Idling to Warm Up Your Car
By: Good2GoPublished: February 2, 2015
It’s that time of the year again. Temperatures have plummeted and wintry storms are looming. The thought of starting a morning commute without an already toasty vehicle will leave some folks shivering, but is this practice necessary? Does a car perform better after spending several minutes idling, or is it just another common misconception?
If you were to ask the average American should you idle your vehicle during winter they would answer with a resounding yes. A 2009 study by Vanderbilt University showed that a majority of Americans believe that they should idle their car for at least 5 minutes before driving in temperatures below freezing.
This thought process would have been absolutely correct…about 30 years ago. Vehicles that predate the early 90s relied heavily on carburetors, which would often stall out in frigid temperatures. A cold carburetor was not able to get the proper mix of fuel and air into the engine necessary to perform optimally. By the mid-1990s car manufacturers did away with carburetors in favor of electronic fuel injection systems, which use sensors, making idling your vehicle nonessential. The truth of the matter is “modern” engines warm up faster when being driven.
The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency are quick to point out there are several benefits to not idling your vehicle:
Avoid wasted fuel consumption
The DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory concluded that idling a car for 5 minutes will increase fuel consumption by 7-14%, while a 10 minute warm-up will increase fuel consumption by a whopping 12-19%. There’s no need to burn precious fuel before we even leave our driveway!
Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
An idling vehicle releases approximately one pound of carbon dioxide every 10 minutes. Carbon dioxide, the leading contributor to global warming, makes up over 1.6 percent of all US greenhouse gas emissions. That is more than the combined emissions of the iron and steel manufacturing industry. It may be impossible to avoid idling in traffic, especially on today’s roads, but idling in the winter is completely avoidable.
So we now know idling isn’t the answer, but is there any other ways we can combat Mother Nature’s wrath?
Fuel Economy in the Winter
Tests show that vehicle gas mileage nosedives during winter months. An EPA/DOE test concluded, “…in a short-trip city driving, a conventional gasoline car’s gas mileage is about 12% lower at 20°F than it would be at 77°F. It can drop as much as 22% for very short trips.” There are several wintry factors that contribute to these numbers.
What effects does the cold have on your vehicle?
- Increase in engine and transmission friction due to cold fluids
- Less-than-optimal engine temperatures, which will only improve as driving distance increases
- Increase in aerodynamic drag, particularly on highways and areas of increased speed
- Decrease in tire pressure
- Poor battery performance making it more difficult to keep a battery charged
- Gasoline grades used in the winter can have less energy per gallon than those used in summer months
- Deceased tire grip on roads affected by snow, ice, and sleet
These factors along with a handful of others lead to decreased fuel efficiency. Below are some simple things you can do to counteract the cold’s effects:
- Keep your car parked in warmer places (i.e. your garage or even a parking garage)
- Avoid short, unnecessary trips
- Check and maintain your tire pressure to manufacturer standards
- Use manufacturer recommended oil for cold weather
- Remove any external accessories (roof racks, storage bins, bicycle racks)
What rules do you follow during the winter months that help improve your vehicle’s performance? Do you still idle your vehicle on bitterly cold days? Share your stories with us in our comment section below!
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