In Winter, Should I Let My Car Idle to Warm Up Before Driving?

This is a topic that often pops up, especially in a cold Holly, MI winter. It is a longstanding tradition to fire up the car in the morning and let it idle for 10 to 20 minutes before driving it in to work on a cold morning. Auto owners have been told that allowing their car to gently warm up this way will help reduce wear and tear. But is any of this true? Not anymore! Here is what you really need to know about idling your car in the winter.

How Does the Engine Work?

Basically, a combustion engine works by using pistons in a cylinder to compress a mixture of vaporized fuel and air. A spark then ignites the fuel and the controlled explosion is what powers your engine. When temperatures are cold, the gasoline is less likely to evaporate to create the right ratio of vaporized fuel and air.

Why Did People Idle Their Cars in the Past?

The conventional practice of idling your car before driving goes back to the days of carburetors. These needed a few minutes of idling until they reached an optimal operating temperature to run smoothly. Otherwise, if you tried to drive one of those in the cold, you might not get the proper air to fuel mixture and your car would stall out.

Why is Idling a Problem in Newer Vehicles?

During the 80s and 90s, manufacturers did away with carburetors. Instead, newer engines have sensors on the electronic fuel injectors. These help compensate for the cold by pumping more gasoline. The engine will run a little rich and idle perfectly until the car heats up to proper operating temperatures and the sensors readjust. The problem is that a car idling doesn’t warm up as fast as a car driving. By letting your car idle under cold conditions while the engine is running rich, the gasoline can actually strip the oil from the cylinder walls. This breaks down the lubrication and can increase the wear on your engine. The life of cylinder liners and piston rings will be greatly reduced. Not to mention the gasoline you waste while your car sits idle

To Idle or Not to Idle?

If you are operating an older car without an electronic control unit (ECU) adjusting the fuel injectors, then by all means, idle your car 10 to 15 minutes to let the engine warm up. But if you have a newer car (built within the last 30 years or so) it probably has an ECU. You can fire up the engine, clear your windows of ice or frost, and then drive your car. You may choose to idle your car for comfort and safety, allowing the heating system time to warm up. Just know that you don’t need 10 to 20 minutes for this to be effective. Three should suffice. Starting your car and gunning it right away can also wear out the engine. So while it is advisable to get your car moving, take the first 5 to 15 minutes easy until the engine reaches optimal driving temperatures.

If you have any more questions about idling and auto repairs in Holly, MI contact us. The employees of Holly Tire will give you honest and reliable advice and service so you can drive safely on the road this winter. Know something is wrong with the way your car drives or idles? Bring it in to 15140 N. Holly Rd. Holly, MI 48442 as soon as possible.

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