Ask LH: Do I Need To Warm My Engine Before Driving?

Ask LH: Do I Need To Warm My Engine Before Driving?

Dear Lifehacker, I have a relatively new 2012 model car, and I was wondering if it is still true that you have to warm up your car in the morning by turning the engine on for a while, before use? Or is that just a wives’ tale or for someone with a really old car? Thanks, Rev Ready

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Dear RR,

Lifehacker Editor Gus handed me this question on the grounds that I drive and he doesn’t, but I have to admit that before looking into it, I didn’t precisely know one way or the other, but suspected that it wasn’t necessary for new vehicles.

It’s an argument that goes around and around and does appear to differ depending on who you ask and the type of vehicle you drive. Those into either classic or very high performance cars will swear it’s true, but for regular modern everyday cars it’s not needed, and indeed a waste of perfectly good fuel that could be getting you places.

You may see different sides to this argument, though. There’s the issue with getting the fuel moving around in the car, but that’s down to fuel injection systems, and in a modern car they’ll handle Aussie temperatures quite nicely. You may see an argument about getting the oil heated up to properly lubricate the rest of the car, but even that appears to be a furphy; an article in the Toronto Globe And Mail that covers this exact question notes that in Canadian climes (where it gets considerably colder for much longer) it’s not usual to see oil thicken up due to cold weather, right down to minus ten degrees.

So in short, no. Do your car, your wallet and the environment a favour, and simply get in your car and drive.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • I know someone with a new Hyundai, and in its owner manual it says to not warm the car up as the catalytic converter would heat up too much..

  • Why the choice of a hoon-related photo? That choice is a little odd here.. It also appears to NOT be in a private road (there is a truck bypassing behind, looks almost like a lawn as well there).

  • Just to make sure this isn’t misleading, you shouldn’t warm up the engine by sitting in the driveway till it reaches operating temp, but you should drive at relatively low load and revs until it reaches operating temp.

      • 16 years as a mechanic, then 6 with a known racing team agrees. In a normal car there is no advantage of warming it up – get in, start and simply dont accelerate too hard for the first few minutes.

        Even though race engines are a lot tighter tolerances, parts are pushed much harder in race conditions, the same thing applies to them. They could easily be started and driven from cold without undue wear provided you dont push them to the limits for the first 5 minutes.

          • I think you might find that’s not exactly true. A skilled mechanic (such as one who works in racing) knows quite a fair bit about an engine. I’ve rebuilt a couple motorbikes in my time and tinkered with cars, and it’s not as easy as just putting the round thing in the round hole. A lot of the time you have to understand how the part works and what the exact function of each component is so that you can put it back together. Knowing how things operate is key to figuring out what might be causing that funny noise or other condition, otherwise you’re just stabbing in the dark.

          • Dude are you for real? David99 and sobaniforce both had informative answers that added to the discussion. In fact it is your replies that smack of elitism.
            OT – I was told that letting the car idle for 30 seconds or so would get the oil out of the sump and into the engine.

          • right, it seems that @kato and @skittlebrau don’t know how to read the lifehacker threads. My reply was to @b0m8.

          • Oops. Sorry I hit reply on the wrong user!

            EDIT: Actually I don’t even remember writing that. I’m having doubts about myself now…

  • While warming your engine your gearbox sits idle not warming up (besides heat radiating from the engine or radiator for an auto).
    With modern injected engines just start it and drive.
    Just don’t floor it.

  • While you probably don’t need to warm up, it’d still be advisable not to push the car hard immediately on starting (as implied by the burnout image :-P) In other words, just drive normally and you’ll be fine.

  • Most of us warm the car up before setting off also to get the car comfortable or the windscreen defrosted before setting off because the heating and air-conditioning in the car is totally dependent on the engine running. I notice this a lot more on very cold or very hot days where people stay in the car and keep the engine running while waiting for their passengers for example.

  • I always wait about 10 seconds or so to get the oil pressure up, then avoid WOT until it’s at operating temp, I may just be paranoid though

  • Most owners manuals these days recommend not warming up because that is a waste of fuel. The caveat is that you should avoid high revs (3500+ RPM) until the oil and engine have both warmed up. Most engines are made of of different metals or alloys which can expand at different rates, so cruise around a bit before you do any spirited driving. Catalytic converters are also more efficient at higher temperatures, so the less gasses they have to filter while they warm up, the better.

  • I like how you have a straight out answer of “No”, if you drive a car that has a horizontally opposed engine, or a rotary (wankel) engine, then yes.

    • Which would be sporty-type vehicles, unless I’m mistaken (always feasible), and I address those in the second paragraph:

      “Those into either classic or very high performance cars will swear it’s true, but for regular modern everyday cars it’s not needed”

  • Don’t bother “warming up”. Do yourself a favour and do a visual safety check instead.
    Inspect your tyre tread condition. If you have time check your tyre pressure. Inspect your brake discs. Check for any loose body parts. Adjust your mirrors and driver seat. Make sure you have enough fuel, and oil light is not on etc…

  • For high-performance engines such as sports-bikes, I always warm up the engine by idling. I have read owner’s manuals that recommend not riding until the water temperature is at least 40 degrees C. The tolerances are so much finer that you really want everything fitting perfectly before really exercising the engine. I cringe when I see riders jumping on their bike, starting it and screaming off into the distance.

  • It depends on your engine. Some 10 year old EFI engines idle higher on a cold start for a minute or two before returning to normal idle.
    You would want to warm up a Ducati 1098 before blasting it down the road. Might save you having to fork out $400 for o-rings. Or was that a design feature to sell o-rings and keep Ducati mechanics employeed?

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