How often should I start my car and let it idle in cold weather? Answer: Don't.

Coral Murphy Marcos, Dalvin Brown and Ben Tobin, USA TODAY
·3 min read

With severe winter storms ravaging large parts of the country and bitterly cold temperatures descending on Texas and Oklahoma, many car owners may be asking: How often should I start my car to warm it up?

Experts at AAA, a federation of motor clubs, say it's not a good idea to warm your car up to keep it from freezing.

Drivers should start their engine and allow it to idle only for the time it takes you to fasten your seat belt.

This time ensures lubricating oil gets to all of the engine's vital parts.

"Driving the car normally and avoiding hard acceleration brings the engine to a warmer temperature faster, and also reduces wear and exhaust emissions," said Cliff Ruud, Managing Director of Automotive for AAA. "Naturally, a little longer idle time is okay in the winter while you clear snow and ice from the windshield and other car parts."

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Check antifreeze, batteries ahead of winter storms

To prevent any mishaps during the winter season, drivers must check their engine coolant level, or antifreeze, according to Ruud.

Checking it frequently prevents engine freeze-up in winter and also protects against rust and corrosion year round.

"Only check the coolant level when the engine is cold and not running," said Ruud. "If the coolant is low, add to the lowest level marker and not any higher. If you’re unsure, visit a trusted repair facility and they can assist."

Ruud also recommends taking time ahead of the season to give your vehicle the proper care.

Another tip is checking your battery and charging systems to make sure they're in good shape. During frigid temperatures, battery posts and cable connections with clean corrosion ensure a reliable start.

Beware of carbon monoxide

Americans experiencing power outages might find it tempting to use their cars to charge their electric devices, but Ruud explains why this is not a good idea.

"Since many people store their vehicles in an area that is not well ventilated like a garage, AAA does not recommend using a car to charge devices" said Ruud. "Instead, it would be best to invest in a few portable chargers that can be kept on hand in the event of an emergency."

Drivers should also make sure they clean their headlights, replace old wiper blades and inspect their tires' tread depth and pressure for good visibility and traction.

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Precaution is key during snow days. "Slow down and allow three times more space than usual between your car and the one ahead," said Ruud. "Avoid using cruise control in slick conditions and avoid making unnecessary lane changes – which increase the chances of hitting patches of ice between lanes."

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This story originally published in January 2019.

Follow Coral Murphy on Twitter @CoralMerfi

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Winter storm weather: When it's cold, how often should I start my car?