Myth check: Does warming the car help the engine?

10 months 1 week 3 days ago Thursday, December 07 2017 Dec 7, 2017 Thursday, December 07, 2017 6:41:00 PM CST December 07, 2017 in News
By: Aaron K. Ladd, KOMU 8 Reporter
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COLUMBIA - Cold weather months usually mean adding a couple extra minutes to your morning routine to warm up the car. Drivers who idle their cars - or run the engine without driving - believe it is necessary to bring the car back up to its normal operating temperature.

However depending on who you ask, some believe idling gets you nowhere fast.

"The fastest way to warm up a car is to accelerate," said Justin Dumas of All-Star Automotive. "By warming up your car you're basically wasting fuel, and you could potentially do more damage to a modern engine than if you would just get in it and go."

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, nearly 3 billion gallons of fuel are wasted per year due to idling. A 2015 EPA report stated idling for more than 10 minutes does more harm than good. 

Dumas said ultimately the debate on whether "to warm or not to warm" comes down to a variety of factors including your vehicle's specific year and model and what type of oil your car uses. 

"Oil and car technology has gotten so much better through the growth of semi and full synthetics," Dumas said. "The oil is the key. [Synthetic oils] don't get as thick in cold weather as your typical conventional oil. These newer oils stay thin so there's really no need to warm up the car." 

The faster oil can travel to and though the engine, the faster your car's temperature begins to rise. Synthetic oil blends were introduced in the late 80's and are now commonplace. Domas said only about 1 percent of his customers still use conventional oil.

Despite advances in automotive technology, Chris Fulk of A-Z Auto Repair said it's better to be safe than sorry. "Personally I like to warm the vehicle up," he said.

"Your car's lubrication, coolant levels and defrosters are all affected by the temperature," Fulk said. "I think people get the wrong idea, they think it's a new car, you ought to be able to just get in and go, and that's just not the case."

Across the U.S., county and state governments have passed anti-idling laws aimed at reducing waste. For example, St. Louis City municipality prohibits idling for more than 10 minutes.

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