If you’re in a hurry and just want an answer to the above question, it’s no. You no longer need to warm up your car in winter — for your car’s sake — unless it’s old enough to have a carburetor (unlikely unless it’s at least 30 years old), or it’s electric or a plug-in hybrid.
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Wait, electric? You bet. But if you need to be convinced why this is true for a conventional car, or want more details on why you should warm up an electric vehicle and might want to warm up a gas or diesel car, read on.
It Used to Be Different
Without question, just a few decades ago warming up a car used to be necessary for two primary reasons related to the less sophisticated nature of both cars and motor oil. Most cars had carburetors instead of fuel injectors until roughly the mid-1990s, and carbs were imprecise devices even at their best, especially upon startup when they choked the engine and ran fuel-rich until the engine warmed up.
Part of the problem is the intake manifold that routed the air-fuel mixture to the cylinders would allow liquid fuel to pool. The manifold, which back then was always metal, had to literally warm up until it became hot enough to vaporize fuel; until it did, the engine would run rich, rough, stall more easily and pollute like mad. Fuel injection, especially with time and improvement, solved this.
What’s changed with oil is that it’s better than it used to be, flows easier at colder temperatures and is better matched to the engine in which it’s used. What hasn’t changed is that more wear happens when you crank the engine and for the few seconds after it starts, before the oil circulates and lubricates its various surfaces, than in the tens or even hundreds of miles of driving that follow. It’s just that today’s oil is better at shortening that oil-starved period.
However, there are means to give your engine a leg up.
So, How Long?
If you’re still wondering how long to wait before putting the car in gear after starting the engine in cold temperatures, how’s 30 seconds? In a car that’s well maintained and operating properly, that’s plenty of time. The most important tip is not to accelerate too aggressively until the engine is fully warmed up. (This is also true in warm weather, though it takes longer when it’s cold.) We’re not saying you have to make a menace of yourself in traffic, but avoid flooring it immediately. If it gives you a clue, some performance cars — including BMW M cars and the Chevrolet Corvette — have long featured instrument panels that start out with a lower redline (that’s the maximum recommended rpm on the engine speed gauge, called the tachometer) when the engine first starts, and it gradually increases as the engine warms.