By on February 5, 2019

2017 Genesis G80 winter mountains - Image: Genesis Motors

Last week’s ball-shattering polar vortex flash froze much of the U.S. and Canada, sending Netflix viewership soaring and no doubt spurring a mini baby boom in nine months’ time. While it may have been toasty in your home (sorry, Michigan gas customers), your car’s engine block found itself in a climate POW camp.

Hailing from the Great White North, I know all too well the prayers muttered while twisting the ignition key, knowing all too well your oil’s as thick as fudge and hoping with all your might that good wishes can be converted into cranking amps. Now, let’s say you succeed in firing up that ice-cold engine. What next?

There’s plenty of debate raging this week over the best strategy for reducing wear on your frigid engine block and precious moving components following a polar startup. Most of that debate raged over at Jalopnik, where some readers took exception to the idea that a car should be allowed to warm up for a short time before hitting the road.

Perhaps those ornery readers reside in sunnier climes? On January 30th, GM logged 1.59 million remote engine starts (via mobile app) from owners unwilling to sit in an ice locker, cursing, waiting for a breath of warm air to drift from the dash vents. That’s a 70 percent increase over an average January day in the United States, by the way.

While these GM owners probably had their own comfort in mind, not their engine’s, the controversy still rages. Should you get in and drive off right away, confident in your engine oil’s temperature-cheating viscosity, or let it sit? Chances are there isn’t 10W-30 in your crankcase. Should be fine, right?

Not necessarily, but there’s no perfect solution for this age-old conundrum. The best advice anyone can scrounge up comes from Dr. Andy Randolph, technical director at ECR Engines, who explained (in extreme detail) to Jalopnik that a two-minute warmup is probably your best bet.

This author, after 30 seconds to a minute or so of dicking around with the radio, climate controls, etc, is a fan of letting the clutch out and idling down the block at 10-12 mph or so, traffic permitting. The higher RPM upon cold weather startup allows an upshift to second gear. Why not make headway while the car warms up at idle?

So, B&B members, are you already a follower of Dr. Randolph’s advice, or do you start your cold car to the beat of a different drum?

[Image: Genesis Motors]

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59 Comments on “QOTD: Hot or Cold?...”

  • avatar

    Warm it up.

    But that’s for myself not the machine. I’m also not scraping windows unless they already have a little clear spot for me to get a toehold on getting through that layer of ice.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Wasn’t this the subject of a Piston Slap column a few years ago?

    I continue to warm up our vehicles. Turn off all potential power drains (radio, fan, lights, etc). Crank the engine to start it. Turn on the defrost. Then once they are all started take the dog across the street to the park. When he is finished return and start scraping. Can take depending on the amount of ice and snow up to 10 minutes.

    Since I can get onto the highway in less than 2 minutes prefer to have the care warmed up before starting to work.

    And on really cold days, it does take a warm-up before the clutch is moving smoothly.

    My neigbour is a retired mechanic and he warms his vehicle up for at least 5 minutes every winter morning.

  • avatar

    I’m lucky to have a garage, and it generally never gets below freezing inside, despite polar vortexes and such (I live in central VA). So on cold mornings, there is no scraping, no remote starts, and no conventional grinding starter motor with our Toyota hybrids.

    I will drive my 1998 Nissan Frontier parked outside only if there’s no frost, ice, or snow on the glass. By the time I back it out of the driveway and make my way through the subdivision, more than 2 minutes will have elapsed. It does take some determination to shift the manual transmission from first to second gear. The engine uses conventional 5W-30 oil; the transmission 80W-90. (The 2 hybrids use synthetic 0W-20.)

    • 0 avatar

      Your last line gives me a thought for a suggestion for a QOTD: do you use the recommended oil weight or not?

      I always use what is recommended. That’s 5W30 in the 1995 Taurus and 2004 GMC, 5W20 in my parents vehicles (which I service, 2012 Taurus and 2013 F-150 EcoBoost). I have seen people put damn diesel-grade oil in a newer engine that required 5W20 or 5W30. Drives me nuts! I’m like WHY?!? LOL I’m a bit OCD about it.

      I also use Motorcraft oil and filters, even on my GMC Sonoma and recently-sold Nissan Altima. The filters are easy to find online, but I have used AC Delco filters in my previous GM vehicles.

  • avatar

    I have good luck with a few minutes of warmup/remote start, say 5-10 min.

