The Myth of Warming Up Your Car

Lets get something straight.  Car engines DON’T benefit at all from being warmed up before driving.  You’re actually hurting your engine and polluting the environment the most by letting your cold engine idle.

The best thing to do is to turn the engine on, wait about 10-30 seconds (put your seat belt and music on) and start driving it lightly.  That way you are warming up the engine to it’s optimal temperature as fast as possible.

You see guys, the car engine is just a MACHINE and this MACHINE operates most efficiently when it’s running at a certain temperature range.  The faster the engine reaches that temperature, the better.  Until the car is warmed up, the engine is wearing out much faster than normal because the engine oil provides the best protection against friction between all the moving metal parts when it’s it’s completely warmed up.  Until it reaches that state, the engine is wearing out much faster than normal.  Turning the engine on and immediately driving lightly warms the car up much faster than idling.

warming up car in snow

What about during winter when it’s freezing and there’s snow?

If you have to drive in the morning, and it’s freezing, you surely might have this habit of  getting in your ice cube of a car, turning it on, and clearing all the snow off until the car is warmed up.  That way you can also get the heater going as well.  Some people even have remote-starters where they start the engine while they are still in their homes, so the car will be warmed up once they get in the car.  This is a terrible habit because your engine struggles to warm up in sub freezing temperatures, and until it does, it may take up to 15 minutes and all the while it is experiencing extreme wear and tear.

So what you do is turn your car on, wait about a minute, and then start driving it lightly.  It doesn’t need to idle for 10 minutes!

Most of the pollution put out by a car occurs when it is not sufficiently warmed up.

Every car comes equipped with something called a catalytic converter that reduces the pollution coming out of your tailpipe by 90%.

Here’s the kicker though: this device doesn’t work properly until it has been sufficiently heated.  That is why if you walk past a car that just turned on and is idling in the driveway, the fumes may be overwhelmingly bad!  Many cars nowadays are programmed to idle higher than normal for the first few minutes so that the the engine AND catalytic converter will warm up faster! So again, the faster you warm up your car by driving your car lightly, the better.

Emissions of the Past…

Every car in the US since 1976 has to have a cat installed.  This is why if you’re stuck behind a very old car you can smell and probably even SEE the soot coming out the tailpipe. 😐

Can you imagine what the air would be like if millions of cars in LA didn’t have this device?  I’ve heard from several older people that the smog used to be SO bad in the 70’s in LA that if you lived in Pasadena, you couldn’t see your own mountains because the haze was so thick.  And Pasadena, is right by the foothills.  Thankfully the air quality of California has been getting better for the past several decades despite the intense growth of the city.

The Future… is NOW! (well, in Europe anyway)stop idling, arretez!

European governments are much more proactive in laying down laws that protect the environment.  They have gone so far as to make idling illegal when you are parked anywhere from a few seconds to a minute, depending on the country you’re in.  The reason for this is very simply because it is wasteful and there is no reason why you should be polluting the air more than necessary.

In 2012, millions of cars in Europe will have idle-stop technology built in that automatically turns the engine off when you come to a stop.  And when you need to get going again, the engine will turn back on when you either let go of the brake, put the clutch in, or shift into gear. These laws exist not only because it helps extend the life of your car, but because it is just an environmentally conscious thing to do.

Anyway, I hope that helps!  And share this info regarding warming up your car with your friends and family!  Also, don’t blame me if your father yells at you for trying to change his ways. :)

-Antranik

  • Volare2008

    Funny but true….My father did teach me to warm up the car before driving and he use to do it each and every time before driving. Thanks for this updated information!

  • Dundiditt

    This is not updated information about “warming up your car is bad” the real intent of this write up is your crusade to protect the environment from pollution. I’m a M.I.T Grad and NASA Engineer. Not warming up your Car during the cold months for at least 2 minutes will shorten your Engine life. The ONLY way not warming up your car is ok is during the Summer months.

    • http://www.antranik.org/ Antranik

      No actually, the real intent of this write up is to help people get a clue that warming up the car is not necessary.  For the record, I *do* care about the environment, but the point of this was to dispel a common myth.  The environmental benefits are only a bonus.

      Now, you must explain to me your reasoning in detail if it is to be of any use to me and my readers:

      First and foremost, when you say a cold month, what temperatures are you talking about?  Please be specific with actual ambient temperatures in mind because it’s not sufficient to say “cold” and “summer” months.  Winter in Los Angeles may be the same temperature as another locations summer temperatures.

