It’s been said time and time again, especially from older folks: if you want your car to run properly in cold weather, then you need to start your car and allow it to idle for a few minutes before driving it. But is this really true? 


There seems to be some contention regarding this topic among automotive experts. Some insist that this is a myth, claiming that driving your car at residential speed even in the cold has no bearing on the functionality of the vehicle. However, others claim that letting the car idle is a necessity, if for no other reason than to allow time for the oil to begin flowing properly.  


Many insist that warming up a car in freezing temps is absolutely required for your car to run properly and that refusing to do so can increase wear on your engine over time. 


“The oil is the lifeblood of the engine,” said Joseph Henmueller, president and COO of the Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association


Henmueller suggests that cars should idle for one to two minutes before driving in cold temps. He claims oil needs time to warm up and lubricate properly, especially in freezing temperatures. 


“Fluids get thicker when it is cold, so to lubricate properly they need 60 to 120 seconds of the engine running,” Henmueller added. 


Another expert, Shanna Simmons, the Global Technical Director of Shell, claims the whole thing is a myth. 


“While it does take longer for motor oil to pump in extreme cold temperatures, we are talking milliseconds, not minutes,” Simmons stated. “Your engine will warm up the oil much faster when driving at full speed not to mention idling wastes gas.”


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also takes the side that idling your car is wasteful and largely unhelpful. Both the EPA and claim that a car should not idle for longer than 30 seconds at a time, as refraining from idling is both cost-effective and environmentally friendly. 


In some major cities in fact, restrictions are placed on the amount of time a driver may idle his or her vehicle. For example, in Minneapolis, idle-time is limited to no more than three minutes (except in “extreme conditions” defined as subzero temperatures or heat waves of more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit). Other cities, like Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston have similar regulations, and drivers can face a fine for refusing to comply.


Regardless of where they fall on the spectrum, all experts universally agree that you should take it easy in terms of speed and acceleration when starting your car in cold weather. Henmueller recommends that you refrain from exceeding 45 miles per hour at least for the first five to ten minutes of your commute.

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