  • avatar

    -17F last Thursday morning when I left for work at 7am. My Chrysler refused to remote start itself due to low battery voltage. Gtem I believe mentioned his T&C did that last week and mine did it not a day later. Anyway, I mustered up some courage to head out there and she barely cranked over. I let it run for 15 minutes before heading off to work and even then the motor had an unpleasant growl the first 5 minutes or so into my drive and everything from the suspension to transmission felt “stiff”. I’ll stick with a longer warm up as needed… now if it is 30-40F out, I just get in and go providing good weather conditions.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve also noticed that when cold, my car takes bumps a lot more harshly than otherwise. Never noticed any of the drivetrain acting slow or stiff, but I have noticed that during frigid temps, some electronic parts act weird.

      For example, it was well below freezing a few weeks ago and I cranked the old Taurus, and the wipers started going immediately, even though they were switched off. Seems like in another vehicle (cant remember what it was, this was a few years ago), the radio refused to work right away.

      • 0 avatar

        Surprisingly the electronics were all good in my Chrysler (go figure). The last time it got near this cold in my area of Michigan was in 2014 (-12F if I recall correctly) and at the time I had a 2012 Focus. The MyFordTouch would panic and not respond to inputs until the cabin warmed up but never had an issue with the mechanicals. My pentastar had this growl under acceleration during the cold spell last week that I cannot properly describe here until it hit full operating temp. Never have experienced anything like it (or that level of cold) in my driving life.

        • 0 avatar

          I remember what vehicle it was that the radio didnt work in, my cousin’s 2014 Silverado.

          Since the time that my wipers did that, I have replaced the wiper motor (and swing arm assembly) with NOS parts. We’ll see if it does it again the next time it’s that cold. (I didnt replace those parts specifically because of that issue, just to be clear.)

          My friends daughter said the engine in her Altima makes a lot of racket when cold, like a rattling sound. She said she can hear it especially when accelerating. I have checked the oil and it is full. I find the Nissan 2.5L to not be the smoothest or quietest engine out there no matter what the temp is, but she said it’s a lot worse when cold.

      • 0 avatar
        Mike Beranek

        It was -27 F here last week, and my tires felt like they were filled with concrete and my shocks felt like they were made of granite. Despite what the manufacturers say, they are only designing the cars down to about zero. Below that you’re on your own.

    • 0 avatar

      Last week in -12F in Toledo, besides a slow initial crank (followed by a 2,500rpm runup when the engine fired-up, the infotainment/nav was a little slow to boot up, and some of the displays were a little laggy. (Weirdest thing was when I picked up my phone to text my boss and his boss that my car had started (we were waiting for each other, in case one of us couldn’t get started), and next thing I knew, the Bluetooth showed an incoming call FROM MY PHONE! 8-O ) The two days my car sat out in subzero, I let it run for maybe four minutes before starting out; starting from in my garage, I let it run for an additional minute.

      Normally, I start the car, then buckle up, adjust the radio, etc., and usually after about a minute (when cold-starting), I drive off.

  • avatar

    Block heater.

    I repeat, block heater.

  • avatar

    Let the car run for at least a few seconds, to get the oil flowing.

    Let it warm up a bit longer if you can’t see out the windshield, or if you’re doing a lot of short trips in which the engine never reaches full operating temperature. Shutting down a cold engine is not good.

  • avatar

    I have a plug in hybrid so my drill is a little different. Mine sits outside and the windshield usually frosts over, so I use the cabin preheat function to clear the windshield. I drive away on battery for a mile or two, then switch the car over to hybrid mode, which starts the engine. The power management system continues to mostly use the electric drive while the engine warms up, then increasingly uses the engine as it reaches operating temperature. One of the nicer things about a hybrid in winter is that the engine warms up quickly.

    In a conventional drivetrain car, I’d let the engine idle for 30 seconds or so, then drive away gently. No reason to let that fuel go to waste, but you don’t want to flog the engine until has some temperature, so if you had to immediately get on the highway, I’d give it a couple of minutes to warm up before departing.

    • 0 avatar

      Sounds like there are some interesting practical advantages to a hybrid / electric for the very cold. Of course battery range takes a hit, but the hybrid system could offset some of that warm-up wear. Heck, I imagine they could implement an engine-block-warming function on battery power if they haven’t already.

      • 0 avatar

        In the two motor systems used by Ford and Toyota, the engine does not have a dedicated starter. Instead, it uses a motor generator that is powered by the high voltage battery, which is also used to provide regenerative braking.

        There is a 12 volt lead acid battery in these cars, but it’s just used to power accessories. As long as there is some voltage in that battery, the car will start.

    • 0 avatar

      The weirdest thing I’ve found when using my dealer’s Accord Hybrid loaner, is when the engine starts up during a cold-start, it runs at high-idle despite the car being placed into gear. Dropping the revs when putting the car in gear, along with varying the engine speed a little, depending on the pressure on the accelerator pedal, would make things seem a little more “normal.”

