Avoiding car trouble in the c-c-c-cold

Our resident “myFM Mechanic” Marc Poirier answers some questions about taking care of your car in this cold.

What is the proper way to “warm up” your vehicle?

  • If it is extremely cold and your car is hard to start, you should minimize the draw on your battery. While remote starters are convenient, they don’t think. They just crank your engine. On a really cold day you should go out to your car, turn off all accessories and start your car with your key. Once started, you can turn on accessories like front and rear defrost etc. That reduces the initial draw on your battery.

At what temperature should you consider letting your car warm up, and for how long?

  • I think that anytime the temperature is below zero or definitely -10 Celsius you should let your car warm up. All cars are different but 5-15 minutes depending on how cold it is. Ideally, you want your car to reach operating temperature or close to it.

What are common mistakes people make when “warming up” their vehicles?

  • Many people expect instant hear from their car’s heater. The reality is that your heater works based on the temperature of your engine coolant. The hotter it is, the hotter your heater is. That’s why you see people stuff cardboard in front of their radiator. It’s an attempt to make their car run “hotter”. If that worked, the factory would do it.

Is it true that newer vehicles only need a few minutes to warm up?

  • I always like to see a vehicle close to operating temperature before it moves. All fluids – coolant, engine oil, transmission fluid and even power steering fluid – flow better if they are warmer.

Why don’t newer cars come with block heaters? And should people with older cars plug their cars in? If so, for how long?

  • A block heater is an added expense. The volume of cars sold in cold climates is low, so the block heater isn’t standard equipment. I once heard that more cars are sold in the state of California than in all of Canada! Plugging in your block heater gives your car a kind of head start when starting. If the engine is warmer, then it allows the car to roll over faster causing a quicker start and less drain on your battery. Once your car starts, your battery begins to recharge. Bottom line: a block heater helps and I think cars in Canada should have one.


  • Park your car so it can be accessed to boost if needed.
  • Don’t turn your car off until you turn your wipers off. They may be frozen in place the next day and blow a fuse if left on.
  • Keep your car full of fuel. You never know when the extra fuel may be needed.
  • Clean off all windows and excess snow before driving your car.

“My car didn’t let me down…I let my car down.” -Marc Poirier

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