You think it’s
hard on you when it’s 10 degrees outside?
You may feel
cold. Your car is cold. If it’s 10 degrees outside,
that’s the temperature of your car. Its engine. The oil in
the engine. Everything else, too. Now imagine being subjected to
sudden extremes of pressure, friction and rapid heating. Hammered
by explosions, bathed in frigid oil. From stationary to more than
a thousand up and down cycles every 60 seconds – and that’s
just at idle. To even approximate this in human terms, you’d
need to do something like jump into Lake Michigan buck naked in
January – and breaststroke like Michael Phelps without showing
any signs of strain.
I am grateful
I’m not a piston… .
And your car
will be grateful if you’re kind to it when it’s cold.
Gratefulness that will be expressed in longer life – and fewer
problems during that life. Here’s what you can do:
inside, if you can
has a two car garage… full of garage sale junk. His cars
were parked outside. I finally nagged him into clearing out the
junk, so his cars could stay indoors – where it’s 15-20
degrees warmer on a 20 degree day outside by dint of being inside
– and enclosed. Subjecting a car to cold start conditions
– among the most abusive conditions a car typically experiences
– is much less abusive when it’s not quite so cold.
The car’s parts will warm up faster, too – which is
better for them – and for you (the heater/defroster gets going
more quickly). Plus, you won’t have to chisel your way into
the car with an ice-pick and scraper.
a block (or radiator) heater if you have to park outside
In meat locker
areas – the places where it gets really cold (the
negative numbers) – the locals know that without
a block heater, their car might not turn over tomorrow morning –
much less actually start. In extreme cold, battery power may be
half what it would be at room temperature – and that cold-gimped
battery is trying to turn over a reciprocating assembly that’s
bathed in cold-congealed oil. During WWII, the Germans resorted
to building fires underneath their tanks to try to keep them start-viable
in -30 conditions. The more technologically sophisticated (and safer)
approach is to use a block heater – typically, an electrically
heated magnetic pad that you slap onto the oil pan – and plug
into a standard household outlet. There are variations on the concept
– such as a heating element that you insert into the dipstick
– or the radiator. But the idea is always the same: Keep the
temperature of the engine from descending to absolute zero –
well, whatever the outside temperature happens to be.
the rest of the article
[send him mail] is an
automotive columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
© 2013 Eric Peters
Best of Eric Peters