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Older car, cold weather?
December 11, 2009 8:12 AM   Subscribe

My car's getting older, and I have recently moved to a new place with no garage. I'm worried about it starting in cold weather. More details inside!

I've got a 2000 VW Golf, gasoline, not diesel. I've had a garage for years, and so never bothered with a block heater, which is pretty standard issue hardware in Northern Ontario.

I'm wondering, I suppose, if there is a better approach to the old block heater idea, which warms the oil in most I've seen. My battery is orginal as well. So far, at -15 celsius, the car's starting ok, but beginning to sound like it's not liking it too much.

Up here...we'll hit -25 to -35 Celsius (which is down to -31 F) eventually. Part of me would like to avoid a solution that means sucking electricity all night.

Any ideas?
posted by Richat to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total)
 
My Quebecois colleague newly relocated to SK here got a pan heater installed on his car rather than a block heater.

Also there are timer devices available to plug in between the outlet and your extension cord so that the power only flows to your car for a few hours before you need it, thus not draining electricity all night.
posted by lizbunny at 8:16 AM on December 11, 2009


I use an Optima Red Top battery for my vehicle. It's a very strong battery that seems to handle the cold very well.
posted by tumble at 8:29 AM on December 11, 2009


I grew up in northern MN, and my car was parked outside. It was an '86 Olds, and a block heater was the only thing that got it going some mornings. Not a bad investment.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:50 AM on December 11, 2009


You want to make sure you're running a very thin synthetic oil. If the battery is older than about 3 years, replace it. Otherwise you should be OK without supplemental heat. Keeping the oil itself warm with a pan heater isn't that important if it's a good synthetic, as the oil is a tiny fraction of the total thermal mass of the engine and synthetics flow fine at crazy low temperatures. Something like Mobil 1 0w30 or 0w40 is good to well below -30F. The 4-cylinder in the '00 Golf is a pretty robust little motor to begin with, too.
posted by paanta at 8:51 AM on December 11, 2009


It's funny, I completely forgot about these fancy new "timers" that exist now, in this modern fancy world! That's one idea for sure.

A new battery might just be the ticket too. It's not like mine is failing, but...a newer, stronger one might save me the electricity involved in a couple hours heating oil/coolant.

Mind you, I think I've heard, anecdotally, that the coolant heaters are nice, because they help deliver warm air to the car's cabin faster.
posted by Richat at 8:54 AM on December 11, 2009


Block heater with a timer where you plug it into the outlet. Set it so that that block heater kicks in an hour or two before you have to leave. That's all you need. Cars are fine starting in the cold, particularly VW's, which are engineered for northern climates
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 8:54 AM on December 11, 2009


You have an original battery from 2000? Wow. Replacing them every 3-4 years is pretty standard here in the heat of Texas.
posted by Doohickie at 9:06 AM on December 11, 2009


That's funny, doohickie. Maybe the less hot summers and cold winters up here are kinder to them? But yeah, it's the original!
posted by Richat at 9:13 AM on December 11, 2009


"I'm wondering, I suppose, if there is a better approach to the old block heater idea, which warms the oil in most I've seen."

I prefer inline coolant heaters rather than block heaters. Cold oil can be compensated somewhat with proper weight oil however keeping your head(s) warm allows fuel to mix better and spark off easier. And a smeg of a lot easier to install than a block heater.

Richat writes "A new battery might just be the ticket too. It's not like mine is failing, but...a newer, stronger one might save me the electricity involved in a couple hours heating oil/coolant. "

Auto batteries in cold regions basically last 5-7 years. Yours is either near to needing replacement or desperately in need of replacement depending on whether it's the original or not. (On preview I see it is original so ya, change that sucker out pronto. CostCo has good prices on batteries if you've got one around)

When you buy your timer make sure it's rated for 15 amps. Many lamp timers aren't.

Finally if your car doesn't start some cold night bringing your battery inside to warm up will easily triple it's power when you put it back. And you can buy magnetic clamp on heaters that'll stick to your oil pan. I use on for the crankcase of my air compressor in the winter and it works well. The drawback is I wouldn't trust it to stay attached while driving so you have to stick it on every time you use it.
posted by Mitheral at 9:13 AM on December 11, 2009


I recently bought a "block heater" that was actually an inline coolant heater (around here all heaters are referred to as block heaters). It was about $100, installed and is the bomb. My car is new-ish and refuses to start at -30(F) without it.
posted by fshgrl at 9:58 AM on December 11, 2009


My family and I lived in Geraldton Ont. for a while, and we also used an in-line coolant heater as fshgrl describes. It was very effective, and I don't see how it couldn't be used with a timer to get the car ready when you need it. Combined with a good cold-cranking battery for unexpected trips and an industrial-strength ice scraper, you should be set.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:11 AM on December 11, 2009


Thanks for the input. Think I'll check out the inline coolant heaters, and a timer!
posted by Richat at 1:07 PM on December 11, 2009


(and a new battery I think...forgot that part)
posted by Richat at 1:08 PM on December 11, 2009


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