Through the wire: How and when to plug in your car during winter

Get yourself a good extension cord and a timer

Jens Nielsen | Driving With Jens

Now that winter has returned it’s time to look at plugging your vehicle in at night so that you can depend on it starting for you in the morning.

Get a really good quality extension cord that will reach from your vehicle to the nearest outdoor plug allowing a generous amount of extra cord. I always like to get a cord that has a built in little LED light that glows when you plug it in, so you know there is power there. It just offers some peace of mind. If you don’t have this type of cord, make sure you test to make sure there is power at the plug you are using. You can do this by plugging in a hair dryer or something. If there isn’t power there then the breaker is likely turned off to that plug.

On the other end of that cord is a heater of some kind. There is likely more than one kind. Over the years many different types of heaters have come and gone.

Circulation heaters were quite common at one time. These heaters were basically spliced into a section of heater hose where they heated and circulated the coolant in your engine. There would not be a place to do this with modern engines.

Cabin air space heaters were also very common at one time. These heaters were placed on the floor usually in the center of your car under the dash, and kept the inside of your vehicle warm. They are still available today but are not used very much. Technology has replaced the need for these types of heaters. Remote start systems that activate heated seats and heated steering wheels combined with better, quicker heaters now allow you to warm up your vehicle before you get in it.

There are three main heaters used today that you may have installed on your vehicle. Block heaters, oil Pan heaters and battery blankets.

Block heaters are the most common type and many vehicles come right from the factory with one already installed. They consist of a simple electric heating element that is installed in your engine block in place of one of your engine’s core plugs. This immerses in your engine’s coolant and keeps your engine block warm. This type of heater will help allow your car to heat up quicker but does not assist in cold weather starting as much as the next two types.

Oil pan heaters consist of a heating element attached to the bottom of your oil pan that keeps your engine oil warm. Warm oil will immediately circulate throughout your engine during start up. Warmer, less viscous engine oil and less condensation of fuel on the cold metal surfaces inside the engine will assist in cold weather starting.

Battery blankets are just as they sound: a warming blanket wrapped around your battery that keeps it insulated and warm when plugged in. This helps prevent the battery from freezing and will help start your car quickly on cold mornings.

At cold temperatures, your battery’s ability to provide sufficient power to start and run a vehicle is greatly diminished. Keeping your battery fully charged will also help. Batteries can freeze. A weak battery can start to freeze at 0 C, while a fully charged battery won’t freeze until about -60 C.

Batteries are often rated in cold-cranking amperage. This is the amount of current a battery can deliver at -18 C without dropping to a specified voltage. The higher the cold-cranking amperage, the better the battery will perform in the cold.

Having all three types of heaters in your vehicle will offer the best help with freezing cold weather starting.

According to a study by the University of Saskatchewan, you should plug in your car in the temperature will drop below -15 C during the night. Check your weather app or the local news to see what the temperature will do. If it’s cold when you get home, plug your vehicle in right away, especially if you have it on a timer. Once you get settled in the house it’s too easy to forget about it.

The same study showed that after four hours you are no longer adding any benefit. Timers are very affordable and are available at Walmart, Canadian Tire and Home Hardware. You can plug your extension cord into the timer and then set it to come on four hours before you will need to start your vehicle.

Even at -25 C or colder you can probably still start your car without plugging it in, but you shouldn’t.

Catch Driving With Jens on CHON FM Thursdays at 8:15. If you have any questions or comments you can reach out to Jens Nielsen at drivingwithjens@gmail.com, Facebook or Twitter: @drivingwithjens.

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