Best Ways to Safely Warm Up Your Vehicle on Cold Days

Cold winter days are a normal part of life every year for drivers in Illinois. There are some well-established truths, but also time-honored myths, about the best ways to safely warm up your vehicle on those cold days.

Beyond warming up the cabin or defrosting the windshield, letting the vehicle sit idling for an extended period of time is not recommended. This practice can lead to wasting fuel and generating needless emissions into the atmosphere. Older engines weren’t well lubricated with oil, so in the past warming up the car through several minutes of idling was the norm. But today, modern cars have improved technology and engines are fully lubricated within 20 to 30 seconds. 

When temperatures drop, it’s a good idea to let the car run for about a minute before driving. The fastest way to warm up an engine is by driving, but just remember to go easy and not rev it up to high speeds until the temperature gauge starts moving. 

Normal driving for 5-10 minutes warms up your car faster than idling, and cars run more efficiently at normal operating temperatures. Long idle times waste fuel and cause increased wear and tear on components. 

Driving safely during the winter months also involves making sure your windshield is clear of ice, snow, and debris. Using the defroster to heat up the windshield and keeping an ice scraper and snow brush in the vehicle can expedite the process. 

How about driving an electric vehicle? Warming up the car before you unplug and drive away with an EV is advisable because it helps preserve battery range. If you enter a cold car and begin driving, the vehicle will use stored electricity to warm up the interior, taxing the battery and decreasing driving range. To preserve battery range for driving on cold days, remain plugged in and let your EV run for a few minutes before leaving to allow the cabin to warm up. Using a level 2 charger also helps preserve battery range.  

Here are some additional tips for safely warming your vehicle on cold winter days: 

  • If your vehicle is parked in a garage, ensure the garage door is open before warming up your vehicle.
  • In major cities, officials restrict how long drivers can idle their vehicles. These limits can be as short as three minutes. Those found in violation could face fines.
  • Parking in an insulated or heated garage can help your vehicle be ready to run quicker.
  • For vehicles parked in a garage, plug in a spare electric blanket, place the blanket over the engine, and close the hood on top of the blanket.
  • Remote start devices can be problematic because they promote engine idling for several minutes.

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