• Feb 17th 2007 at 12:44PM
  • 45
Here in the Autoblog New England office, we've been experiencing a spell of weather where temps fail to break the 30's. It's not the most extreme in the country, but it's darn cold. The low temps are driving many folks to commit ritual torture to their cars. Being the comfort seekers we are, most people enjoy stepping in to a warm car. Nevermind that many cars have heated seats that can scorch your tukas in a jiffy, or that it's far more efficient to just start and go, remote starters are quite a popular option/retrofit in these parts. That popularity leads to vehicles idling for extended periods just to spare a few minutes of slight discomfort.

Idling to warm up is murder on the engine. Condensation and acids build up in the oil, and an idling car attains zero miles per gallon. Squandering all that gasoline so you can avoid the five minutes it might take to start getting heat also spews out lots of CO2. That's great if you're trying to eradicate winter altogether in a few millennia, but it's mainly selfish and wasteful. We were reminded this morning that there is an alternative.

more after the jump

There is a better way to avoid the winter scrape, scrape routine, one that I'm hot to install in my fleet of Volvo S60s. Commonly available in Europe as factory options on many cars, and known as parking heaters, these little gasoline or diesel powered units are nothing new. Many of the old air-cooled Volkswagens had them, even here in the US. I seem to remember my grandfather manually lighting off some kind of heater in the cargo area of one his many Type 2s. The concept has been around for a while, and we wish it would catch on more.

Basically, the unit is plumbed into the cooling and fuel systems. Controlled manually, by remote fob, or by a timer, the units consume a tiny fraction of the fuel an idling engine would. The coolant is heated and circulated through the entire system by an integral pump. The interior fan is also interfaced with the unit, and it is run whilst the warmed coolant is being pumped around. The result is a cabin that's comfy cozy in the deepest of winter, windows that are easy to clear, an engine that thanks you, and drastically reduced fuel consumption.

The European makes don't offer them here in the US (that we know of) - and conjecture leads us to believe that the reason is a lack of faith in the common American's intelligence. Since they're powered by fuel, the units emit a certain amount of carbon monoxide, just like your car's engine. The fear is that Americans, dolts that we are, would run the heating units within a closed garage attached to the house. Perhaps a warning label and some instruction from the sales staff would avert that crisis? If your make/model of car is sold in Europe, it's a good bet you could turn up a part number for the OEM unit. It may take a while, and you may run into some trouble trying to actually get those part numbers here, too. There are retrofit units available here in the US. One of the biggest manufacturers of these units is Webasto, and they've got installers all over the place for their "Blue Heat" branded system. From what we've heard, the cost is about $2,000 installed, which sounds steep, but if you care about the environment and your car, it may be money well spent so you can sleep at night. You know you'll wake up in the morning to a toasty whip without running afoul of any "anti-idling" legislation, nor will the Eco Tribe roll up in their Prius-Panzers and assault you.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 8 Years Ago
      Sometimes you realize an error a split second too late...

      Oh, well, the link looks awful, but it should still work.

      I should add that I asked about remote start use on a couple of forums (GMInsideNews and Saturnfans) to see if it might really be an issue. And many people do seem to let the engine run for 5-10 minutes on especially cold days. Much more common than I expected.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Nobody needs to idle their cars anymore; ever since fuel injection came around, it became unnecessary. No more carburetors was the best thing that ever happened. People who buy and use remote starters are morons. Buy a car with climate control and you are done with worrying about adjusting temps. Be a man and take the cold weather, dammit.


      • 8 Years Ago
      Wow, a lot of people are selfish, ignorant idiots. Are you even familiar with modern engines or are you all driving 72 Chevelles? This article is 100% accurate. A lot of you said you car doesn't run well while cold, well then DRIVE IT and let it warm up faster. If it idles longer then it will run cold longer and cause more engine damage. Oil takes much longer to heat up than coolant, and oil has a much lower viscosity while cold, so it will not lubricate the engine nearly as well, might as well change your oil every 20k. And as far as the people who said they let their cars idle for 10 minutes go, you are half the reason that gas is so expensive. Supply and demand. Next time you whine about gas prices, think about economics. The more gas we buy, the higher oil companies will make the prices.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Puh-lease! Are you people seroius?

      1. Start car.
      2. Scape windows.
      3. Drive off.

      Thats it, yes, its cold inside. Whah... cry about it. Heres a little article to read... I'll wait...


