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How Long You Should Warm up Your Car in Winter?

If you’ve been suffering through Canadian winters for years, just the thought of getting into a cold car on a freezing morning is enough to make you shiver. Whether heating up the engine, the windshield, or themselves, most people choose is to warm up their car before they drive away. But how long should you warm up your car in winter?

It’s not just better for the environment, reducing the amount of time your car spends idling can lead to better fuel savings too.

But you also want to consider your engine, visibility, and internal warmth. So what is the optimal amount of time that someone should warm up their car?

Does your car need to warm up before driving?

Your engine doesn’t need as much time to warm up as you might think.

The process of warming up a car stemmed from carbureted engines that used a choke adjustment to get the air-fuel mixture right to keep a cold engine running. It required more fuel, but cars lacked the sensors to fine-tune the adjustment that today’s fuel-injected cars have.

The only reason you’d need to warm up an engine today is for lubrication. For your vehicle’s engine, it takes less than 30 seconds to circulate oil throughout, coating all the moving parts in oil. Once that happens, it’s safe to drive your car. To play it safe, you can follow Natural Resources Canada’s guideline of idling for two to three minutes to warm your engine.

How to warm up your car’s interior faster

A car doesn’t have feelings–as long as it’s mechanically safe and visibility is good, you can hit the road.

You, on the other hand, aren’t so hardy. Nobody relishes the idea of sitting on a cold seat. However, running your car’s engine isn’t the best way to get your car’s interior to a comfortable temperature. These suggestions are more effective for getting your car’s interior warm quickly.

1. Get in and GO

Most cars today are more efficient than ever with aluminum engine blocks and cylinder heads, as well as smaller displacement with turbochargers, dispersing much of the heat they make. You can idle for hours without ever getting to a comfortable interior temperature. Your best bet is to start driving right away so that heat can build up.

2. Buy a car with heated seats and/or heated steering wheel

These once-premium features are now commonly found in many new and pre-owned vehicles on the market today and cut the chill in seconds when they’re on. If your vehicle doesn’t have this kind of attainable luxury, maybe it’s time to upgrade to something more comfortable?

3. Start your engine remotely

Some drivers can start their engines and get the heat going before they even go outside. They simply press a button on their key or an app on their smartphones! Many vehicles built in the last five years come equipped with remote start capabilities, but after-market systems are also available. Check your owner’s manual to see how easy it is to activate this feature or get it installed.

4. Install an interior car warmer

If you’re not in a position to do anything else, you can have a small auxiliary interior heater installed that plugs into household power. However, this isn’t ideal and can pose a fire hazard if improperly installed.

5. Keep it warm overnight

Instead of warming your car in the morning, you can try preventing it from getting so cold overnight by:

    • Plugging your car’s block heater in overnight. This will keep the coolant warm to aid engine startups and also help your car warm up a little quicker.
    • Parking your car in a garage if possible. Even if it’s uninsulated, it will stay warmer than sitting outside.
    • Setting your car’s remote start for periodic start-ups. Systems like FordPass Connect provide the option for timed remote starts.

Beware of warm-up car thefts

If you choose to idle your car to warm it up, never leave the keys in the ignition with your car unattended. Idling car thefts are on the rise with opportunistic thieves taking full advantage of running cars with keys inside. In Edmonton, for example, more than 200 idling cars were stolen in 2019.

Final thoughts

So, then, how long should you warm up your car in the winter? Here are a few guidelines to follow.

  • Run your engine for at least 30 seconds before shifting into drive and pulling away. This allows time for lubricants to circulate and coat all moving parts.
  • Idle your car just long enough to clear fog and frost from the windows inside and use an ice scraper and de-icer to clear off the outside of the glass.
  • Factory remote start systems are set to idle for 10 minutes at a time, but Natural Resources Canada advises drivers to use this feature wisely and avoid excessive idling. They recommend idling for no more than 3 minutes on a cold winter day. 

Dec 31st, 2019