Warm Your Car the Green Way

January 3, 2011 View all articles in General

Winter is a great time of year, but when you wake up to find your car has been visited by Jack Frost during the night, it‘s harder to get on the road quickly. To save time, many drivers prefer to let their cars idle with the heat blasting while they go back inside to finish their breakfasts. Sure, they‘ve avoided some weather-related inconvenience, but at what cost to the environment? An idling engine releases twice as many hazardous exhaust fumes than a vehicle in motion. What's more, idling your car to warm it up consumes additional gas, produces greenhouse gas emissions, and can harm your car's engine.

For example, if you have a car with an eight cylinder engine and let it idle for five minutes every day for a year, you will have wasted 20 gallons of gasoline, produced 440 pounds of carbon dioxide, and paid at least $60. Keep reading if you want to conserve gas, reduce your carbon footprint, and save some money every time you warm up your car.



  • If you don't have time to scrape windows in the morning, try putting a piece of cardboard over your windshield the night before to prevent frost from forming in the first place.
  • If you have the time to spare, scraping the ice from your car windows manually is a lot better than blasting the heater and idling the engine. And if you really put some back into it, you'll get warmer too.


  • A lot of people think it's better for engine health if they warm their cars up for at least 15 minutes before driving in cold weather. But the efficiency of modern fuel injection gets the oil circulating after just 30 seconds.
  • What's more, idling causes an engine to operate in a gasoline-rich mode that's not only very inefficient, but can degrade the engine's performance and reduce mileage over time.


  • Most drivers aren't at all concerned with engine health, but leave their cars idling so they'll have a cozier ride to work or school. Idling is not actually an effective way to warm up a car, however; it warms up faster if it's just driven gently.
  • If you own a block heater, you can plug in your car and set the timer to start one to two hours before driving to heat the engine. This is an especially effective method for extremely cold temperatures since block heaters warm the oil and engine coolant and make it easier to start the vehicle. Using a block heater can also improve your winter fuel economy by as much as 10 percent. They can be installed at the factory, by the dealer before sale, by an automotive service center, or by a do-it-yourselfer.


  • Try idling your car for just 30 seconds, then warm it up by driving gently until the temperature gauge begins rising. Don't turn on the heat for 10 minutes or so; by then the car should be warm enough to deliver heat more efficiently, without taxing the engine or the gas tank. If you don't like driving in a cold car, make sure you leave the house wearing extra layers or keep a spare pair of earmuffs or mittens in the glove compartment.


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