Letting your car idle when it’s cold outside can shorten the life of your engine.
Winter is officially here — and winter storms are battering many parts of the United States.
In freezing temperatures, the temp joint training for many drivers to allow their cars to warm up for a few minutes before hitting the road. Some vehicles even have a preset feature that allows drivers to start their vehicles remotely.
But the VERIFY viewer wants to know if doing so could harm your engine.
Can warming up your car before driving in cold weather damage the engine?
Yes, warming up the car before driving in cold weather can damage the engine.
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What we found
It’s true that warming up gas-powered vehicles before driving in cold weather can cause engine damage, according to Firestone Complete Auto Care and Smart Motors Toyota, a Madison, Wisconsin-based dealership.
“If you’re one of the many drivers who think it’s important to start your car and let it sit for a bit before hitting the road in wintry weather, you may be doing your engine more harm than good,” says Firestone.
In a blog post on its website, Smart Motors Toyota says letting your car idle in cold temperatures can shorten the life of your engine by stripping oil from your engine’s pistons and cylinders—two critical components that help your car’s engine run, Stephen Ciati , Ph.D. D. said , Principal Engineer for Battery Systems at PACCAR, told Business Insider in 2016.
Gas cars need oil to keep their engines lubricated. When you start the car, the oil pump circulates the oil in less than a minute. But if you let your car idle to warm up the cabin, the oil will slowly begin to drain away from the main components of the engine because the engine isn’t moving the car.
“Less oil means more friction, more wear and tear, and a shorter life for your engine,” says Firestone.
While some people let their cars idle to warm up the interior, others may try to protect their engine due to outdated directives.
Firestone and Smart Motors Toyota say that most cars built before 1980 needed to “warm up” when it was cold. This is because early model cars had a carburetor that regulated the air-fuel mixture inside the engine and could not precisely adjust the air-to-fuel ratio in cold weather.
“In cold temperatures, carburetors can’t vaporize all of the gasoline you’re getting into the engine, so some of it will be left as a liquid instead of being burned during combustion. For the carburetor to work properly, the carburetor needs to warm up or you risk stalling,” he says. says Firestone.
But times have changed since the 1980s. Nowadays, practically every car sold in the United States has an electric fuel injection system that helps maintain the ideal air-fuel mixture needed for the combustion event, regardless of the ambient temperature, according to Firestone and Smart Motors Toyota.
Rather than waiting for your car to warm up in the winter, most manufacturers recommend driving gently after about 30 seconds because the engine warms up faster when you drive it, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
“That means your cold-day driving routine should look something like this: Buckle up, start the car, scrape the ice off the windows and mirrors, get in the car and go!” says Firestone.
Just be sure not to rev your engine too fast or rev the engine too much the first few moments you start driving in the cold.
“This can add unwanted stress to your bearings and flood the combustion chamber with gas, which in turn will reduce the life of your engine by miles,” says Smart Motors Toyota.
For owners of electric vehicles, who do not have conventional motors, the above information does not apply, according to a blog post on the NAPA Auto Parts website. Instead, NAPA advises EV owners to warm up their vehicles before unplugging them because it can help conserve battery range.
Electric vehicles must rely on electricity to heat the interior cabin. If you get into a car with a cold cabin and start driving, the car will need to take its stored electricity to bring the interior air up to a nice temperature. This will tax the EV’s battery and leave you with less driving range,” says NAPA.
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