The Truth About Warming Up Your Car’s Engine In Cold Weather

With old man Winter upon us, the annual age-old question rears its frozen head again. Should I warm my car up before driving off and if so, for how long?

The Answer

The answer really depends on whom you ask. The pros and cons of warming up your car, or how long one should let it warm up, evoke heated responses from both sides of the issue.


If you have listened to the radio over the last decade you have more than likely been exposed to the radio program Car Talk starring the famous Tappet brothers. Tom and Ray Tappet talk cars for a living and as dual MIT grads, people listen.

One listener who phoned in was having a dispute with her boyfriend about whether warming up the car engine in the winter was necessary. Additionally, she wanted to know if any harm could be done by warming it up too little or for too long. In a nutshell, here’s what they said to her.

No, Do Not Warm Up Your Car Before Driving

Ray Tappet states it is not necessary to warm your car up on cold days for longer than 30 seconds to a minute, max. His reasoning is that most modern cars (made within the last 20 years) have a fuel-injection system that delivers fuel more efficiently than the older engines that have a carburetor and don’t require the warm-up time of old.

Ray goes on to say that with older, carbureted cars, there is even potential for damage to the engine as you run the risk of diluting the oil with excess fuel.

Additionally, he says that when you let your car warm up for five or ten minutes all you are really doing is wasting gas, increasing pollution and contributing to global warming.

That’s what he says but others disagree.

Yes, By All Means, Warm it Up!

More than one mechanic takes issue with brother Tappet’s assessment.

One mechanic states that by warming the car up for a few minutes, the oil (which gets thicker in cold weather) has time to be heated and become thinner for better distribution throughout the engine. Another claims that by warming the engine for five minutes or so you burn off the water condensation in the oil that occurs when hot oil cools.

And the Correct Answer is…

As with many debatable issues in life, there appear to be pros and cons on the subject. When the experts disagree, what are we to do?

Whatever works best for you is right. Some people enjoy getting into a warm car on a cold morning when it has run long enough to produce heat. If you aren’t one of those people, do what some experts advise; let the car warm up for between thirty seconds and a minute then drive off slowly. The car will warm up sooner being driven than idling in the driveway.

Bottom line, it’s your call to make. Just remember, you’re going to take some heat either way. Pun intended.

posted November 26, 2015

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