      You could have all the credentials in the world, and I respect that, but this is the Internet, I don’t have a way of verifying that and honestly they mean nothing to me unless you lay out and explain it in some detail. I am curious to hear!  Thanks.

      • Droptuned2002

        Built vehicles for Chrysler for For 14 years, engines will last a lot LONGER if you let them warm up before you drive. Once the vehicle is in gear or drive more force is applied between all moving parts that touch and the WARMER your oil, the less friction between these moving parts that have less force between them while warming at an idle in park or neutral. And put the emergency brake on for safety.

        • http://www.antranik.org/ Antranik

          I understand that warmer oil is crucial to the lubrication of the engine.  Turn­ing the engine on and imme­di­ately dri­ving lightly warms the car up much faster than idling.  To just let it idle in park or neutral will take a LOT of time for the oil to warm up.  And that is time when the engine is experiencing the most wear and tear.  Did you read the article?  I say in bold at the top that driving it lightly is the best way to warm up the engine as fast as possible.  Also, when you’re driving it lightly in the beginning, you’re also warming up the entire drivetrain (read: including the transmission) as well. 

          • http://twitter.com/floyd84 floyd84

            It may heat up faster while driving but your also putting more strain on the engine as well as running the engine faster. Who has the data that quantifies the wear on an engine between cold idle and cold running. To come to the conclusion that its better to drive is premature. You don’t have the information to accurately make that call. We also don’t know the car being used for this “test” different manufacturers will have different materials as well as different tolerances built in their engines.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1182735789 Chris Thomas

        same for you broseph… your opinion is meaningless to anyone other than yourself…K thx Bye.

      • Mark Slater

        You have no idea what you’re talking about.
        Everything in this article is based on flawed theory and assumption.
        You need to look into the effects of temperature on oil viscosity and what happens with oil with too thick in viscosity (because it’s cold). Cold, thick oil cannot flow to the places it’s needed, and driving before the oil is able to circulate freely can cause serious and irreparable damage.
        You have sited no sources, mentioned any conclusive studies, and have no individual merit to write an article about a machine that you CLEARLY do not understand. You wrote this whole thing off the top of your head, or maybe based on some information given to you by the guy at Jiffy Lube, or by a shade tree mechanic. You are wrong, wrong, wrong.

    • jakee

      and what if you have a car in the 70s a cold start will make the car not catch gears and possibly stall unless it is around 130 degrees

    • Trent Gorringe

      Misinformation;
      I agree with Dundiditt, If a car is driven without warming up it deteriorates faster.
      When the car is cold all the tolerances for the mechanical parts are bigger (bigger gaps between piston & cylinder etc). When the care is driven as opposed to idling there are higher stresses on mechanical parts. If driven in these conditions, not only is there more room for movement, the higher stresses create excess wear. Under idle conditions there are minimal stresses, therefore – less wear.

      car manufactures “try” and counter this by; higher idle, keeping the thermostat closed to warm up the coolant quicker and altering the fuel to air ratio plus other things.

      I agree it is probably better for the environment due to fast heating speeds (eg. catalytic converter) but not for your car. Newer cars do not suffer as much due to modern engineering but it is still present.

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  • saturn guy

    You are not very smart in this category i see, driving a car while ice cold puts incredible strain on all of the engines moving parts, not to mention the oil is to thick to flow through its galleys fast enough. As a mechanic i will have to say your incorrect on this one, the engine should idle no less than 5 mins in cold temps before driving…

  • Mike

    This is ridiculous logic. Of course the engine will warm up faster from driving it, but using your own logic, cold oil means the engine is put under significantly more stress until it warms up. Idling puts significantly LESS stress on the engine than driving it while it’s cold. You do more damage to your engine by not letting it warm up. Your logic makes no sense at all.

  • moparkid

    Absoluteley wrong….when your engine is idling oil is circulating…Driving it cold puts labor on a cold motor, therby wearing it out faster…andu start driving your car when its.coldit os devastating to an automatic transmission.. The oil pump in the trans has to pump/circulate trans fluid that is cold and thick like honey….Too much strain on the trans oil pump….Imagine you trying to suck honey through a straw…..DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS ADVICE….DO NOT DRIVE YOUR CAR COLD…ALWAYS WARM IT UP.!!!

  • Matt

    As a mechanic, I also completely disagree with you. While its true you don’t need to let it warm up for 15 minutes while taking a shower in the morning, its extremely important to allow at least 30 seconds for the oil to circulate into the rods, cams, and bearings. I recommend a minute or two so that the piston rings can warm and expand. 5 minutes is fine, I don’t recommend any more than 10. And even if you are late for work, I still recommend counting down from ten before you speed off.

