How to warm up your car safely: Remote car starters, block heaters and other solutions

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With temperatures dipping well into the negatives during the winter, it’s no wonder some people don’t mind leaving their vehicles running in their driveways for a while. After all, who wants to sit in a car shivering? But desperation to shake the cold can leave you exposed in other ways.

Leaving your keys in the ignition can get you locked out of your own car — or worse, can lead to your car being stolen. That isn’t the only concern, though: idling for long periods can waste oil, drain your battery and even decrease your car’s performance. Thankfully, there are plenty of straightforward ways to safely warm up your car, even if you leave it unsupervised.

Understanding oil and your engine

Those subzero mornings are not making your day any easier. While some people may be experienced at dealing with the cold, polar winds can make even hardened winter veterans’ teeth chatter. A frigid morning also takes a heavy toll on your car. Motor oil is a heat-tolerant lubricant that prevents wear on metals that rub on each other during an operation. This thin film prevents excess friction between rubbing surfaces, mitigating the risk of mechanical seizure or failure.

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Motor oil flows throughout the engine to help it function effectively.


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After your car is turned off, the residual heat from combustion escapes through the engine block and headers, radiating a temperature gradient under your hood. As the heat escapes your engine, the oil that was once suspended in other components begins to trickle down into the oil pan.

When engine oil is hot, it operates like hydraulic fluid and as a lubricant. But as with most fluids, temperature can affect the viscosity, or thickness, of motor oil. Normally, when you turn on your car, the oil pump delivers the lubricant throughout your engine, to all the components that need it. When oil becomes thicker, however, it can place strain on the pump and it can mean some components start working without sufficient lubricant — leading to wear or even outright damage.

A warm start

You might’ve heard that warming up your car for at least 5 minutes is good for your motor. There is some merit to that idea. When the engine is warm, the vehicle components operate in a much healthier condition. But the cold period of idling can still lead to wear on the engine. One way to avoid a cold start is with an engine block heater — a sort of space heater that helps your car’s inner workings get to a warmer temperature before you start its engine.

Block heaters range in price, but you can find many for under a hundred bucks. By using a block heater, you can avoid some of the wear and tear that usually accompanies those superlow temperatures during the winter.

Some devices even allow you to program them, to time the heating perfectly for when you need it most. When the block heater is applied, motor oil begins to warm up, helping the engine get ready to turn over without sustaining any damage.

Ready up, remote start

A block heater is an effective way to warm your engine’s vitals — which can help preserve your car’s health over time. Unfortunately, a warm engine doesn’t translate directly to a warm cabin. Luckily, you can remote-start your car with the click of a button, right from inside your home.

Remote car starters, or remote engine cranks, are devices that start your engine after receiving a signal from your remote. This remote can be used from a considerable distance and can save you the hassle of having to go outside and start your car before the cabin becomes suitably warm.

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Many remote starters come with extra security measures, to make sure a thief can’t simply drive away with your running car.


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If you’re thinking of buying a remote car starter, look for one that keeps your doors locked and automatically switches off if shifted from park. Starting your vehicle remotely could make you vulnerable to car thieves — so a starter with such security features built in is important to prioritize.

Another thing to keep in mind is where your car is: If you have a garage, it’s important to open the garage door and leave it that way before remotely starting your car — otherwise you risk building up noxious fumes in the enclosed space.

If you use a block heater, you only have to remote-start your car a few minutes before you drive away, as the engine will already be warm enough to heat your car efficiently. For especially frosty mornings, letting your car idle for 3 to 4 minutes will help clear ice away. After getting in the daily rhythm of putting on the block heater and remote-starting your car a couple of minutes before driving off, you’ll notice how much more smoothly your car runs during those cold mornings. 

We get it — it’s really cold outside. Who wants to drive around in a car so chilly they can’t feel their fingertips? But don’t let your discomfort override your safety. Keep your doors locked and use a remote starter instead of leaving your keys in your car. If you’re interested in learning more about making your car safer and more convenient, read our recommendations on remote car starters, emergency kits and jump-starters.

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