Reality Check: How long should you warm up your car?

EDMONTON – There’s no denying it, old man winter has arrived with a vengeance.

Temperatures in the Edmonton region have sat below the average mark for several days now, and you may see more people pre-warming their wheels.

The practice of warming up your vehicle in these cold weather conditions varies from person to person. To some, 20 minutes seems excessive. To others, five minutes isn’t enough.

But, according to experts, for a newer model vehicle with the proper winter oil, 30 seconds may be all you need.

Warming up your car “is not as critical as it used to be,” said Chris Pouliot, a service advisor at Integra Tire. “The emissions systems that we were concerned about in the past operate much more efficiently than they ever have before.”

“For the most part, it only takes about 30 seconds to a minute to be up to operating temperature.”

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Older models of vehicles, or ones without winter-specific oils may need a little longer, according to Pouliot.

“Temperature is really key in getting them to run properly,” he continued. “In colder temperatures, they would have a tendency to stall, and then would be difficult to start.”

So how long should those vehicles idle in the cold? Certainly not 15 minutes, and not 10 minutes either.

“I like to warm up mine enough so that the windows don’t frost up, and that’s about all we need.”

Excessive warm-ups have no additional benefit for your vehicle’s engine, said Pouliot, and also decrease total fuel efficiency for your trip.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that, in general, vehicles are already about 12 per cent less fuel efficient in the cold, even if they’ve been warmed up for just five minutes.

And, a study by Environment Canada found warming up your car for 10 minutes ends up decreasing your fuel efficiency by an additional five per cent, for the same trip as the five-minute warm-up. Environment Canada states that “usually no more than two to three minutes of idling is enough warm-up time needed for the average vehicle before starting to drive.”

Pouliot said when in doubt, consult with your mechanic or manufacturer. But, for the most part, excessive idling is a myth that’s been busted.


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