Block Heaters: Lifesavers or Pointless? What You Need to Know When You Become a Mechanic

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Have you ever seen an electric cord dangling from the grill of a car? That is a telltale sign that the car probably has a block heater installed. If you’ve ever spent some time driving on a cold winter day, then you may have encountered a block heater or two before. Their essential purpose is to warm an engine up to increase its chances of starting and running well in the cold weather.

Another benefit block heaters offer that many people appreciate is that they allow for hot air to flow through the vents inside the car much sooner, which helps with defogging and, perhaps most importantly, keeping those inside the car toasty.

But in what weather conditions is a block heater recommended? And does a car really need one if it’s capable of starting up when it’s -30°C outside? To find out the answers to these questions and more, keep reading!

There Are Various Ways to Heat a Car in Cold Weather

Not only are there different types of block heaters that you may come across during your auto mechanic career, but there are also alternatives, such as using a remote starter or even an electric engine blanket. That’s right folks, there are heating blankets for car engines!

As far as block heaters go, there are contact heaters that bolt to an engine and heat up both the coolant and oil in a car, and also coolant heaters that replace the freeze plug or run in line with the radiator hose to warm a car’s coolant. Depending on the type of coolant heater, it can also slightly heat up a car’s oil or circulate the coolant to spread the heat out. Sometimes referred to as block heaters and sometimes categorized separately, there are also oil heaters which keep an engine’s oil warm.

Climbing into a warm car beats climbing into an icicle
Climbing into a warm car beats climbing into an icicle

Block Heaters Are Most Useful in Extremely Cold Temperatures

In areas where a deep freeze only happens every once in a while, remote starters might be the best way to go for heating up a car before driving. However, when temperatures dip well below zero—we’re talking around -15°C—block heaters can come in handy because a remote starter won’t be able to prevent potential engine damage that frigid temperatures can pose.

There are two reasons an engine is at risk in the cold. One is that cold oil doesn’t flow as it should to lubricate the engine when it starts, thus resulting in more friction and decreasing the car’s longevity through wear and tear. The second reason is that if coolant freezes, it expands. In the worst case scenario, frozen coolant can even crack the engine block!

Those in an Auto Mechanic Career Know Fixing a Cracked Engine Block Is Expensive

When you become a mechanic, you might have to repair an engine or two from time to time. You’ll know that repairing a cracked engine block can be more than a little expensive, and as a result might want to encourage clients to consider getting a block heater to prevent damage.

In addition to prolonging a car’s longevity and preventing severe damage, block heaters can also save money because starting and idling a warm engine burns less gasoline. Spending the winter starting up a cold engine will use more fuel in the long run—not to mention create more tailpipe emissions that mean more pollution in the air!

Are you interested in learning more about car engines?

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