How important is it to first warm up the car? winter

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All very fine... except you are talking about a warm-up after the engine is started, and I'm talking about a need to pre-heat the engine.
I know of no reason to wait more than something between a few seconds and a few minutes before driving after the engine is started. A few seconds when the temperature is above perhaps 20F, and on up to several minutes at -70F.
The whole point is to wait until fluids have a chance to move. Oil being the prime concern, but power steering fluid and more so transmission fluids are also a concern. Perhaps the best thing in really cold weather (say -40 or colder) is to start the engine and put the transmission into neutral. Let it run for 2, 3, 4 minutes? 10? Depends on the vehicle I guess. If you try longer times and get better response, then use longer times. I you can't tell any difference, just wait a couple minutes and go. (I've seen trucks that at -60F simply would not back out of a parking place until the tranny was given a little time to work.)

Well, selling the car before the engine has much time on it is certainly one way to avoid premature engine wear failures!
What you've just said is that none of your observations could be conclusive.

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What if you can not plug your car in while you at work? At extreme cold night, I will plug in the car (block heater is all I have) but only for 4 hrs using prog. timers. Never plug-in the car at work simply because I could not anyway. I think plug in is better but has little or nothing to do with engine damage (internal engine we are talking about). The cold weather does not help only if the engine is not properly maintained then you could probable damage the engine. I believe use proper oil type for the climate should be sufficient. To damage an engine, you need heat and heat is what you are lacking off in extreme cold weather. I can see alternator, starter motor, engine hoses leaking, seals, battery and mostly rad and external body component properly taking more abuse than actual engine itself. Warming-up your engine before starting or after started only help starter motor and comfort and nothing else. I say replace your engine oil often and use high quality engine oil is your best safe guard against premature or engine damage.
By the way, when I get rid of the car never because engine problem. I never hardly get rid of my car less than 100,000 miles. My current car (1993 model) has about 200,000 miles right now and still running great. My brother Volvo (960) has more than 300,000 miles and all its need was new head gasket and head job (just had it done last years from Volvo) to reduce oil consumption and now it run like top. So lets be sure it is conclusive this time. 1/ Plug-in is better for cold start-up 2/ Plug-in or not from my experience does not make engine wear prematurely (premature engine wear by someone definition is 25,000 miles?). It will help only if you're neglect basic engine oil (use proper oil grade for climate condition) and cooling (proper mixture)maintenance If the engine and engine bay is design properly, it should last more than 100,000 miles. 3/ I agree cold weather is hard on vehicle (all external component which you can not do anything about) and still has nothing to do with engine damage right? 4/ The key point as everyone has already said is drive slow till you warm-up other component (transmission, and other moving parts) to reduce engine loading. If you respect all this, your engine should last more than 25,000 miles and expect more than 100,000 miles with proper engine (engine that last without cold weather)
Perhaps you have seen many engines damage due to lack of engine warm-up and that is totally true, from my experience I have never seen it yet. That means it is not a systematic problem and consider a random problem which we can not avoid it by engine warm-up
It has been fun to chat about this and it is rather interesting topic Cheers!
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That just is not true.
When you start the engine the amount of wear on every internal moving part is increased at lower temperatures. That is true for any temperature below normal operating temperature, and for any kind of oil. However, the amount of wear is insignificant until the temperature drops well below normal operating temperature, and is not really worth concern until it is perhaps 10 or 20 degrees below freezing. It is also true that different types of oil have different effects. Clearly synthetic oil is better than non-synthetic oil for cold starts, and the colder the starts, the more benefit from the synthetic oil.
But at the extremes for whatever type of oil you use, it just is not smart to start a cold engine. Somewhere between +20F and -20F almost every non-synthetic oil becomes jelly-like in consistency. But even synthetic oil does not flow well at -50F. In either case, if the oil has not been pre-heated, and the engine parts are cold, there is no lubrication until several minutes after the engine is started. That *does* cause greatly increase engine wear.

Generally that is probably true. Power steering hoses tend to burst from cold starts, but most everything else works well enough with the exception of belts. In places like Fairbanks Alaska where it is often -30F to -50F, the first cold snap of the year is always cause for a lot of "highway snakes" being seen. Every old fan belt breaks the first day. And of course a cold day is the *wrong* day to replace belts. A brand new, stiff, belt is almost as likely to break as an old worn out belt!

Pre-heat your engine if it is colder than 10F, and use synthetic oil.

How much cold starting do you do?

25,000 miles???? That's ridiculous.

That isn't true.

Why should it fail that soon? (Cold starting!)

There is no reason an engine should only last 100,000 miles. If fails that soon, or anywhere near it, it has been abused.

It is indeed interesting. It's also difficult, because everyone has a different idea of what is "cold", what is "premature wear", and what is "the right oil".
-- Floyd L. Davidson <http://web.newsguy.com/floyd_davidson Ukpeagvik (Barrow, Alaska) snipped-for-privacy@barrow.com
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I have read, with great interest, this message chain. With so many diverse opinions, I am not surprised by the need to ask the original question!!!
In sumation, it appears that the answer depends on where you live and the temperatures observed, and the level of wear and tear your willing to put up with!
If one wishes to pre-heat the car, that's fine, but in cold areas where the roads are salted, the body will rust out before the engine fails. The cold can affect other systems that may fail prematurely.
If one wishes to keep a particular car for the next, say, 50 years. One can pre-heat, use a pre-oil circulator (a pump to oil the motor before cranking), drive as if there is an egg under the accelerator, use Amsoil or whatever, etc., etc., etc., This would give you a car with 1,000,000 miles or more!
FWIW: I idle the car for as long as it takes to scrape the ice off the windshield, then drive away!
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