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Despite the unusually warm fall so far, winter will arrive soon. This means your mornings will start getting cold and that requires the exercise of trying to warm up your car to a comfortable temperature for your morning commute. However, warm cars only happen if your car will start. Should you be afraid of your car not starting in cold weather? What is the proper temperature to use a block heater? 

Most engines nowadays will start at –30°C if it hasn’t been plugged in. However, your vehicle won’t be happy about starting up in the cold. Starting up in the cold, especially freezing temperatures, causes the oil to lose viscosity. This keeps key engine components from getting lubricated. It’s suggested to use a block heater around –15°C to help with lubrication before you drive off. According to Natural Resources Canada, a block heater can also lower your car’s emissions. 

In the cold, an engine burns more gas and produces more tailpipe emissions. Idling for a few minutes in this weather to warm up your car isn’t so great for the environment as it pollutes more than it would be driving. The best case is to get in your car, grin and bear it, and then drive off. Though, a block heater gives you a head start by cutting the warming wait time in half.  

You can plug in a block heater 2 hours before you drive, though it’s recommended for it to be plugged in 3-4 hours, especially when it’s -30°C or colder. A study from the University of Saskatchewan found that the block heater will get as warm as possible after around 4 hours, and the rest of the heat will be lost to the cold air.  

Electricity may be cheap, but you can also buy a timer for your block heater for around $15 -$20. The timer will turn on the block heater a few hours before you must leave, saving you from having to get up at 2 AM and turning it on before you get ready for work.  

A block heater is extremely useful in the winter if you drive every day. However, if you’re not driving very often, you should consider a battery minder as it will make sure your battery will keep it’s charge in the colder temperatures. Electric vehicles do not need a block heater equivalent as the lithium ion batteries can be used to temperatures of –20°C. Though, it’s good to note that the EV battery will lose range due to the cold. In some cases, the EV has lost 60% of range in –36°C weather when a combustion car might not start at all.  

Whatever kind of car you drive, the cold can affect it in different ways, and you should know about how it does. Knowing how your car will react to certain temperatures will help keep you safer as you drive through the winter.