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Do you need to let your car idle and warm it up in the winter?

(NEXSTAR) – Many of us can’t deny it anymore – the cold weather is here, with much of the country facing an arctic blast just in time for Christmas. This means some of our cold weather habits are back, like wearing extra layers when we go out or staying indoors as long as possible.

It might be time to leave one of those winter habits in the past, though.

We’ve probably all done it – drive through knee-deep snow to our cars, start them, and let 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 does not harm it. Idling still consumes gas, according to JD Power, but it probably won’t cause any other problems unless your car has some mechanical malfunctions.

The idea that you have to idle your car when it’s cold, however, is really just a misconception.

It wasn’t always an old wives’ tale. As the Washington Post explained in a 2014 article, cars used carburetors, which needed to warm up to work well. If they weren’t hot enough, they could cause your car to stall.

In the 1980s and 1990s, automakers moved away from carburetors and began using electronic fuel injection, which relies on sensors to deliver fuel to the engine. These sensors, according to industry experts, do not need to warm up.

Sherwood Ford, a Ford dealership in Alabama, explains that modern vehicles “need no more than a few seconds to start,” adding that “modern technology requires modern approaches.”

Even the U.S. Department of Energy notes that most automakers’ advice says your vehicle is ready to drive after just 30 seconds of warm-up.

“The engine will warm up faster, allowing the heater to come on sooner, reducing your fuel costs and reducing emissions,” the federal agency wrote.

Leaving your car idling for more than a few minutes can cause 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 makes it illegal for motorists to leave a car running with a key in the ignition, Nexstar’s WCIA reports.

When you pull out of your driveway or parking spot, just because your car is ready to roll doesn’t mean it’s ready to be used. Instead, take it easy. According to Business Insider, your engine can take between five and 15 minutes to fully warm up. Plus, hitting the accelerator pedal hard right away can waste gas, MIT mechanical engineer John Heywood said in 2016, and pose a safety risk if the roads are snowy or icy.

So the next time you walk through the door and are greeted by a blast of cold air, don’t worry about buying time to let your car warm up (unless your car is older than the start 1990s, of course).


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