Warming up your car can lead to theft, fuel waste

The first snowfall of the season covered the city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada with 5-10cm of snow on November 16, 2018. (Photo by Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The snow and below zero temperatures have started to hit across the country, which makes commuting more of a challenge. For many, warming up the car for a few minutes before hitting the road is an efficient way to multitask. But some transport experts, including police, want to discourage drivers from this tactic, especially if they’re not in the car. 

Last week, York Regional Police sent out a tweet about a “warm-up theft”, after a car owner in Markham had their vehicle stolen from their own lot. The person had left the car running in the driveway to heat up, which resulted in the vehicle being stolen. 

Jeniffer Sidhu, with Toronto Police, says every year the force receives several calls from people who’ve left a car unattended to warm up in the driveway, only to come back to it gone. She says there’s a few ways drivers can avoid warm-up thefts.

“If you’re going to start your vehicle and leave it unattended prior to heading out, always get a remote car starter, or have two sets of keys,” she says. “Warm up your vehicle, start it and then have it locked so when you return, you open with another set of keys to prevent warm-up theft.”

Why warming up before you drive isn’t necessary

Kristine D'Arbelles, senior manager of public affairs with CAA National, says the idea that drivers have to start the car several minutes before departing to heat it up and melt any snow and ice, is an outdated practice. Most modern cars - those manufactured within the last decade - heat up quicker while they’re being driven.

“There’s no need to sit there and heat up the engine before you drive,” she tells Yahoo Canada. “It’s an old practice. You’d need to heat it up for maybe 30 seconds.”

D'Arbelles suggests clearing off any snow and ice while the car’s being heated up, and then driving slower than usual for up to 15 minutes. 

“I wouldn’t jump into the car and screech out of the driveway, that’ll probably hurt the engine,” she says. “But I’d drive normally or maybe a little bit slower.”

Another thing to consider is that idling a car to warm up a car leads to unnecessary waste. 

“You can drive your vehicle and you’ll be using that fuel to drive to your location,” says D'Arbelles. “You might as well use it efficiently by warming up while you drive to your location, instead of waste fuel in your driveway.” 

Many newer models have a feature called remote start, which can start the car from another location, like the house. For older models which don’t have such features, D'Arbelles suggests reading the owner’s manual and doing a bit of research. 

She says it takes less fuel to turn off the car than leaving it to run, if a car owner needs to dash back into the house to pick up that something they’ve forgotten. It also minimizes the risk of theft by taking the keys out and locking up the car. 

“If you’re going to be parked somewhere and you know you’re going to be idling, it’s best to turn your car off and turn it back on,” she says. “Yes, it uses a little bit of fuel but even less fuel than if you were to keep your car running that entire time...this way you avoid potential theft and you save fuel in the long run.”