Does warming up your car really help?

It's one of the most commonly practiced car myths that seems entirely reasonable; when temperatures seem unbearable and the thought of getting in your freezing cold car makes you want to call off work and go back inside. Warming up your car to avoid some sort of damage to the engine and to make your drive more comfortable is a widely accepted habit that many Midwesterners follow when the temperature drops. It is also almost entirely unnecessary.

After 10 seconds, the engine oil will begin to circulate and any idling after that is futile.  Modern engines warm up most efficiently by being gently driven.  Letting your car sit is actually making your engine work even harder than it would be if you just started driving it. According to the Hinkle Charitable Foundation's Anti-Idling Primer, idling forces an engine "to operate in a very inefficient and gasoline-rich mode that, over time, can degrade the engine's performance and reduce mileage."

Even if you warm up the car just for personal comfort, idling in your driveway is the slowest way to warm up the cabin. The interior will get warm much faster if you just drive it.

Idling a car in the cold forces your engine to work harder and hurts your gas mileage. Cutting your idle time by 5 minutes a day will save you between $30 and $60 per year on gasoline according to the "Anti-Idling Primer".

Ray Magliozzi, the car expert from Car Talk, summed it up best when he said, with modern cars, all you're doing with a long warm-up is wasting gas, increasing pollution, and making yourself 10 minutes late for your chiropractic appointment."

Of course, there are times where you'll need to let your car sit while you scrape the ice off your windshield or clear the fog from the windows, but generally 10 seconds is all you need to get warm and get on your way.
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