  • avatar

    I live in the Dirty South, so it’s not often that it dips below 20° F (and this winter has been pretty mild). But, I do not care if its 95° out, I allow any car I’m driving to complete its warm-up cycle before driving it.

    When I did live up north, yes I allowed it to warm up longer. Generally, I first started the engine, engaged the front and rear defroster, then got out and set about scraping ice, clearing snow, etc. So, it had a good 10 or more minutes to warm before it was moved.

  • avatar

    I was going to say one minute, but if somebody with good credentials studied this and he came up with two minutes, then that sounds good to me too.

    Anyway, the time isn’t spent staring off into space, it’s partly filled with small activities like adjusting the heater, hitting the windshield wipers (if there’s a thin layer of dry snow), getting out to scrape or brush, buckling your seatbelt (except in cars built for dummies that won’t let the engine start until you’re buckled in… thanks, big government), and so on.

    Five minutes, as a routine, is a bit much. I don’t think it does any harm, it’s just a minor waste of one’s time and fuel.

    Definitely agree about trundling away at first- down a residential street to the stop sign or through the apartment parking lot or whatever the case may be.

    This isn’t complicated…

    • 0 avatar

      I wait too long and the edit button is gone.

      The best answer would be an oil temperature gauge. Once the needle moves off the peg, or shows about 40°F or 5°C or so then gently drive away. Drive it a little harder as it gets warmer than that.

  • avatar

    Looking at the article through the link, I see:

    “5w-30 is a 5 weight oil in WINTER (W in 5W) and 30 weight oil while at operating temperature. Weight is a measure of viscosity, with water being 0w. Higher weight means high resistance to flow, or thicker.
    So warming you car up THICKENS the oil.”

    Oh boy, I feel dumber for having read that last sentence. Sigh.

    Folks, there’s no such thing as a dumb question, but if you’re still afraid to ask then here’s the answer: 5w means it feels like 5 weight oil when it’s cold, in plain terms, pretty thick but it still flows. The 30 part means it feels like 30 weight oil when it’s hot, in other words, fairly thin but not like pouring water. 30 weight oil is like the proverbial molasses when it’s cold and 5 weight pours a lot like water when it’s hot.

    Nobody has invented 30w5 oil yet, but if you could make it then it would be fun to see which people would unwittingly destroy their engines.

    • 0 avatar

      This makes sense, because gear oil has a higher number… what’d I used to put in my jeep’s diff, 75w90? I don’t remember. But it was thick and smelled like **** when old.

  • avatar

    Both leaving home and work, I’m pretty much guaranteed to spend a couple minutes waiting at the first stop light (and even though I’m on the highway within a km of leaving work, it’s inevitably backed up). If there’s snow or ice, I’ll turn the car on first (might as well let the defrosters do a little bit to help), but that’s about it.

  • avatar

    I’m a child of the ’50s – “warm ’em up a few minutes when the temperature is below freezing.”, the old man would tell me. “Warm the main engines and lube oil spinning ahead and astern during start-up”, I was trained when operating the turbine set of a large warship, “to allow all the components to equalize in temperature.” Aye-aye, Chief. Then I’d see my wife jump into her Outback at 0 degF, crank it over, and spin down the driveway after 5 to 10 seconds. Aghast, I bought the OEM remote starter system and installed it – she uses it religiously (and I am a true hero) to not only warm up the car but pre-heat the interior and de-ice the windows.

  • avatar
    Funky D

    As a Gulf Coast resident, I no longer have to worry about those kind of frigid temps. Even so, my practice ever since I owned the GTO whose LS2 had floating wrist pins has been to go ahead and drive off after startup, but go light on the throttle and keep it (well) under 3000 RPM until the temp gauge was at least halfway up to its normal spot. That approach hasn’t failed me yet.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    One point missing from this warm-up argument is the ability to see through the windshield. Even with a quality ice scraper, there are many mornings where you can’t see squat until you get some heat flowing on that glass. You douse it with washer fluid, run the wipers like crazy, and all it does is freeze into a hazy white film. If you have to drive East in the morning, into the rising sun, you’re gonna be as blind as a bat.
    What ever happened to Ford’s “Insta-Clear” windshields? I thought it was a good idea.

    • 0 avatar

      As far as I know, Jaguar is the only maker with a heated windshield in North America. Possibly Land Rover too, but I’m not sure. I love it in my car, turn on the windshield, wait about a min and the frost is gone. No scraping that always scratches the glass.