      Get some gloves and a coat and suck it up!
      • 8 Years Ago
      Oil is very thick at cold temperatures. Even here in Atlanta, freezing temps overnight is not uncommon. I start my car a few minutes prior to leaving in order to allow the the oil time to circulate. Yes, driving a car immediately WILL warm it up faster, but you are subjecting a cold engine with sludge-like lubrication to LOAD. Most engines up north will open the oil pressure relief valve upon immediate start-up. This means less oil is flowing than possible in comparison to a engine with warm fluids. Thinner oil flows better. An engine at idle is doing little work and is not turning fast. These are optimal conditions if your oil supply is restricted.

      You guys also neglect the fact that gasoline has a very low boiling point. If you take short trips like myself, warming up the engine will allow the oil to get a little heat versus just driving off. This means more moisture (a product of combustion) and fuel will vaporize out of the oil. It doesn't stay there. I have my oil analysed after every change. Even with extended drains, and LOTS of short trips, the level of fuel dilution is minimal. Same for the moisture content. My wear metals are also consistantly low. All of this on a Nissan Titan that consistantly tows heavy construction materials on 10,000 mile intervals.

      Screw mother nature, and screw the tree hugging hippies. One volcanic eruption will pour forth more environmental destructive force than all of my modern fuel injected vehicles combined during their lifetimes. Why don't we put emission controls on volcanos? Get a life people. There are both pros and cons to an idle before you drive. It depends on what your priorities are and how you have to drive.

      FYI, this article sound like a straight up advertisement.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Sorry, I have no idea how THAT happened.
      • 8 Years Ago
      --continued comment--
      less then 2500RPM) down the road is going to at least get you some *Miles* for your Gallon...

      However the problem of gelled oil, and ice-encrusted windows etc is still unsolved unless you wear the engine and warm it fully before getting in...

      The current solutions are:
      1. block heater: doesn't warm the interior cabin or remove ice but heats the oil, allowing the engine to start easier and wear less. BUT you need to plug it in (or a really good battery.)
      2. Engine remote start: Warms up the car and interior but doesn't solve the wasted fuel and wear from gelled oil issues.

      So basically as I see it the system described in the article is a solution to all the issues, at the expense of cost/complexity (suprised?)
      1. Since the COOLANT is heated and pumped through the engine, engine wear when starting would be greatly reduced, although I would expect the oil would remain somewhat gelled for the first couple seconds?
      2. since the coolant is heated *AND PUMPED*, the car's heater can be run solving the interior cold, and Iced windows problem.
      3. A heater is more efficient then a motor at producing heat, so fuel is saved.

      I guess the crux of this problem is one of technology gains/cost/complexity... as usual a trade off

      If the (gas heater/ pump / required fitting) cost, say $500, it would be attractive, however at $2000 it's merely a luxury, like hybrid vehicles.

      • 8 Years Ago
      It's my impression from reading various sources that once the engine drops down from "fast idle," you're good to go - usually takes under a minute. I've also heard that driving off with a low RPM load is better for the car than just sitting there - allows more components to heat up (and more evenly), faster.

      Personally, I start the car, adjust my coat and the radio before moving - the car's off of fast idle by then, and within a couple blocks the engine temp gauge starts moving up - about 2-3 mins, tops.

      This is for temperatures that usually don't go below 15F (StL and NJ), so I have no idea if you can do that in really, really cold temperatures.

      As for the rest of you, I'm impressed by the lack of social consciousness we have, collectively. We don't all have to drive hybrids or diesels, but the "I bought it, so I'm using it how I damn well please" attitude is, IMHO, appalling. So if you bought a dog, it would be ethical to mistreat it or kill it because you paid for it? Or if you just bought an acre of woodlands, it would be right to light it on fire? Just something to ponder. Personally, stepping outside into the cold makes sure my ass is awake in the morning...
      • 8 Years Ago
      Thanks Michael #37,#38.your point is well taken as my MB e320 sees very short trips in the winter and has evidence of the telltale brownish slime that you spoke of on the oil cap.I was previously inclined to let her idle on cold days (not too often),but am now told it's more in accordance with proper engine maintenance to idle until the fast idle slows down (30 sec.).Thanks for your thoughtful contribution to the posts.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Wow, love that Blue Heat...especially the price tag. ONLY $1,700.00 or, at today's prices, 775 gallons of gas. Seems like a VERY hard sell.

      Oh, I forgot to mention, adding this device to my car would just about DOUBLE its value
      • 8 Years Ago
      Remote start is the best.If you don't offer remote start in your car line your behind the curve.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Sure, that's all fine and dandy when the temperature is just under 30 degrees, but what about regions where it is below zero for days at a time? Does the 5-10 minutes of warm up cause anymore wear and tear than just jumping in and driving?
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