Car won't start? How a block heater could help in the record cold

With bitter Arctic cold hanging around like a bad house guest, one Waterloo Region mechanic suggests the best way to make sure your car starts up in the intense cold is to make sure your battery is toasty and warm.

A Waterloo Region mechanic plugs the benefits of plugging in

Got your block heater plugged in? Then a morning when the mercury dips to -30 C shouldn't slow you down. (Adrian Cheung/CBC)

Waterloo Region is not usually cold enough for long enough to cause pipes to burst and cars to sputter instead of start, but the extreme cold set in on the Family Day long weekend is expected to stick around for the next few weeks.

Kevin David, a mechanic and the owner of Sullivan Automotive, said he's seen a significant increase in the number of vehicles with dead batteries or frozen engine lines in the past week due to the extreme cold.

"When there's a constant temperature of at least -18 C and those windchill factors come in, in the -25 C areas and what not, those are the key temperatures," he said. "When you see it for couple of days, it's not normally that big of a deal around here, but it's when we see it like in the last week, it's been very, very constant, so it takes a huge toll on the vehicle." 

David says that's why drivers should think about getting a block heater, to ensure their car will start in the cold weather. 

"Block heaters aren't normally factory-installed now as well, so it'd be wise to at least bring it to your main mechanic or technician," said David. "Have them pop the hood and see if that block heater is there. In these extreme temperatures it'd be wise to use it."

A block heater works by keeping a constant, low heat heat on the engine block and coolants. The cord from the heater hangs out of the front grill of the car, and is plugged into an extension cord, which is then plugged into a nearby electrical outlet. 

"It's going to allow for easier to start up and it's also going to help the car heat up quicker as well inside and get that heat to the passenger compartment," said David. 

Drivers should have their cars inspected when the seasons change, according to David, and make sure that there are enough fluids to maintain and cool the engine properly, which will help.

David knows exactly what happens when you don't plug in, because he grew up in Labrador City in Labrador. Cars that weren't plugged in frequently need to be towed to a mechanic to bee thawed and started, he says.