Why does the car heater take so long to get warm?
The pleasure of driving a cold car on a snowy morning starts when the heater starts working. How long should it normally take for a heater to get warm in cold weather? It depends on the outside temperature and on the car you have.
Winter in Canada.
Modern cars have smaller fuel-efficient engines that burn less fuel and, as a result, generate less heat. Older cars with larger engines were burning more fuel, but they were warming up faster.
If you have a late-model car or SUV with a 4-cylinder engine, and it is parked outside in below-freezing temperatures, it may take up to 10-15 minutes of driving before you can get good heat from the vents. An older car with a larger engine may take 5-10 minutes of driving to warm up. The engine warms up faster under load, when it burns more fuel, for example, when driving uphill. Turning the rear window defogger or heated seats also adds load on the engine and helps it warm up faster. On the other hand, running the heater (blower motor) at full speed from the start cools the engine down and causes it to take more time to warm up.
If it takes longer than normal before the air from the vents becomes warm, the heating system needs to be checked, read more: Car heating system: how it works
Ways to warm up your car faster in winter
One of the possible solutions is a remote engine start.
Remote engine start.
You start your car from the comfort of your home and it is warming up for you. Typically a remote engine start is programmed to run the engine for a few minutes and then shut down automatically. It might also be set to shut down if someone opens the door in a car.
If the vehicle doesn't have a remote engine start from the factory, installing an aftermarket remote engine start at a local car electronics installer shop will cost from $280 to $580. Of course, the car will use some fuel and produce emissions while warming up. In some jurisdictions, leaving a vehicle unattended while the engine is running is illegal. Check your local laws.
As an alternative, some people in the Northern U.S. and Canada opt to install an engine block heater. It's an electrical heater that plugs into a household power outlet. Installing a block heater costs $320-$580 for an average car. Many people use a block heater with a suitable heavy-duty programmable power outlet timer: you can program the block heater to turn on a few minutes before you are leaving in the morning. The block heater warms the coolant inside the engine so it won't take long to get warm air from the vents once the engine is started. This option is more environmentally friendly, since you are only using electric power. The downside is that a block heater requires a power cord to be connected to the car.
Another option is to run the engine for a while before driving off.
This brings us to the question many people ask:
What is better for the engine in cold weather: driving the car right away or letting the engine warm up first? From a technical point of view, as long as the engine is properly maintained and has enough oil, either option is okay, especially if your car uses synthetic oil. If it's extremely cold and the engine has old mineral oil, then it's not a bad idea to warm up the engine for a few minutes before driving.