Should I idle my car to warm it up?

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Should you or shouldn’t you? This is the question. Many articles have been written about this topic. Some suggest you to warm it up before driving in the winter, while others  say you don’t have to do that. The more you read about this topic the more confused you get and you keep asking yourself: Which one is the right thing to do? What should I do?

Well, I hope that by the end of this article you will have all the facts and information you will need in order to decide which is the right thing to do.

Is having to warm up your car before driving in cold weather a myth?

Until the late 80’s, most cars’ fuel delivery was regulated by a carburetor, which required a certain period of time to warm up in order to properly function. Nowadays, modern cars have the ability to adapt to various weather changes due to their electronic fuel injection, which gets the right air and fuel mix. That is why is it kind of ridiculous to still think that cars need several minutes to warm up.

When you are used to doing something (like idling your car), it will be hard to change your mind and do the contrary.  And when it comes to popular myths, it gets even harder to change people’s mind.  But for our own good, it is better to know whether we are basing our actions and behavior on a myth or not, in order to open our eyes and realize the reality.

So let’s face the myths.
#1: Before driving you should always idle your car for several minutes.

Now, this myth may have been the standard rule to follow, and might have been very useful, but that was many years ago, before the electronic ignition system became universal. Now, when cars use this system, this rule definitely turns into a myth. Idling your car for several minutes before driving it is outdated thing to do.

#2: Idling your car before driving helps the engine operate more efficiently.

This is totally wrong. In fact, idling your car for several minutes before you drive it damages your engine’s efficiency. With time you will notice that the more minutes you spend idling your car, the more the engine’s performance degrades.  And that is not all. Over time your vehicle’s engine will be forced to operate in a gasoline-rich mode and your car’s mileage will reduce.

Now some questions and answers.

Should I let my car warm up before I drive, and for how long?

Of course you should let your car warm up, but no more than 30 seconds, otherwise you will not only damage your car, but the environment as well. Here is an excerpt from an article by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality Frequent Questions http://www.epa.gov/otaq/about/faq.htm:

“When a car idles for more than 30 seconds, it has several negative effects, such as increasing air pollution unnecessarily, wasting fuel and money, and causing excessive wear or even damaging a car’s engine components, including cylinders, spark plugs, and the exhaust system. Contrary to popular belief, idling isn’t an effective way to warm up most car engines. Today’s automobile manufacturers recommend driving off right away and urge that drivers wait no more than 30 seconds to begin driving, even on the coldest days.”

As you can see, modern engines only need 30 seconds of idling before they can be safely driven. After 30 seconds, the car will start warming up even faster when you start driving it because driving will not only warm up the engine but all the other mechanical parts of the car as well. Actually, it is faster and safer to warm up your car by idling it for 30 seconds and driving off slowly in the first 3-5 minutes than leave it idle for several minutes.

What rpm should a car idle at?

The average idle speed is between 500 and 900 rpm, but I cannot tell you for sure at what speed you should idle at. It really depends on your specific car, because idle speed is not the same for every car. It also depends on other accessories you are using, such as air conditioning. The more accessories you use, the higher the idle speed must be.

Why does my car heat up when idling?

As you already know, idling happens when the vehicle is not moving while its engine is running. Because the car is not in motion, there is no extra air to cool it down while idling, which warms up the engine and the car itself if you idle for a couple of minutes.

Should I warm up my car before changing oil?

It is better to change the oil when the engine is warm because this way the oil will probably flow out way better and faster. Read this article for more information and guidance.

Should I warm up my car in the summer?

There are people who idle their car no matter what season it is. And most of them idle their car for like 30 minutes, even on the hottest days. That’s insane! All modern cars nowadays are designed to start up and go, in all temperatures but that doesn’t mean that you should always start your car drive off immediately. As I mentioned earlier, idling your car for 30 seconds is enough. I personally don’t think you should idle your car during summer to warm it up, but if you really need to idle it anyways, don’t idle it for more than 10 or 20 seconds. I would suggest you to start your car after a few seconds of idling and gently drive off.

Is idling illegal in Europe?

It seems like European governments are starting to care more about the environment lately. I say that because in Europe you are not allowed to let your car idle if you park it for more than a minute. In some particular countries it is illegal to idle your car if you park for more than a few seconds.  Why? Because according to the new law there is no need to pollute the environment unnecessarily, and idling your car as less as possible helps it to live a lot longer. In fact, if you don’t know already, idling is worse than restarting the car. Over time, you will spend more money because of over idling than over restarting your car. According to this article, Americans waste approximately 3.8 million gallons of gasoline every day by voluntarily idling their cars.

I know that most people idle their cars because they are told to do so, or because it’s an old habit, or maybe because it is really cold out. But I think it is time for everyone to educate themselves and stop idling their cars for more than 30 seconds. Your car, your wallet and the environment will thank you.

What is the right thing to do? Do you think car idling myths are a consequence of the driver’s education in the US? Or, maybe it is just time to switch to more eco friendly automobile because air pollution matters and our planet matters.

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About the Author:

Juxhina Malaj - a wanderluster and bibliophile who loves photography, nature, documentary films, re-watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S, and drinking green tea.
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