Winter Nights in a Cold Car

My dad taught me to warm my car up at night when temps were predicted to be below -10! Long story short–spent many a winter night sitting in cold car warming it up until temp gauge on dash showed normal range. Northern Illinois has been mild for a long time but tonight and tomorrow night suppose to be below -10. Do I still need to go sit in a cold car and run it?? Dad gone, need advice.

No, you don’t still need to do that. You never needed to do that.
(I assume that you mean you go out, warm the car up, shut it off, and come back inside.)

With today’s motor oils, you just need to get the oil circulating to the valve gear in the top part of the engine, then you can drive off, slowly first. Modern engines with fuel injection are better and FASTER warmed up with some load on them.

When cars had carburetors and chokes, you had to warm them up to some extent to avoid sputtering and hesitation. The city where I live has a no idling rule for its employees; just long enough for the engines to run smoothly.

Common sense will dictate that if your windows are all frosted up, you will want to clear them first before driving off!

During the last cold spell, it was -22F and we were at a friend’s house for a party. Before going home, I went out and started up the car and ran it for a few minutes before leaving, so that my wife would appreciate some heat.

One thing your father probably told you was how important oil viscosity is. In the Northern states, your heaviest oil should be 5W30 in the winter, preferably 0W30 synthetic. It flows at -55F and will lubricate the bearings very quickly, allowing you to take off after 20 seconds of idling!

Yep! And I remember sitting in my car close to midnight and wondering if I could freeze to death before the car warmed up. Then going back into the house and trying to warm up enough to get to sleep! Was always afraid if I didn’t do this my car wouldn’t start and it would be my fault. So I can stay in and stay warm tonight?

No, that’s actually hard on the car, puts lots of water and gas into the oil when operated at no load in cold conditions.

Read the OP’s post. They’re not driving off in the car, just warming it up and leaving it. It serves no purpose.

Yes, stay in tonight. It will be better for you, and better for your car. (Sitting there idling with no purpose only adds wear to it.)

Thanks! I’m looking forward to staying in my warm house tonight now! I know vehicles have changed a lot but you know how we tend to honor what our parents taught us. I actually have a new vehicle so figured I was safe but…

Why not start the car, check to make sure all is well, then go in the house and stay warm for 15 minutes? Why do you have to stay in the car? If you’re afraid of it being stolen, start it with a spare key and lock it.

Warming up a car’s engine before you drive the car is not necessary.

Above zero (F) you should wait maybe 15-30 seconds before driving. Below zero maybe a minute or minute-and-a-half, but that’s all you need. The engine and transmission will warm up more quickly (and you’ll get interior heat sooner) if you drive GENTLY for the first few miles.

Sitting in a cold car waiting for its engine to reach normal operating temperature wastes fuel and does NOT help the car. Remember, even if you warm up the engine, the transmission and everything else is still ice cold. Not good.

Start the engine, wait briefly, and then drive gently until the engine and transmission warm up. This is the best way to warm up a car.

Dad was from the old school (as are some of us), and there was a time when his advice was correct, but it was a long time ago. He meant well, but times and technology have changed.

Stop wasting your time and money warming up your engine. It’s not necessary.

If you’re warming it up at night, thinking this will help the next morning, you’re REALLY wasting your time. Dads are great, but sometimes they’re just plain wrong, and this is one of those times. Stay inside and stay warm.

I was told that I needed to be out there in case something went wrong with the car! I live in a VERY rural community and we never locked the car. Times have changed.

You didn’t read too closely either. They are not driving or going to drive the car. Instead they were told the car needed to be warmed up and then shut down in order for it to survive the cold night. All very untrue.

Sorry; I could not fathem why anyone would just want to sit in a car to warm it up! If you want your car warmed up, install a block heater and an electric interior car warmer. That way the car will stay warm all night and be ready for you in the morning.

Agree, just warming it up serves no purpose iof you are not driving off in it!

In the summer we had a post from a person who wanted to trailer his car,with the trailered car running,occupied by his pets (as I remember the trip would be 10hrs or so) such a range of activites related to the automobile.

In extreme conditions engines are left running,shut down only for service (saw that on the History Channel,story about making the AlCan Highway)

When we lived in north dakota people without block heaters were on the every 4 hours for 10 or 15 minutes, at -15 or greater. I think engines are better these days, but I am pretty sure at -15 tonight there will be a number of cars tomorrow that don’t start. Would they start if they did the every 4 hour thing I do not know, I use a block heater.

When we were going into a long spell of really cold weather (back in the 70s I think) my dad did put a block heater in his car. I still have the outlet outside my back door. But I have done the every 4 hour thing when it was cold in the 90s and my car kept me going that winter. I do have a new car so hoping for the best. We just haven’t been this cold in over 10 years.

Maybe you guys are right, but in the Midwest in the past, when it got down to -30 degrees, once in a blue moon, and I drove old cars, I did exactly that. Every four hours go out and warm it up, and in the morning it started. Neighbors with old cars who did not do that had a dead car in the morning.

Car parked outside, no garage, and older.

At work those who showed up either had newer cars, or garage, or some other help. Those with old cars who had to park outside who came to work all did what I did.

The only difference was, I had warm coats and did not suffer waiting for it to warm up.

A newer car in good shape with maintenance pulled should not hesitate at -10. Nor, perhaps at -30. Not everyone at every stage of life can afford a late model car.

This sort of cold did not happen even once a year. It was very rare.

Those who say this accomplishes nothing, well, I suggest you are guessing.

And, I would say the dad learned this with old cars, years ago, and was not able to shift gears for newer cars. Or, perhaps never owned one.

Thanks! Your reply is much appreciated. Temps are suppose to get down to -20 tomorrow night. I will probably put on my full-length down coat, ear muffs, hat, gloves, scarf, and go warm my car. Based on others I may drive around town a couple of times (boundaries of town not quite 2 miles in total). Stay warm!

Why not have a remote starter installed. They’re on a timer, so the most they should run is like 10~15 minutes and then automatically shut off. Do this before you leave in the morning and you should be ok. But I wouldn’t let it warm up that long, 5 minutes at most unless you’re gonna be scraping off the windows too.

Could I use that at night to warm it just to make sure it will actually start again in the morning?? (See above about the 4 hr shift for starting car.) Sounds like a good idea if I could use it to guarantee it will start again in the morning. Or should they only be used to get it started warming before you take off in the morning?