Warming Up Your Car in the Winter Before Driving Might Be a Bad Idea, According to Consumer Reports

If you live in a cold climate in the winter, it’s easy to see why you’d warm up your car ahead of time. No one wants to get into a freezing cold vehicle in the winter. Especially for people with a remote start on their keys, a warm car to climb into is much better and easier. Additionally, some people think allowing it to warm up is better for the engine. However, warming up your car in the winter before driving might be a bad idea. Consumer Reports says none of that is accurate, and you might want to avoid it altogether.

It might be a bad idea to warm up your car before driving in the winter

A man cleans snow from his car, Consumer Reports doesn't recommend warming up your car ahead of time.
A man cleans snow off his car | Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images

According to Consumer Reports‘ chief mechanic John Ibbotson, running your engine for a minute on a cold day is wise. However, he says that nothing more than that is necessary. Turn the car on to warm the cabin and defog the windshield, but that’s it. He says a real downside to running it for longer is consuming fuel and generating emissions.

Before reaching full operating temperature, an engine is already fully lubricated. When a car sits for a long time, oil drains down to the bottom of the oil pan. Starting the engine quickly circulates oil throughout the motor, which lubricates everything it needs quickly. Ibbotson says that a cold engine idles at 1,200 rpm or more, which means fast lubrication.

Modern engines can last upwards of 200,000 miles if properly maintained and always given a chance to lubricate.

You don’t need to run your car for 20 minutes before driving

A white Jeep Wrangler driving in the winter, Consumer Reports doesn't recommend warming up your car ahead of time.
A Jeep Wrangler driving through the snow in Denver, Colorado | Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

According to Consumer Reports, modern cars take only 20 to 30 seconds to lubricate thoroughly, thanks to improvements in technology. That means by the time most people get inside, start the car, and put their seatbelt on, it’s ready to go. At this point, the engine likely isn’t warm, but proper lubrication is all that matters.

Allowing the car to run for about a minute is recommended during winter driving. Fortunately for those who are always in a rush, the fastest way to warm up a car is by driving. Allowing your car’s engine to idle for 20 minutes or more might result in a perfectly warm cabin, but it’s a massive waste of gas. Using as much gas as your car does in that time is not worth it. Especially considering if owners hop in and drive the vehicle, it’ll warm up faster anyway.

Should you warm up your car in the winter before driving?

RELATED: Do You Need Winter Tires if Your Car Is All-Wheel-Drive?

The short answer is no, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Starting your car to defog the windshield and heat the cabin a bit is fine, but only for a short period. Experts from Consumer Reports say that modern cars lubricate their engines so quickly only a brief minute is needed in cold weather. Winter driving can be a hassle, so we understand the desire to get into a perfectly warm car. However, your vehicle warms up much faster when driving it, and you won’t waste as much gas.

In conclusion, Consumer Reports says if you have to warm up your car ahead of time, do it for a minute. That’s enough time to allow the engine to lubricate in the winter properly and to warm the cabin a little bit. Best of all, the engine won’t idle for 20 minutes or more, wasting gas and creating unnecessary emissions.

RELATED: The 6 Best Cars for Winter Driving and Traveling in the Snow