As temperatures are falling in Amarillo this winter (it has been dipping below freezing at nighttime recently), you may be tempted to warm up your car in the early hours of the morning before you head to work—perhaps for your own comfort, or because you’ve heard letting the engine idle for a minute or two prolongs its life. We’re here to tell you there is no truth to the age-old practice of letting your car warm up on cold mornings. In fact, engine warming is NOT beneficial for your vehicle. (Sorry toes!)
The Reason Warming Up Your Engine Is Unnecessary & Potentially Harmful
Here’s what happens inside an internal combustion engine as it idles: when you start your car, the pistons compress air and vaporized fuel inside the engine cylinders. Then, the spark plugs ignite this mixture, creating a miniature explosion that supplies power to your vehicle’s drivetrain. However, when the engine is cold, the gas may not evaporate completely as it combines with the air. In modern cars with an electronic fuel injection, there are sensors that detect this and compensate by adding more gas to the mixture.
For this reason, letting your car idle can lead to excess fuel in the chamber, and when there is too much fuel in the chamber, some of it inevitably condenses onto the cylinder walls and strips away the lubricating oil. When the lubricating oil is gone, components like the cylinder liners and piston rings will wear prematurely. Adding insult to injury, extra fuel is also used, which means more trips to the gas station.
Wear Your Gloves & Don’t Wear Out Your Engine Components
Now that you know letting a cold engine idle can strip oil away from your pistons and cylinders (talk about counterproductive!), don’t do it. Warming up your car isn’t necessary in the winter no matter how chilly it is outside. Once you’re on the road, trust your engine will warm up as needed, and your thermostat and radiator will then keep the engine operating at proper temperature, so long as your vehicle is performing as it should. If you think your heating and/or cooling system isn’t functioning properly, make an appointment for service right away. A car can overheat in the colder temps as well, leading to a breakdown.
For more information on engine idling and performance, bring your car to Aardvark Automotive for a vehicle check-up, especially if any of your warning lights have come on, even if only for a brief amount of time. But as for warming up your engine, you can stop doing that.