You’ve done it a hundred times – sitting in a cold car, watching your breath while you’re waiting for the engine to warm up. It’s a necessary part of winter driving, right? Experts would disagree.

It used to be that cars needed to be warmed up before you could drive them in cold temperatures. But that’s no longer the case with today’s vehicles. Whether you’re an experienced or a new driver, here’s what you need to know.


Why today’s cars don’t need a lot of warm-up time

A car’s engine works by igniting a mixture of gasoline and air. That used to be the job of the carburetor. But carburetors didn’t work well in cold temperatures because they couldn’t get the right mix with denser cold air. If you didn’t warm them up, you ran the risk of stalling your car. Starting in the 1980s, manufacturers stopped using carburetors in favor of new technology.

Today’s vehicles use electronic fuel injectors that can detect cold weather and release extra gasoline for the right fuel-air mix.


Warming up your car is a waste of time, gas, and money.

It’s a given that you could be using your time more productively than waiting for your car to warm up. As you idle, you’re burning gas, which is essentially wasting money, too. You’re also increasing wear and tear on your car’s engine. Plus, you’re adding pollution to the air. According to a 2009 study, idling your car contributes to 1.6% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. That’s nearly double the entire iron and steel manufacturing industry. States have begun to take notice and issued anti-idling fines beyond 3 minutes.


A one-minute warm-up

With your car’s onboard computer and fuel injection system, it takes just about one minute for your car to warm up. That’s regardless of the outside temperature. That doesn’t mean that the inside of your car will be warm, or that the windows will be defrosted, but it does mean that the oil has traveled from the bottom of your engine to the top.


7 Steps to quickly heat up your car

Follow these steps to quickly heat up your car this winter.

1. Turn on your ignition without starting the engine. After about 5 seconds, you should hear the fuel pump priming the engine. Then start the car.

2. Don’t turn on the heat right away. The air being pumped out from the heater core will still be cold. That air will keep the engine from getting hot quickly.

3. Also make sure you are not running the radio, your seat warmers or defroster initially as these put a strain on the electric system.

4. Idle your vehicle for about 30 seconds (or a minute if your car is older). You can go a little longer if your car is covered in snow or ice. This will allow your vehicle to produce warm air.

5. You do want to give yourself time to warm up that has nothing to do with the engine. It’s all about your visibility and your comfort. You want to be able to see while you are driving and you want to be comfortable enough so you can concentrate on the road. Turn on the defroster to help clear the windows. Wait until you can drive safely; don’t try to drive with a small portion of cleared window.

6. Cars will warm up faster if you are driving than if you are idling. Normal driving for 5-10 minutes should do the trick.

7. Once you’re driving, point the warm air at your chest. That will warm you as quickly as possible. Then point the heat at your feet. As heat rises, the whole car will stay warm.


Tips for the extreme cold

In some places in the U.S., such as the upper Midwest, temperatures can dip well below zero and stay there. Consider these additional steps to help your car weather the cold.

    • Once regular oil gets below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it becomes thick. Use synthetic oil which holds its consistency.
    • Battery heating pads and thermal wraps can keep your battery warm. A cold battery trying to hold a charge in frigid temperatures can harm your alternator.
    • Oil heaters for the dipstick or magnetic heaters for the oil pan can help. There also are coolant heaters for antifreeze.
    • Engine block heaters attach to your car and plug into an electric outlet. You can install a permanent heater, too.


Protect your car with auto insurance for peace of mind this winter and all year round.


This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or



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