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Engine Block Heaters for Cars

Engine block heaters for cars are an important consideration for anyone living and driving in parts of the country with long periods of freezing temperatures. 

What is an Engine Block Heater?  

Frozen Car
Frozen Car

Today, we’re on the topic of engine block heaters for cars. Just like an athlete warms up their muscles to prevent injury from starting cold, engine block heaters help ensure your vehicle is operating at its best in frigid temperatures during cold winters. Engine oil and anti-freeze are the lifeblood of a car – 100% EVs aside – with any of the engine types shown here, and they need to flow freely to perform properly. In bitterly cold environs, oil viscosity tends to increase, or thicken, and in extreme circumstances, below -30 degrees Fahrenheit, anti-freeze can in fact solidify.

Once your car is up and running, this issue essentially goes away, it is during the start-up process that engine damage is a concern. When you fire up the motor, if that oil isn’t moving easily, you run the risk of internal engine component damage due to poor lubrication. Though the risk of frozen coolant is less likely, it could of course lead to catastrophic damage. However, for most people, the bigger consideration is comfort – warm coolant means the availability of warm cabin air.

Invented by Andrew Freeman in 1949, modern engine block heaters come in a variety of forms but are essentially small electric-powered devices that plug into household power and warm up your engine before you start it. This is quite the leap from early efforts to prevent ice-cold engine damage including draining the oil for storage inside overnight or shoveling embers beneath the motor before bed, which is certainly NOT recommended.

Car Battery
Car Battery

As we approach the winter season, those of us located in the Great Cold North need to ensure our vehicles are ready for the deep freeze. The battery is a good place to start as there’s nothing worse than waking up to find out it has frozen to death overnight. So be sure to check out our list of Best Car Battery Chargers.

Equally important are these tips on winterizing your car, particularly in the event you get stranded. And if you’re thinking about pouring the latest fuel additives in the tank to ensure your ride runs smooth, check out this article on why you really shouldn’t.

Types of Engine Block Heaters 

Freeze Plugs - Amazon
Freeze Plugs - Amazon

Freeze/Frost/Core Plug Heater

After an engine block is manufactured, holes left from the molding process are filled with plugs at the factory. They go by a variety of names like freeze, frost, or core plugs, but the original naming came about as these plugs could be used as a safeguard against frozen internal fluids – the idea being that they pop out. This type of engine block heater replaces one of those plugs with a semi-permanent heating element that directly warms up the engine coolant. This style is typical of the factory-optional units, which currently cost $90 on a new Ford F-150, though are readily available via the aftermarket industry.

In-Line Heater - Amazon
In-Line Heater - Amazon

In-Line Heater

This style of engine block heater for cars, like those listed below, doesn’t actually involve the block itself. Instead, the heating element is spliced into a coolant hose to warm said coolant before starting the car. This in turn warms the block which indirectly heats the oil. Some include a circulation pump to move this warmed coolant through the engine, while others do not, instead heating the fluid only around the splice location.

Kat's Engine Oil Pan Heater - Amazon
Kat's Engine Oil Pan Heater - Amazon

Oil Pan Heater

Like a heating pad you use for sore muscles, this blanket-style heater is affixed to the engine oil pan – typically with magnets or bolts – to warm up the pan directly, which in turn warms up the engine oil within.

Kat's Dipstick Engine Heater - tractorpartsasap.com
Kat's Dipstick Engine Heater - tractorpartsasap.com

Dipstick Heater

A relatively straightforward option when it comes to engine heaters for cars, the dipstick variant is just like it sounds. Remove your factory engine oil dipstick, insert the heated version, plug it in, and warm up the oil directly.

Do You Need an Engine Block Heater? 

Engine Block Heater
Engine Block Heater

Engine block heaters for cars are really only useful for folks living in places where winter temperatures are regularly below freezing. Keep in mind, modern vehicles are subjected to absolute torture by their makers to ensure operation in any weather. However, adding a heating device is a good measure for extending the life of that vehicle. By getting the oil and anti-freeze warmed up before all the internal components start spinning, you’re far less likely to cause “cold start” damage.

There are a few considerations for going this route of course. You’ll need easy access to household power as generally all engine block heaters for cars run on electricity. And if you’re concerned about jacking up your utility bill, understand that these heating devices are most effective in the 3-4 hours before you hit the road so no reason to leave it running overnight, simply set a timer. Perhaps most importantly, don’t forget to unplug your engine block heater before driving away! Especially important if the electrical cord is covered in snow.

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Niel Stender

Niel Stender grew up doing replacement work on his 1990 Cherokee and 1989 Starion, so it’s not surprising that he would put his mechanical engineering degree from the University of New Hampshire to use in the car world as a vehicle dynamics engineer. Now engineering sentence structures, his writing infuses his auto experience with his time in marketing and his sales experience. Writing about cars for close to a decade now, he focuses on some of the more technical mechanical systems that are found under the hood and throughout a vehicle.

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