If you’re like most Americans living in a cold part of the country, sliding into a toasty warm car is a luxury in every sense of the word.
According to the Washington Post, aside from warming up the interior, the tradition of idling cars when it’s cold out originated from maximizing fuel efficiency, as cars are less fuel efficient when it’s cold. Older cars, in particular, needed time to “warm up” due to the carburetor, which if not adequately warmed could cause the car to stall.
A 2009 study found that Americans believed a car should idle for more than five minutes when temperatures were below 32 degrees. Due to the carburetor’s replacement by the fuel injection, however, idling no longer serves a purpose. According to experts, cars warm up more quickly when being driven versus idling, reported WaPo.
NPR “Car Talk” host Ray Magliozzi agreed, suggesting cars idle no longer than 30 seconds:
“You know, if it’s 20 degrees out, which I consider normal weather for the winter, you should get in your car, start it up and drive it away. The oil is diluted already ’cause it’s been improved. And the fuel injection makes sure the car runs well. It’s not going to stall out and refuse to start. So yeah, get in it, and drive it. And it’ll warm it up faster because when the engine is doing the work of pushing the car…”
The car expert added: “It warms up a lot faster than when it’s just sitting there in your driveway.”
According to Cincinnati’s WCPO, in colder months it’s important for drivers to check fluid levels and make sure all four tires have enough air, as it escapes more easily in the cold.
AAA spokesperson Jennifer Moore told WCPO cars that have been idle for several days during cold temperatures should be started out of precaution. Windows should always be defrosted, regardless of how long the car must run beforehand, too, the San Francisco Globe reports.
Despite this information, getting into a freezing cold car doesn’t have much appeal, does it?