Why You Shouldn’t 'Heat Up' Your Car's Engine In Cold Weather

iStock/borchee
iStock/borchee

When the inside of your car is no warmer than the frozen tundra outside, it’s easy to believe you need to let your engine “heat up” for a minute or two by idling in your driveway before driving away. The old adage goes that giving your engine time to reach its normal operating temperature is easier on your car than hitting the gas as soon as you turn the ignition on. One 2009 study showed that, on average, Americans believed a car's engine should be left to idle for nearly four minutes in subfreezing temperatures—but it turns out this behavior is not only bad for your wallet and the environment, but your car as well.

In 2016, Business Insider spoke with former drag racer Stephen Ciatti to get to the bottom of this widespread myth. Ciatti has a PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has worked on combustion engines for nearly 30 years, so he knows a thing or two about how to best treat your car. And he says that idling your machine in the cold only leads to a shorter lifespan for your engine.

In older car models that relied on carburetors to run, frigid weather did pose a threat to engine performance. Gasoline is less likely to evaporate in colder temperatures, which would have led to carburetors failing to get the right mixture of air and fuel into the engine. This sometimes caused cars to stall out, and that's likely what led to the practice of heating up our vehicles in our driveways in the winter. But if you’re driving a car that was made in the past few decades, this is no longer something to stress over. Beginning in the 1980s, car companies began replacing carburetors with electronic fuel injection, which uses sensors to calculate the correct mixture of air and fuel to supply your engine with.

When temperatures dip below freezing, your engine is already aware of this and adjusts by introducing more gasoline into the fuel mix. By letting your car idle, you’re subjecting your engine to more gasoline-rich fuel than necessary, and this ends up stripping oil from your engine’s vital components.

"Gasoline is an outstanding solvent and it can actually wash oil off the [combustion chamber's] walls if you run it in those cold idle conditions for an extended period of time," Ciatti told Business Insider. He said this washing action can gradually "have a detrimental effect on the lubrication and life of things like piston rings and cylinder liners." So in the end, what you intend as gentle behavior toward your car’s engine could turn out to be the opposite.

Once your engine reaches a temperature of around 40 degrees it switches back to its regular fuel mixture, but idling doesn’t help it hit that point any faster. According to Ciatti, the fastest way to heat up an engine is to actually drive. But don’t take that as an excuse to go gunning down the driveway: Your engine will take between five and 15 minutes to reach a normal temperature from the moment you hit the gas. Until then, go easy on the pedal to avoid putting additional stress on your engine.

This article originally appeared in 2016.

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

Sign Up Today: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews, and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping newsletter!

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

The Reason Stone Crabs Are So Expensive

Thomas Hawk, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
Thomas Hawk, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Many people associate lobster with fine dining, but the stone crab may be the true king of fancy shellfish. Per pound, the crab is the most expensive seafood consumed in the United States. The crustacean is highly sought after for its delicate, succulent taste, but that's not the only reason for its high price tag. The cost of stone crabs comes from the way the creature is harvested.

To prevent their population from being wiped out, stone crab fishing is strictly regulated. In Florida, where 98 percent of all stone crabs sold in the country originate, the crabs can only be harvested from October 15 through May 1. That's why stone crab season lasts half the year at markets and restaurants.

Stone crab harvesting isn't as simple as hauling a box of live crabs to shore. Fishermen are only allowed to collect one claw from each crab they catch. The claw must be at least 2.75 inches long, and it can't belong to an egg-bearing female.

Once the claw is broken off, the live crab is thrown back into the ocean, where it will have a chance to continue mating and reproducing. Stone crabs can survive with one claw, and it takes them about a year to regrow the lost appendage. That means there's a good chance the owner of the stone crab claw you ordered is still crawling through the ocean when your dinner arrives.

Due to these sustainability practices, one pound of stone crab takes more time and effort to harvest than most other crustaceans. The crab can sell anywhere from $30 to $60 per pound depending on the claw size. And thanks to high demand from seafood lovers, that price likely won't go down anytime soon.