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To Warm or Not to Warm

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On: Fri, Jan 31, 2014 at 4:08PM | By: Karen Cook

To Warm or Not to Warm

It’s cold in Ogden, Utah. It’s cold over a good portion of the United States right now. The residents in Ogden (and possibly where you live) are doing what many people do—starting their cars before they are ready to drive them in order to “warm them up.” This activity raises a few questions about the safety, necessity, and effectiveness of doing so.

Starting with the safety, there is no danger in warming up your car as far as your person goes. The cabin will not fill with fumes and suffocate you when you get in, unless perhaps you leave the windows down in a closed garage. The environment doesn’t benefit from your vehicle idling in your driveway, but it also doesn’t suffer drastically. The biggest issue with leaving your car running in your driveway is theft, as Ogdenites found out to their dismay. Out of the 82 stolen cars in Ogden in the last three months, 36 of them were cars left running while no one was in them. Not only did the owners lose the vehicle, they paid fines of $40 each because this is illegal in Utah. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Now about the necessity of warming up. According to an abundance of often conflicting information, it depends on the age of your car. Older cars ran a little better and engines lasted a little longer when the engines were warmed up before leaving the driveway, but newer cars have engines that receive no boost from sitting at idle. In extremely cold climates it’s a good idea to drive slowly as the engine warms, but there is no need to leave it running before driving. It also wastes gas.

The big issue though is the comfort of people in the vehicle. How effective is this practice in warming the cabin? Not very, unfortunately. Again this depends somewhat on the age of your car. Older cars may warm the cabin a little if left running for a while, but modern cars do not heat up sufficiently at idle for a significant period of time to warm the cabin. Idling is the slowest way to heat up a modern engine. Driving makes the engine work harder and, therefore, the engine warms faster.

If getting into a warm car is a high priority for you, it might be wise to take the money you’re wasting on gas and invest it in a car with heated seats and steering wheel.

To recap, warming your engine is wasteful, slow, and could lead to your car being stolen. As John Harvey of the Ogden PD says, “A cold car is better than no car.”


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