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How to keep your car warm this winter

Latest car guides

October 21st 2021 info

We’ve all been there: early morning start, coffee in hand and staring forlornly at your iced-over car. It’s freezing, and all you can do is wait for your car to warm up.

Nobody likes driving in the cold.

Unfortunately, no matter how long you stare at your car before commuting to work, there isn’t a magic spell that can change the weather.

However, that doesn’t mean it’s a losing battle. There are numerous things you can do to warm up your car quickly in a way that lasts.

Below, we show you how to warm up a car the right way, explain how car heaters work, discuss how to heat a car without a heater and put an end to some common heating myths.

How to warm up a car

Many drivers still decide to leave their car running for a while to warm it up. However, this isn’t how to warm up a car. You’ll still want to turn the engine on, but you don’t need to spend much time heating it at all.

The first step is ensuring your car is parked safely and is clear of any frost, ice and snow. Second, turn on your engine and activate the defroster if necessary. Third, let it run for around 30 seconds – this should activate your heater. Finally, drive slow and allow the car to heat up.

You always want to take it easy in dangerous conditions, and if it’s below freezing, you don’t want to put your engine through too much early on. Certain oils which lubricate the engine can stiffen in freezing temperatures, so they need some time to heat up and act normally.

However, you don’t need to leave the engine on to have a warm car interior. Leaving your car engine on for long periods is something you should do only if your vehicle is over 30 years old. For modern cars, this just wastes fuel.

Does leaving the engine on actually heat up the car?

In the past, it was necessary to keep the car running to warm it up. In vehicles with older engines, figuring out how to warm the inside of a car meant leaving it running for a while. Modern cars have different solutions thanks to better engines.

Modern fuel injectors can detect cold and respond by injecting more fuel into the gas-air mix in the engine. This means you don’t need to “warm-up” the engine for too long, as the injector already does the work for you. It’s ready to go in a few minutes, powering your in-car heater.

If you leave a car running, all you’re doing is injecting lots of fuel for no reason. This leads to two issues: wasted fuel and increased pollution.

Prolonged idling can facilitate engine corrosion, too. An idle engine strips oil from its mechanisms, reducing lubrication and causing more wear and tear.

How car heaters work (and how to make the most of yours)

So, how do car heaters work? It’s important to grasp how car heaters work if we want to understand how to heat a car. A car heater consists of four major components:

  • Heater core
  • Blower fan
  • Heat control valve
  • Heating, ventilation and air conditioning control (HVAC) panel

Remember, a car heater isn’t there to just warm up your car. That may sound odd, but it’s essential to allow residual heat from the engine to escape. Without a car heater, cooling the engine can be more difficult.

Most heat escapes out of the exhaust, but residual heat is carried by the coolant, to the blower fan and then controlled by your heater. As soon as your engine gives off heat, which happens as soon as your turn your engine on, warmth is delivered through the heater.

The process moves from the car’s radiator to the heater core and then to the heat control valve. The HVAC is then used to control the rate of heat release.

How to heat your car without a heater

Sometimes, our heaters break. In these rare times, we can break down too. If you’ve broken down in a snowstorm and the heaters malfunction, you’re in trouble.

For that reason, questions like “how to heat my car up with no heater” are common. Thankfully, not all is lost; there are ways to heat a car without a heater.

Below, we explain how to stay warm in a car with no heat with both reactive and proactive options.

Proactive: stock up on survival gear

Okay, this point seems obvious. However, many drivers neglect to stock up their cars with essential survival gear. We’re not just talking about first aid kits, but potentially life-saving tools like thermal blankets, heat packets, gloves, etc.

Always keep your car stocked with emergency gear. You never know what can happen out on the road in troublesome conditions.

Reactive: Cover the windshield

A key part of figuring out how to warm up a car in winter is limiting heat loss. We lose a significant amount of heat through the windshield. Covering it with a windshield cover, blanket or anything else when you’re not driving can significantly reduce the volume of heat that’s lost from the car.

Cover up the back window in emergencies too (once you’re safelty parked!). Both of these should be the priority as they are the largest windows in the car.

Much like the windshield and back window, covering other windows is important to keep heat in. For the most part, cars are designed well enough to retain heat. By their very nature, however, windows do let heat escape, so cover them up if possible.

Proactive: bring a thermos and eat a hot meal before driving

Sometimes, simple steps are best. Enjoying a hot meal or drink can be an essential comfort, and they raise our body temperature significantly.

If you’re stranded without heat, your energy levels become compromised. If possible, always keep a thermos in your car if the weather is cold with tea, coffee or soup.

Proactive: park in a covered area

If possible, park or move your car in a covered area. You don’t want to be exposed to more rain, snow or the elements if you’re lost without a heater.

If you park in a covered area, it reduces the chance of your car being snowed-in or iced over. It’s a win-win scenario.

As you can see, being proactive is much better than being reactive. That’s why it’s important to be prepared and educated on the road.

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