Car block heaters are almost inaudible in sunny climates. Even if you live in an area where engine block heaters are ubiquitous, they are not very interesting. Block heaters are rather an invisible type of technology.

In most cases, you will never know that a car has such a machine unless there is a control electrical plug hanging through the grate. But as mercury begins to drop each year, it’s becoming clear why block heaters are the unsung heroes of the frozen north.

Do you need a block heater?

Illustration of a car engine heater blanket and a man dressed in winter clothes
Lifewire / Emily Dunphy

Block heaters are not needed in temperate zones. If you live in an area that experiences sub-zero temperatures in winter but a hard freeze is rare, you are likely to get more useful remote starter than heater block .

When you live in a colder area, finding and installing the right engine block heater can be extremely important.

What is an engine block heater?

Block heaters are engine warming devices that are designed to warm up the engine and related fluids before starting it. Depending on how cold the environment is, this can do a number of useful things.

The main purpose of an engine block heater is to make starting the engine easier, but preheating the engine oil, antifreeze, and internal engine components also reduces wear, reduces emissions, and creates a more comfortable environment inside the vehicle. allowing the heater to blow hot sooner.

In the coldest environments, where temperatures drop below the freezing point of an engine’s water/antifreeze mixture, block heaters can also store engine coolant overnight and prevent catastrophic engine damage.

Types of block heaters and engine heaters

There are several types of block heaters, but they all rely on the same basic technology (some type of heating element) and work through the same basic mechanism (heating some part of the engine.)

The most common types of block heaters include:

dipstick heaters

  • Location: installed in place of the oil dipstick.
  • How it works: heats the oil directly.
  • Installation: easily.

Engine heaters

  • Location: mounted on top of the engine or attached to the inside of the hood.
  • How it works: like a heavy duty electric blanket.
  • Installation: easily.

Oil pan heaters

  • Location: on bolts or magnets.
  • How it works: indirectly heats the oil by heating the pan.
  • Installation: Easy / Difficult.

Integrated coolant heaters

  • Location: Installed in line with the radiator hose.
  • How it works: Heats engine coolant directly.
  • Installation: Difficult.

Circulating versions include a pump that forces warm coolant through the engine. Non-circulating versions are less complex, but also less efficient.

Bolted heaters

  • Location: bolted to the outside of the engine.
  • How it works: Heats the engine through direct contact, which indirectly heats the engine coolant.
  • Installation: Difficult.

Freeze heaters

  • Location: It is installed in place of the sublimation plug in the cylinder block.
  • How it works: Heats coolant directly.
  • Installation: Difficult / Very difficult.

Easy installation is not requires tools or special knowledge, and these heaters can be simply installed or placed in the appropriate location. Complex installations require tools and some knowledge of cars, and are best left very difficult installations professionals.

Installing and Using the Block Heater

Some block heaters are easy to install and move from one vehicle to another, such as block type heaters and those designed to replace the probe. In fact, installing a dipstick heater is no more difficult than checking your oil.

Other engine block heaters are relatively easy to install if you know how to get around the car’s engine, such as built-in coolant heaters, while traditional freezer heaters are best left to the professionals.

In any case, if you choose to install your own block heater, it is important to remember that one of the common elements is that each block heater comes with an electrical cord that must be routed safely through the engine compartment. If the cord is deflected too close to moving components such as pulleys or belts, it may be damaged. If this happens, your block heater will not work or even turn off next time you connect.

The best way to use an engine block heater depends on the temperature you are dealing with. If you live in an area where it is cold enough to freeze antifreeze and crack your block, then you’ll want to turn on the block heater whenever you park your car for any length of time.

The engine block heater should always be turned on overnight if the temperature is predicted to drop lower than your antifreeze . However, if you are parked in an area that has electrical outlets for block heaters, turning it on will make it easier to start and less wear on your engine even if you didn’t park during the night.

In situations where it’s not cold enough to crack your block, you can save some money on electricity by using a timer. By setting a timer to turn on the block heater a few hours before your trip each morning, you won’t be wasting electricity overnight, but you’ll still see the benefits of easier starting, less engine wear, and hot air. cold air from your vents much earlier.

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