles relied on carburetors. Today, most cars are equipped with modern fuel injection technology and advanced computer systems that are able to read the engine's temperature and distribute fuel accordingly, and the synthetic oil most commonly used is much thinner, and thereby lubricates the engine more rapidly. There is no need to warm up the engine on newer cars, and the excess idling lowers fuel economy and creates more greenhouse gas emissions. Further, John O'Rourke of the Cincinnati area's Bob Sumerel Tire warns against warming up a car as it sits stationary, explaining to WCPO, "It's still a mechanical thing, relying on fluids to lubricate a transmission engine ... You don't want to over-rev it, gun it, cause harm to the engine, especially when everything is stone cold. Go easy if you can, it will save your engine's life."
To avoid the type of damage O'Rourke describes, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends allowing the vehicle to warm up for approximately 30 seconds, stating, "the engine will warm up faster being driven, which will allow the heat to turn on sooner, decrease your fuel costs, and reduce emissions."
If your car was built after the early '90s, you most likely do not need to leave your car running in the driveway for an extended period of time, no matter how bitterly cold it is outside. However, there is one exception in which it is imperative to warm up your car before driving off; if your windows are frosted over, it's crucial that the vehicle heat up enough to melt the frost and increase visibility.