Reader Question: Cold Starts?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply! 

Scott asks: It is bitterly cold out in my area and it is almost painful for me to start my car in such weather. Is it actually painful for my car?

My reply: It’s harder on your car’s engine, for sure – because the oil which is its lifeblood has thickened in response to the cold. To see this for yourself, pour some oil from a jug or quart container into a glass measuring cup or beaker on a warm day; it’ll flow easily, almost like water. Now leave it outside on a really cold night. Then see how is pours. The difference will be obvious.

But it will be even more obvious with non-synthetic oil, which is affected more by cold than synthetic in terms of how much it thickens up in relation to cold. So, one big thing you can do to make life easier on your engine is to use synthetic oil – and change it at least as often as the factory-minimum changeout intervals as clean oil also flows better than sludgy old oil.

If possible, park your car in the garage as even an unheated garage is much warmer than the unheated outdoors.

Another thing to consider – if you live in a very cold area – is an electric heater to keep the oil from getting as cold as the unheated outdoors. These generally insert into the oil dipstick or you slap a magnetic heating pad on the bottom of the oil pan. These are commonly used in places that get really cold, like parts of Canada, Alaska and so on.

The other thing you can do is be gentle to your car for the first 10 minutes or so of driving. Modern cars don’t need to “warm up” like older cars (the really old ones, with carburetors and chokes) so there’s no need to sit in the driveway idling. You should start driving shortly after you start the engine – but don’t drive hard. It still takes 5-10 minutes for the engine to reach thermal equilibrium – everything at normal operating temp- and until it does, it’s best to keep a light foot if you want along life out of your engine (and transmission and drive axle, too).

. . . .

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Today I learned: you need to let your stereo speakers warm up, too.

    In my new-to-me 2013 Hyundai Tucson, I left the house this morning at -9F. I set my route on Waze (for the alerts: I know the way without GPS), and started the playlist on my iPhone, which pairs perfectly even with this 8 year old stereo.

    I didn’t have the sound turned up, but I noticed that it sounded tinny. All mid-range and higher, very little bass. I didn’t think about it too much except making a note to check it out later.

    About 30 miles later, as the interior was fully warm, the music sounded normal.

    I assume the foam surrounds on the woofers doesn’t want to move freely when it’s subzero.

  2. Tires and shocks also need time to warm up, and that doesn’t happen by idling the engine. Gentle driving until everything is warm, helps everything last longer.

  3. I would suggest a block heater that is inserted into the cooler line is a better option as it circulates the fluids around rather than cook the fluids. As coolant is less viscous even in the cold, the coolant would move the heat around more evenly than heating a viscous fluid at just one point.

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