I was driving around six AM to substitute teach at Unified School District of De Pere’s middle school, about 63 miles from my home, and I heard on the radio that it is NOT recommended to start or warm up one’s car during the winter months. That really sparked my interest because myself and a lot of other Wisconsinites more than likely started his or her car before venturing out in the blistering cold weather. The question that is proposed on this post is it better to start one’s car five to 10 minutes or just start the car cold turkey and travel to the desired destination? I will dismiss the many myths that people think that starting a car early is beneficial, how it may harm the engine, and how it actually increases the wear and tear on your automobile.
The idea behind the car myth began with a kernel of truth. The conventional wisdom that you should let a car idle up to operating temperature comes from the days of a carburetor engine. Most vehicles built before 1995 used a carburetor, a device that combined air and fuel. However, the United States automobile industry changed over to a fuel injection method in the 80s and 90s, eliminating the need for the carburetor.
Cars use, today, an internal combustion engine that works by using pistons to compress a mixture of air and vaporized fuel within a cylinder. The compressed mixture is then ignited to create a combustion event—a little controlled explosion—that powers the engine.
Many Americans believe that idling your car warms up the engine but that is 110% wrong. One study in 2009, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421509001633, found that on average, Americans thought she or he should let the car idle for more than five minutes when the temperature reaches below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. When the engine is cold, gasoline is less likely to evaporate and create the correct ratio of air and vaporized fuel for combustion thus impeding engine ignition.
Another downfall to starting a car early is the life of components in one’s engine like piston rings and cylinder liners can be significantly reduced by gasoline washing away the lubricating oil, not to mention the extra fuel that is used while the engine runs rich. Driving your car is the fastest way to warm the engine up to 40 degrees so it switches back to a normal fuel to air ratio. Even though warm air generated by the radiator will flow into the cabin after a few minutes, idling does surprisingly little to warm the actual engine.
“That is a problem because you are actually putting extra fuel into the combustion chamber to make it burn and some of it can creap onto the cylinder walls,” Stephen Ciatti, a mechanical engineer who specializes in combustion engines at the Argonne National Laboratory (http://www.anl.gov/). He further states, “Gasoline is an outstanding solvent and it can actually wash oil off the walls if you run it in those cold idle conditions for an extended period of time.”
Cars do get worse fuel economy when it is really cold out, at least 12 percent less fuel-efficient, according to Environmental Protection Agency and Energy (http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/coldweather.shtml) Department. And it does take longer for the engine to warm up and reach an optimal driving temperature in cold weather but it also does not prolong the life of your engine; in fact, it decreases it by stripping oil away from the engine’s cylinders and pistons.
Of course, hopping into your car and gunning it straightaway will put unnecessary strain as well on your engine. It takes a short time for your engine to warm up, so take it nice and easy for the first part of your drive. The best thing to do is start the car, take a minute to knock the ice off your windows, and get going.