      The Ford Insta-Clear was a gold metal film over all the glass, Jag’s is many very fine wires. Sort of like the rear window, but much denser and finer wires. They are not visible unless the conditions are right and you look for it.

  • avatar

    After a move to Hawaii from the mainland this past August (hence my long time between this and my previous post), I thought for sure my answer here would just be ‘start and go’.

    Instead, I have found that on most first starts – whether a January day where it might ‘only’ be 63 outside at dawn or a day where its almost 80 and humid at sunrise – both vehicles drop the RPM after a brief warm up. They definitely back out of the garage more quietly and with a little less vibration if we wait. I have no idea why this would happen in a tropical climate. Could elevation play a part? (I’m at 1100 ft above sea level. I used to be around 150 ft above sea level)

    So like the author, after the start I make sure seat belts, AC, music selection and mirrors are set to my liking, and by then the engines have dropped the RPMS and I set off.

    So, a warm up of 30-60 seconds here. Drive with a light foot for 5 minutes or so, and then back to normal.

    • 0 avatar

      Nah, it’s not elevation, that’s normal and my vehicles did the same thing when I lived on Oahu. It’s just part of the normal startup sequence. I’m not sure which sensor it was that controls when the RPMs drop…

      One time, my jeep stopped dropping RPMs and stayed above 1000 after it should have dropped. Turned out a vacuum tube had popped off.

  • avatar

    I just start the car and roll smoothly and without using any excessive power pretty soon after things get circulating. If I have anything to do I sometimes will turn on the engine first and have it running for a minute or so.

    When it is very cold, however, it takes so long to warm up to normal oil temperature without any load on the engine that I don’t bother waiting around for more time than it takes me to fiddle with whatever I need before hitting the road. Warming up the car doesn’t seem to do a great deal for the brakes, transmission, or suspension, all of which behave differently after the first minute of gentle rolling out of my neighborhood.

    I have a manual transmission and cloth seats, so remote starting the car is impossible and even on a -10F day the seats are not dramatically cold to the jacket-wearing touch. I also find it annoying to get into a burning hot car and have to take off four layers just to drive. I’d rather have a barely warm car interior so I can continue to wear my jacket throughout most of my driving errands. Often I won’t attempt to warm up the car until at least a few minutes after the oil gauge reaches the normal operating range.

  • avatar

    I run factory recommended 0W-20.

    On cold days -24° last week, I start the car, then brush snow and scrape windows. If the clutch/shift lever are protesting I’ll do a couple circuits through the gears and clutch in and out for a few seconds. Once the windows are clear enough to go I drive off so the rest of the suspension bits can warm up too, since they get nothing while just sitting in place.

    Last week the clutch in Malcolm was thwapping my foot instead of releasing smoothly. Made smooth driving more of a challenge, butbwe survived. The weirdest part about the almost -30 was that the driver’s side signal stopped working on a couple occasions, necessitating the need to deactivate the switch and try again.

  • avatar

    I am old enough to remember the miracle of synthetic oil. That paired with fuel injection (old enough to have owned a carbureted car) changed the game for winter. So, start it, warm it for 2-5 minutes drive it gently until the temp needled is off the bottom peg. The last two days I’ve started my car, been idling along in heavy traffic and seen the temp gauge drop! Shifted down to 2nd or 3rd, seemed to work.

    • 0 avatar

      As I learned last week at 27-below, FI comes with a gotcha of the ECU making the injectors squirt each time the key is turned anew. Supposedly there’s a defeat technique for this, flooring the pedal and keeping it there, but I’m still checking that out.

      Result was that I, who could get any carbureted car to run (always installed manual chokes), ended up flooding an FI car after 2 attempts to jump it so badly that the oil reeked of gas when it was finally towed in.

      I had kept my foot off the gas thinking I was therefore safe from flooding.

  • avatar

    Honda Accord remote start is very tempting, it would put climate system to 72 degrees and if it’s cold, it will warm up the seats and put on the defroster.

  • avatar

    If the windows are clear, I start it. Let the idle rev back down (about 20-30 seconds), then go. I drove with very gentle throttle inputs until the needle moves off of C and the throttle feels normal.

    If the windows are iced up, I start it, clean the windows, then follow the above procedure. It idles typically less than 5 minutes in this scenario.

    I do, however, live in the South. I think the coldest morning I’ve had this year was maybe 12 degrees. It was 50 when I left for work this morning.

  • avatar

    On really cold days I cut the heater on in the garage overnight and it stays about 40 degrees in there so I start the car up and let it run for a bit and off I go.

