How often should I start my car and let it idle in cold weather? Answer: Don’t.
With frigid temperatures sweeping the country, many car owners are asking: How often should I start my car to warm it up?
Turns out, the answer doesn’t lie in frequency, says Mike Calkins, manager of technical services at AAA.
“It’s probably not a very good strategy” to repeatedly start up your car, “warming it up to keep it from freezing,” he says.
If a driver were to start their engine in extremely cold weather, Calkins says they would need to get it up to full operating temperature, which is best accomplished through driving the car around. Letting a car idle requires more time for the vehicle to warm up and allows excess fuel to get into the engine, which “isn’t good for wear and tear,” according to Calkins.
However, even after some driving, it only takes a couple of hours for the engine to cool down from full operating temperature, Calkins says. Moreover, he says that repeatedly starting a car without running it long enough to recharge the battery can lower the battery’s capacity over time.
Instead of starting up cars often, Calkins believes that vehicle owners should focus on adequate antifreeze protection.
According to Calkins, antifreeze “prevents the coolant mixture from freezing.” When water or any liquid freezes, it expands, which Calklins says can create pressure that can crack engine blocks and cause damage in the car.
Calkins says that cars typically use a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water, which provides protection for -30 to -35 degree Fahrenheit weather. However, with temperatures lower than that during the polar vortex, car owners should have a higher concentration of antifreeze, up to 70 percent.
If a driver isn’t sure what the antifreeze protection level is in their car, Calkins recommends they find out soon to protect against possible damage.
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