As fall turns to winter, the days get colder and the nights get longer. Icy windshields and particularly cold engines will become a regular morning occurrence. Like many motorists this time of year, you may feel compelled to turn your vehicle on and let it idle for a while before you head out on the wintery roads. But, what if we told you that this may be doing more harm than good to your engine?

It has been a long-held belief that you need to “warm up“ your vehicle on cold winter mornings. However, this is just not the case, especially if your vehicle was manufactured after 1980.  Here we will explain why so many people still hold on to the belief that idling on cold winter mornings is best for their engine, and why that particular myth should be busted.

Old Habits Die Hard

Much of the advice we receive in our lives is handed down generation to generation. Car care advice isn’t any different. Before the 1980s most vehicles had carburetors. These kinds of engines did require the driver to allow them to warm up in the winter. The reason for this, according to The Washington Post, is that carburetors would regulate the air-fuel mixture in the engine and it was not able to do this accurately in cold weather.  When the temperature dropped, the carburetor was unable to vaporize all of the gasoline that was let into the engine. This meant that some of the gasoline would be left as a liquid instead of being burned off during combustion. In short, the carburetor needed time to warm up in order to work properly, or it was possible you would end up stalling out.

As vehicle technology improved over the decades, old and unnecessary habits remained, and outdated advice was passed down.

New Technology = New Habits

Today, nearly every car sold in the US has an electric fuel injection system, instead of a carburetor, to help keep the perfect air-fuel mixture your vehicle needs for a combustion event. This system has sensors that regulate the air-fuel mixture in “real time,” no matter what the outside temperature is. What this means is, warming up your vehicle before you drive it on a cold winter morning is no longer necessary.

Automotive manufacturers today insist that vehicles that contain these fuel injection systems do not need time to idle and can be driven at start up. Environmental organizations, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), advise drivers to not idle for more than 30 seconds before driving, even on winter days.

More Reasons to Avoid Idling

Like we said above, old habits die hard. If the understanding that today’s technology makes it unnecessary to idle isn’t enough to convince you, maybe one of the following reasons will.

  • Idling can cause engine damage. When you idle your vehicle in the cold, it strips oil from important engine components, such as the pistons and cylinders, that help your engine run. When oil is stripped, then more friction is created, which could cause damage to the engine shortening its life.
  • The engine takes longer to warm when you idle. What most people don’t realize is that your vehicle heats up faster when you are driving it. It takes most vehicles between five and 15 minutes driving for their engines to reach their ideal temperature, so avoid putting unnecessary stress on the engine and avoid “flooring it” for a short time. Ease into your driving routine.
  • It costs you money. Not only can idling result in costly engine damage, but it wastes a lot of gas. Wasting gas is like throwing money out the window. There was a study in 2009 that estimated that Americans waste aroun$5.9 billion a year on gas for idling alone.
  • It’s bad for the environment. The same study we mentioned above found that 1.6 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the US come from idling cars.

As you can see, today, idling your vehicle can result in more harm than good. Do your wallet and your vehicle a favor this winter and try cutting idling out of your routine in the morning. If you have any concerns with your vehicle going into the cold season, please schedule an appointment at Meridian Automotive today. We provide complete automotive repair in Meridian, Idaho, for most cars, light trucks, and SUV’s. For over 20 years we’ve been Meridian’s auto repair experts. Don’t just trust anyone with your automotive repair needs, trust the experts at Meridian Automotive. Call us today (208) 297-5573 or schedule an appointment online.

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