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Wiser Living

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Automotive Myth: Warming Up Your Engine


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On a cold morning, do you make it part of your routine to go out and start your car to give it time to warm up before you get in and leave your house? If so, you may want to reconsider this habit. It’s a common misconception that cars need to heat up before driving, and you may actually be doing more harm than good.

Where Did the Myth Come From?

This is wisdom handed down from parent to child, sometimes with stern warnings to give your car time to warm up before driving it anywhere or you’ll ruin the engine. It goes back to the days of the carburetor engine.

Carburetor engines mix air and gasoline to create a vaporized fuel that runs the engine. It was necessary to let these older cars warm up or you would end up with a car that stalled out after leaving your driveway.

Now that fewer cars sport carburetor engines, the old wisdom about warming up the car doesn’t apply, but many people still believe this common myth about cars. In modern times, unless you have a car that was made around or before 1980 that has a carburetor engine, you don’t need that idling time to let the engine get ready to drive.

Modern engines are known as electronic fuel injection engines, and they have their own sensors that help the engine get the right mixture of gasoline and air to help it combust. Any car built post-1990 only needs about 30 seconds to reach optimal driving conditions. Letting a car sit idle for longer than that may make the interior warm, but does nothing for the engine itself.

Letting Your Car Idle Causes Pollution

By letting your car warm up, or idle, you are adding more pollution to the air. An idling car pollutes the air just the same as a moving car, so you could be spending 15 minutes or more each day letting your car pollute the air just so it will be warm inside.

For every ten minutes your engine is running, your car is adding a pound of carbon dioxide to the air. Because of the environmental hazard, some states even have laws and corresponding fines for letting your car sit idle. Not to mention that idling cars use gas even though they aren’t moving, which wastes valuable fuel.

Running Cars Are More Likely to Get Stolen

Many people don’t even lock their cars when they go out to heat them up because their keys are in the ignition. A running car with keys in the ignition and no one inside is an invitation for someone to get in and drive off.

This isn’t just a scare tactic. In St. Paul, Minnesota, 33 vehicles were reported stolen from December 1 to December 16 because people left them unattended while they were running. You have to ask yourself if a warm car is worth the risk of not having one at all.

Driving Warms Up Engines Faster

It’s better to simply get in your car, start it and begin driving. By letting the engine warm up by driving, you’re preventing excess revving and cutting the time it warms up in half. Not only will your car’s engine warm up faster, the interior will as well, and you can save 10 minutes or more each day by not giving it that time to idle.

A Safe Compromise

If you must give your car time to warm up no matter what the research says, there’s a way to find a compromise that doesn’t damage your car or increase your risk of it being stolen. In snowy weather, start your car and take a few minutes to clean off the windshield and windows so you can see properly.

While you’re cleaning the glass, the car will be warming up a little on the inside, which can also help in removing stubborn ice or frost from a windshield. This way, you aren’t leaving it unattended and you turn an unnecessary action inspired by a myth into something useful.