    I used to just start and go down the road but after fitting a larger supercharger and overdriving it a bit I switched to a colder heat range plug to avoid detonation.

    On exception cold days with the temps hovering just above zero and the car having been running for only a few minutes cracking the throttle would introduce air so cold (depsite being compressed by the supercharger) that it would fail to ignite.

  • avatar

    Mike Beranek –

    You asked: Whatever happened to Ford’s “Insta-Clear” windshields?

    A friend of mine is a former Ford engineer, and he told me that those “Insta-Clear” windshields were very expensive to replace, so they were phased out.

  • avatar

    It is, or I should say, was my habit to leave the headlight switch in my outback on all the time since they go off when you pull the key and I’m always driving in the dark this time of year. Cranking it over in the subzero temps blew a headlight bulb and an instrument cluster bulb.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    My truck probably wouldn’t start at all this week without being plugged-in. Well, it might, but it would be horrible on the engine. The difference between running the block heater overnight and not doing so is marked, to say the least. It’s fine down to about -18C but we’ve had a few days of -30C. The wind chill has dropped that further to -41C, which is nearly equal to -42F. Cold, man.

    Our garage is unheated ( by my design ) in the Winter but Herself’s Equinox fires right up and can be hammered immediately, apparently. I let my revs come down to idle, then go – gingerly. Having a warm cabin and clear windows doesn’t mean anything to your transmission/suspension/brakes. Warm it all up together, if possible.

    My friend’s M5 has a receding red line around the tachometer that gently reminds him to respect the warm-up time of its V10. It’s not a hard limit, though, and a great idea. It recedes much faster in the warm weather, of course.

  • avatar

    When it got to -13F, my Honda Fit needed a couple more revolutions to crank before it fired up, the clutch cable was stiffer than normal, and I could hear the transmission gears spinning in neutral. Frankly, it’s amazing that cars work in the temperature range that they do.
    Again, if you’re comfortable in your car no matter how hot or how cold, you can thank Detroit’s 100+ degree temperature swing.

  • avatar

    I’m from Saskatchewan, Canada, so have a little experience driving in the winter. (Here, winter lasts 13 months…)

    Block heater, battery warmer, and synthetic 0W-20or30 oil.

    Let it warm up at least 10 minutes (its a balmy -20 right now, going down to -36 tonight, tomorrow -41. That’s temperature, not windchill.

    If your vehicle has an oil pressure gauge (not just a light), watch the oil pressure when it revs. Until warmed up, my trucks pressure stops around 350kPa. Either that is the max pressure, or more likely the oil filter bypass valve opens, not good. I need to stay below 2kRPM to keep the pressure down.

    Now I’m off to shovel the driveway.

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision

      I’m just to your left, in Alberta. Same temperature here. Some respite by Sunday, the Weather-Guessers say. Until then I’ll be burning electrons all night so that I can burn gas all day.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    I live in Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes. Last week Thursday on my way to work the temp gage in my 2013 Chevy Volt said -32F. The windchills were -50F+. When it gets that cold I use the remote start and let it warm up. Fuel economy be damned! The day before it said -31F and it never got warmer than -15F. It sat outside for about 11 hours @ work and started right up no problem. You don’t really hear it crank over, it just starts. Wasn’t sure what to expect with it in those brutally cold temps but it performed flawlessly.

  • avatar

    Here on north shore of Lake Ontario, we hit -26C (-15 -16F ) last week . My EB Mustang cranked slow, and made some weird noises for about 2 mins.

    I have always allowed my vehicle 2-3 mins warm up time.

  • avatar

    My Focus gets put into gear and driven off at -30 as soon as I can fix my seat belt. It has been running flawlessly like this for 10 years now, 6 of which have involved a commute to work which is so short the temperature gauge does not budge. No block heater, no battery warmer. I replaced the original battery 2 years ago, which seems to be the one component which takes the worst of it. If I didn’t have a reason to come back to the house at lunch, I would walk. Oddly enough, the biggest problem my Fords have given me is a driver’s door that won’t latch when it gets cold. Now THAT is a big issue.

  • avatar

    A distinct advantage of electric vehicles (straight up battery electric) is instant heat as soon as you get in the vehicle – no waiting for the engine to warm up.

    It is amazing to get into a ‘cold’ EV, start the defroster and watch the ice begin to melt right away. Also eye-opening to have the cabin comfortably warming as soon as you start driving – no waiting to turn on the heater.

    I checked with some authorities – pretty sure ICE vehicles get zero MPG while idling with remote start.

    (… considers reporting the 10-minute internal combustion warm-up DEFECT to asdf…. lol)

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