    Its funny how many people commenting are disagreeing with you. Your info is dead wrong.

    • Rick

      @matt. Even after leaving your car in idle mode or even driving if the temp does not come to idle state but stays cold. What does it mean. I’ve got a 5 yrs old deisel car.

  • Elli

    What if there is no possible way to drive “lightly?” For example, if you live in the city, along a busy street and once you pull out of your parking space, you have to GO in order to even fit into a lane. This is my situation. In a very urban area, driving lightly is just not an option unless you want to get rear ended. So, in this situation, is it still best for me to not warm up my car on the days that I drive?

    • Yitz

      I’m just totally confused, can someone tell me what you’re supposed to do. I have a remote starter, and I was sure I was doing the right thing by using it, and I Googled this website to see how bad the damage is if I don’t use my remote, well now I totally don’t know what to do.

  • Владислав Якубов

    Wow, I don’t know why all of these people aren’t agreeing with you. Like most of Europe, here in Russia we have a law that makes idling illegal, even in parts where it gets cold. Cars here last for decades without engine problems. I am also a Mechanical Engineer and understand why a cold engine will wear faster, but as long as the proper oil is used the amount of extra wear is too small to ever notice. Just start the car and drive.

    • rad

      for a Russian mechanic you have surprisingly good English.Coincidence? You not Russian my dear friend.Wow?

    • rad

      And you put your name on the screen in azbuka? Come on man! Who you want to play? You do know nothing about Russian winters and Russian car temps.

  • Durr

    The fact an engine warms up so quickly under pressure should be telling you how important it is for the oil to be firstly heated. It’s viscosity and adhesion properties change, and until this happens, the oil being pumped over the complicated machinery inside isn’t doing the designed task. Unfortunately most new-car owners don’t keep their vehicles a long time, so by the point mechanical issues are arising at the 200,000km mark it’s simply not their problem; where as things might have been otherwise prevented until 300,000km for instance. I believe this is just as important as regular servicing. Ask how the vehicle was started next time you’re looking to buy one, and if they live next to the highway, you join the dots.

  • guyjones

    It would seem from the comments that a middle ground consensus can be reached. The author’s point is that 10 minutes of winter idling is excessive and unnecessary, for most drivers. Some commentors point out that 5 minutes and under of idling is beneficial, and, even necessary, in some driving conditions and winter environments. So, why not come to the conclusion that winter idle times should ideally range from 2 to 5 minutes?

  • E. Garrison

    I’m calling the person who wrote this article out for misinformation. You are wrong. This is simply propaganda for tree huggers.

    • http://www.antranik.org/ Antranik

      What is wrong?

  • Swanny

    Have to agree with the engineers here. I’m one as well. You mention the engine will warm up much quicker if you just start and drive off. Did the reason for this come to mind? It’s called friction, which creates heat. Because the engine isn’t getting the proper lubrication when it’s cold, there’s much more friction and hence wear. Best solution is to let it warm up under no-load.

  • Arther Sellers

    Pull out even lightly before a carbed engine is warm enough and you won’t be around to write more bullshit.

  • dennis

    Well what happens if u drive fast imidiately after starting your car?

    • http://www.antranik.org/ Antranik

      Probably not a good idea to go heavy on the pedal that early.

      • Joshua AuBuchon

        Good luck changing the mentality of the masses. However I’d like to point out one thing for the non-believers. Break out your vehicle owner’s manual (that book you never looked at or lost after buying the vehicle). Find the section on warming up the vehicle. Most will say start the car and drive being light on the accelerator till the vehicle warms up. I have a 2014 Yamaha R1, most motorcycles owners swear you have to let the bike warm up before riding… yet there it is in the owner’s manual that showing “LO” (below 100 degrees F, i.e. cold start) is fine to ride the bike. That tells me that a room full of engineers who designed this motorcycle deemed it okay to ride during warm up instead of wasting time and fuel letting it get up to temp. As for efficiency, the bike warms up in about 1/4 to 1/2 mile of riding. I had a 2004 VW GTI VR6 which the owner’s manual said the same thing, start it and drive lightly (under 3000 RPM’s). It would be warmed up within a mile or two, otherwise it sat for about 5 minutes to reach “operating” temp.

        Read your owners manuals and then think about if you’re smarter than the people who engineered and designed the vehicle.

  • margera

    Interesting. I’m from Europe and i learned from early age that idling cold is bad for your engine; we learn to take off almost immediately after starting your moped/bike/car. Then drive lightly for >10 miles and your engine will live forever.