(NEXSTAR) – Many of us can deny it no longer – cold weather is here, with much of the country facing an arctic blast just in time for Christmas. That means some of our cold-weather habits are back, like weathering extra layers when we head outside, or staying inside as long as possible. It might be time to leave one of those winter habits in the past, though.
We’ve likely all done it – traversing knee-high snow to our cars, starting them, and letting them idle to warm up for a few minutes before hitting the road. But do you really need to let your car warm up?
First, it’s important to note that idling your car doesn’t damage it. Idling does still consume gas, according to J.D Power, but it likely won’t lead to any other problems unless your car has mechanical malfunctions. The idea that you have to idle your car when it’s cold out, though, is really just a misconception.
It wasn’t always an old wives’ tale. As The Washington Post explains in a 2014 article, cars used to rely on carburetors, which needed to warm up to work well. If they weren’t warm enough, they could cause your car to stall. In the 1980s and 1990s, car makers turned away from carburetors and began using electronic fuel injection, which depends on sensors to supply fuel to the engine. Those sensors, according to industry experts, don’t need to warm up.
Sherwood Ford, an Alabama Ford dealership, explains modern vehicles do “not need more than a few seconds to start up,” adding that “modern technology requires modern approaches.” Even the U.S. Department of Energy notes that guidance from most car manufacturers says your vehicle is ready to drive after just 30 seconds of warming up.
“The engine will warm up faster being driven, which will allow the heat to turn on sooner, decrease your fuel costs, and reduce emissions,” the federal agency wrote. Letting your car idle for more than a couple of minutes can pose other problems. In addition to wasting fuel, it can cause pollution – as much pollution as a running car, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. Idling may also be illegal in your state. In Illinois, for example, state law says it is illegal for motorists to leave a car running with a key in the ignition, Nexstar’s WCIA reports.
When you do pull out of your driveway or parking spot, just because your car is ready to drive doesn’t mean it’s ready for you to gun it. Instead, take it easy. It can take your engine between five and 15 minutes to completely warm up, according to Business Insider. Plus, hitting the gas pedal hard right away can cause you to waste gas, MIT mechanical engineer John Heywood told the outlet in 2016, and pose a safety risk if roads are snowy or icy. So the next time you head out the door and are greeted by a cold rush of air, don’t worry about saving time to let your car warm up (unless your car is older than the early 1990s, of course).