Thunder Bay

Idling your car in winter may do more harm than good: expert

Warming up your engine before driving may actually be doing more harm than good, says a Thunder Bay, Ont. automotive expert.

The only real reason to idle your car in winter, is to defrost the windows, says auto expert

Phil Bailey (centre) teaches Motive Power Techniques to automotive students at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Confederation College)

When the temperature drops well below zero in northwestern Ontario, it's common practice to let the car idle before hitting the road; but an automotive expert in Thunder Bay says warming up the engine may actually be doing more harm than good. 

The need to idle is one of the biggest cold weather car maintenance myths he encounters, said Phil Bailey, who teaches automotive mechanics at Confederation College. 

"I think you're probably doing more damage by idling ... for longer than it takes to defrost the windshield," he said. 

Modern vehicles warm up better when they're being driven, said Bailey, and idling produces condensation that can contaminate the engine oil. That's why it's also a good idea to change the oil more often in the winter, he said. 

To keep the car running smoothly, it's also a good idea to plug in the block heater any time temperatures approach minus 20 degrees, said Bailey. One or two hours plugged in should do the trick, he added. 

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