You wouldn’t stand inside your front hallway on a frigid day, bundled head-to-toe while running in place for 10 minutes, trying to build up warmth before heading out into the cold. So why do it with your car?
While it’s true that Grandpa’s 1959 Rambler would require a lengthy warm-up before leaving the garage, today’s computer-equipped vehicles easily compensate for the coldest of engines or the most severe winter temperatures.
An idling modern day car only wastes gas, eats up time and emits environmentally harmful fumes—and who can afford any of those?
All right, nit-pickers. Yes, it’s true running cold is marginally more taxing on an engine vs. running warm, primarily because engine oil is thicker and more “sluggish” at low temperatures. It requires a little time—about 30 seconds—to circulate through the engine.
The engine oil of yesteryear was decidedly inferior by current standards and prone to improperly lubricate engine parts at cold temps, often leading to mechanical disaster. Rest assured, however, that during the past 20 years or so, lubrication technology has progressed greatly. Engine oil now maintains proper viscosity under all temperatures, thereby preventing engine-damaging friction.
Now, here’s the caveat: When did you last change your oil? Recommendations vary, but typically, you want to change your oil every 3,000 to 5,000 miles. Some experts maintain putting it into gear after a cold start is A-OK—provided the vehicle’s oil and filter have been changed according to the owner’s manual schedule. (Just another of the many reasons to change your oil regularly.)
But, Leadfoot, hold on just one moment. We’re not saying “just turn the key and gun the gas.” Take it easy those first 5 to 10 minutes: No pinning the tachometer needle or screeching the tires. (Not that we would ever recommend doing that, anyway.)
Believe it or not, brakes also will benefit from easing into gear. A great brake-preserving move is to stop gently during that 5-to-10-minute period, so brakes, too, slowly warm up. Consider this: During a hard stop, brake temperature elevates from zero to 200 degrees, which can warp rotors. This risk can be minimized by not slamming brakes hard during those first few minutes of travel.
So, when Old Man Winter knocks on your garage door this year, don’t give him the satisfaction of wasting gas or time. Start ’er up, wait a few moments and gently be on your way.
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