Warming Up the Engine – Do You Need to Warm Your Car Up in the Winter?
There’s a common idea here in Minnesota, where temperatures get well below freezing, that you should start your car and let it warm up before driving it. However, this idea has begun falling out of favor in recent years as information has spread arguing that it’s not necessary. While it’s true that warming up the engine is not required for your car to run, it is important to let the engine warm up if you’re planning on driving aggressively.
The majority of engine wear happens when you first start the car. The only thing that stops this from happening is the engine oil. Even high quality synthetic oils do not flow well at sub-zero temperatures. As the engine is running it produces heat, which is transferred into the oil. As the oil warms it protects your engine better. Until this happens, you want to keep the RPMs low. The same can be said for the transmission — cold transmission fluid does not protect as well as hot transmission fluid.
Warming Up Your Car Before Driving
With this information in mind, many people will want to warm up their car just so it’s warm when they climb inside. This should be done with some caution, especially with old vehicles. This is because the piston rings don’t seal well when they’re cold. This allows some of the combustion gases to escape into the crankcase. Over time, this dilutes the oil and can cause excessive wear on the engine. There are a few ways to help minimize these effects, the most important of which is having your oil changed regularly. Conventional oil should be changed every 3,000 miles and synthetic oil should be changed every 5,000 miles. The other way to help combat this oil contamination is to make sure the engine gets up to operating temperature. When the engine is at operating temperature, the contaminants in the oil and on the engine will break down or evaporate.
How can Drivers in Cold Climates Prepare Their Car Engines for Winter Driving?
Our Minnesota climate creates many different driving conditions, but cars are made to handle extreme temperatures. Some of you may remember having to actuate a choke on older cars, or putting different weights of oil into cars when the seasons changed. Modern cars electronically control every aspect of how the engine runs, regardless of the temperature. Oil has come a long way in the last few decades, and so have engines. Regular oil changes will protect your engine, regardless of temperature. Check out our winter driving guide for other tips on preparing your car for winter.
Don’t Forget Winter Tire Inspection
While not directly related to warming up your vehicle, if you’re only doing one thing to prepare your car for winter driving*, it should be to pay attention to your tires. Make sure they’re properly inflated and have adequate tread remaining. The tires are the only points of contact with ground, and are the parts most affected by snow and ice. Tires that are worn out or improperly inflated create a risk for you and everyone around you when driving
*We strongly encourage you to do all that you can to prepare yourself and your vehicle for safe winter driving.