Warm Up Your Car in Winter?

Dear Tracy,

In the winter, my roommate  always “warms up” her car for about 15 minutes before driving anywhere. This seems like a huge waste of gas to me, especially for someone who struggles to pay her bills. But she insists her dad told her she should never drive in winter without warming up, or she will damage the engine. Is true that you need to warm up your car in winter?

Sydney J.

Dear Sydney,

Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to warm up your car before driving it. Warming it up ahead of time can help to defrost the windows and clear them for visibility, but the engine does not require a warm up.

According to the Car Care Council, warming up, or idling longer that 30 seconds is unnecessary. A better way to warm up an engine is to drive slowly as you begin your trip. In other words, as you pull out of your driveway or parking lot, do not gun the engine. Just take it easy for the first few minutes as you head down the road.

Having said that, it is important to note that your roommate’s dad is not totally off base. Cars used to require warming up in the days of carburetor fuel systems. Today’s cars are equipped with fuel-injection technology, computer systems, and thinner synthetic oils. These new developments make warm ups unnecessary in newer cars.

Some folks may prefer to warm up their car anyway, so that it will be nice and toasty when they climb inside. While this is understandable, warming your car does have some drawbacks. Wasting gas, is one that you mentioned. Idling reduces fuel economy. Idling can also cause excessive wear or stress on engine components, such as cylinders, spark plugs, and the exhaust system. Shivering behind the wheel for a brief period could indeed save your roommate gas and money, and also extend the life of her car.

Another reason why warming up is not such a great idea is pollution.  A vehicle that idles for more than 30 seconds increases air pollution. It is easy to underestimate the impact of one car, but together, we can make a significant reduction in air pollution.