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.