Warming up your car in cold weather can damage your engine. Here’s what to do instead

A dog sticks its head out of an SUV as the driver drives on a snow-covered road. (Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The winter is already brutal on your car because of the conditions, but drivers can make things harder by turning on the vehicle to let it warm up before driving. 

One thing some do when the temperatures are cold outside is to start the car and let the engine warm up a few seconds before driving. Several auto experts believe this may not be conducive to preserving the engine.

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Here are a few tips to warm up your car in cold weather without hurting the engine. 

Firestone Complete Auto Care explains on its website that cars with modern fuel injection systems can be driven by simply starting the engine without the car warming up. 

The auto service company notes that idling your engine could damage it while minimizing the car’s fuel efficiency, which is harmful to the environment due to fumes emitted from the engine that pollutes the air. 

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Firestone says drivers should bundle up, start their car without idling, and drive when it’s cold. Allowing your car to idle in the winter is bad for the engine, and it costs a lot of money to repair. Citing a 2009 study, Firestone notes that Americans waste $5.9 billion a year on gas while idling.

In the winter, most automakers recommend that drivers pull off gently after 30 seconds. The engine will warm faster being driven, which will allow the heat to turn on sooner while lowering your fuel costs, and reducing emissions, according to the Department of Energy.

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For drivers with electric vehicles, Napa shares helpful tips on its company blog. Napa says the most effective way to preserve your battery range on cold days is to allow the EV to run for a few minutes before pulling out of the driveway to give the cabin time to warm up. 

Napa notes that keeping the car plugged in and connected to grid power is better because the EV uses that for heating instead of the battery. Warming up your car before you unplug it and drive away is recommended with an EV because it helps save the battery range.

If you warm up your EV at home, Napa suggests keeping it connected to a level 2 charger. Plugging the car into a 120-volt outlet may not produce enough voltage to heat your car. Doing this may lower the battery range.

This story was reported from Washington, D.C.