Corrections & Clarifications: An earlier version of this story misstated what happens when liquids are frozen. Water expands when frozen, while most other liquids do not.
An intense cold snap is threatening to smash record lows across much of the nation through Thursday.
With temperatures sliding and winter fast approaching, many car owners are asking: How often should I start my car to warm it up?
Turns out, the answer doesn’t lie in frequency.
Experts at AAA, a federation of motor clubs, say it’s not a good idea to warm your car up to keep it from freezing.
“Ninety-five percent of the cars on the road today don’t use carburetors, so you no longer need to warm them up on cold days,” said Mike Calkins, manager of technical services at AAA.
Instead of repeatedly starting up your car to keep it warm, drivers who are concerned about their engines freezing could have a block heater installed for under $100, Calkins said. A block heater, which plugs into standard electrical outlets, will keep the engine from getting cold so the car starts easier the next morning.
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If a driver were to start their engine in extremely cold weather without a block heater, they would need to get it up to full operating temperature, which is best accomplished through driving the car around.
Even after some driving, however, it takes only a couple of hours for the engine to cool down from full operating temperature, Calkins says. Moreover, he says, repeatedly starting a car without running it long enough to recharge the battery can lower the battery’s capacity over time.
Antifreeze protection also is a good alternative to starting up cars often.
Antifreeze prevents the coolant mixture from freezing. When water freezes, it expands, which Calkins says can create pressure that can crack engine blocks.
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Calkins says cars typically use a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water, which provides protection for minus-30 to minus-35-degree weather. But if temperatures drop, car owners should have a higher concentration of antifreeze, up to 70%.
If a driver isn’t sure what the antifreeze protection level is in their car, Calkins recommends they find out soon to protect against possible damage.
This story originally published in January 2019.
Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown