3 Engine Cold Start Urban Legends


Winter can hit your car with a wallop as cold temperatures, snow, and ice, all conspire to stress your vehicle’s various systems. Over the years a virtual cottage industry in folk wisdom as it pertains to winter maintenance and driving habits has sprung up across Canada, with friends and neighbours sharing tips in a bid to get through the chilly season as smoothly as possible.

Unfortunately, a fair chunk of that shared info – especially with regards to ‘warming up’ a motor – isn’t always accurate. Let’s take a quick look at 3 cold start urban legends that simply aren’t to be believed.

Your Car Needs To Warm Up

There’s actually grain of truth to this particular belief – but only under one very specific set of circumstances. If you own an older vehicle that still makes use of a carburetor, then yes, you do have to warm up your engine to proper operating temperature before heading out on the road in order to generator proper power in an efficient manner.

For everyone else – and keep in mind that the last carbureted vehicles sold in any appreciable numbers disappeared back in the 1990s – there’s absolutely no need to wait for a vehicle to be completely warmed up to drive. Fuel injected automobiles use a computer and a set of sensors to adjust how much gas they need to use based on ambient and internal temperatures, which means your vehicle will run just fine when it’s dead cold out.

Cold Engines Use More Gas

Again, this is ‘true,’ in the sense that, on average, winter’s chill reduces a gas engine’s efficiency by about 12 percent. The thing is, letting your engine idle to warm it up before heading out on the road doesn’t help at all. Natural Resources Canada looked into the issue by testing three vehicles at -18 degrees Celsius, and discovered that the longer each vehicle idled, the more fuel was wasted during the drive immediately afterward.

In short: your engine is going to use more fuel in the winter time, but ‘warming it up’ isn’t going to change that. In fact, it will just make it worse.

Block Heaters ‘Weaken’ Your Engine

Engine block heaters can be a boon in parts of the country where temperatures regularly hit -30 degrees Celsius. By keeping the engine oil and the block itself warm, these heaters help reduce friction wear caused by cold starts, extend battery life, and lower starter load.

There are some who might tell you that once you start ‘plugging in’ you vehicle, however, you’ll always have to do so for the rest of your ownership period as the engine ‘gets used’ to be warm and won’t start under any other conditions. There’s simply no science to back up these claims, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of a block heater when the weather turns ugly.

Check out all the engine products available on napacanada.com or trust one of our 600 NAPA AUTOPRO shops for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on cold engine starts, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.

By Benjamin Hunting

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