If You Warm Up Your Car When It’s Cold Out, You’re Wasting Your Money—Here’s Why

Colder commutes call for a cozy car in the morning. But if you warm up you car when it’s cold out, you could do serious damage to your engine.

Car engine in winterPhoto: Jarhe Photography/Shutterstock

Why This Winter Habit Is Bad for Your Engine

Once the temperatures dip in the winter, a car left out in the street overnight can become an arctic tundra by morning. Hop in for your a.m. commute, and your hands, toes, and bottom will instantly freeze in the ice-cold vehicle. Knowing this, you might be tempted to start the ignition and let your car get warm and toasty before settling in. But doing so can also waste fuel and cause serious damage to your engine. (Here are 15 winter driving rules every car owner should know.)

Surprised? Many drivers believe that “warming up” their cars in cold weather protects their engine. However, “it probably does more harm than good,” according to Business Insider.

The prevailing wisdom that cars need to warm up in cold weather probably comes from a time when car engines used carburetors. Before the 1980s, cold gasoline would cause your car to stall if you tried to start the ignition. So people used to wait for their cars to warm up before driving, instead.

But that common practice changed in the 1980s, when new electronic fuel injection technology replaced the old carburetors. Today, cars need only 30 to 60 seconds to run before they are ready to drive. (Although most Canadians switch their car tires each winter, a new study suggests we’re doing it at the wrong time.)

What happens if you leave your car idling for longer than one minute? Doing so wastes gas, for one. What’s more, it could cause serious damage to your engine. This is why: Cars run on a mixture of air and vaporized fuel. But in colder climates, where gasoline is less likely to evaporate, the car reacts by adding more gasoline to the mix through a process called running “rich.” On the flip side, idling the engine in cold conditions can actually strip lubricating oil off of the engine’s pistons and cylinder walls. That, in turn, can shorten the life of your engine.

Now that you’re clued in, find out the safer, faster way to remove snow from your car.

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Originally Published on Reader's Digest