Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
Troy asks: When I was a kid, I remember seeing people regularly using block heaters to help warm up their cars in winter. I don’t see them as much anymore. Any reason for that?
My reply: It depends on where you happen to be. If you live in an area where the winters are hard and long, you’ll still see extension cords running from inside the house to the car outside.
And under the hood.
The idea is to reduce cold-start wear and to increase the life of the battery, which works extra-hard t start a car when it’s significantly colder than freezing outside. The heater is usually a magnetic pad you slap onto the bottom of the oil pan or something that slips into the oil dipstick or radiator, depending on the type. These don’t really keep the engine warm – they just keep it from achieving “thermal equilibrium” with the outside air temp!
But you may not see them as much – chiefly because modern fuel-injected cars start easier than the carbureted cars of the now-distant past (cars have been fuel-injected since the late 1980s) and “warm up” much faster.
In the old (carbureted) days, it could take several minutes in very cold weather for the idle to stabilize, the choke to release and the car warmed-up enough to drive easily. Today, it’s sound policy to begin driving almost immediately after the engine is started.
But it’s still good policy to drive the car gently for the first several minutes, in order to give the rest of the drivetrain (and lubricated parts) time to get lubed-up and warmed up.
A tip: If the vehicle has a manual transmission, gently ease out the clutch (with the shifter in neutral) and let the engine idle a moment or so before driving off. This will circulate lube inside the transmission, which should result in noticeably smoother shifting on very cold days and probably help reduce wear and tear on the transmission, too.
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