Winter in Tracy, CA is not cold! Get over it!

I work part-time in an auto parts store. In Northern California where a really cold day might see the temperature dip just below the freezing point. (Okay, okay I know it gets really cold in the Sierras.) 

Every year around the middle of November customers come in because they want to get their cars ready for the "cold." Brrrr.

I grew up in central Connecticut and lived in parts of Canada (Ottawa and the Toronto area). I worked for Honda Canada and took part in cold weather testing in Kapuskasing, Ontario (500 miles plus north of Toronto). It gets really cold in Kap. Like minus 40 Fahrenheit cold.

So I know what cold feels like. Trust me freezing is not cold. Especially for a car.

Now don't get me wrong, when it gets to 32 F water can freeze. Antifreeze is needed to keep the coolant in your car from freezing. Your windshield washer fluid might freeze too. So precautions should be taken.

But when you come into my store and tell me how your poor car might not be able to start when it gets cold I just have to shake my head.

Your car, any car built in the past thirty years or so, is capable of operating between 120 F and -40 F with relative ease. Age and mileage does lessen its capabilities somewhat but if you maintain it to original specs it will be fine.

You do not need to warm up your car. Unless you have to scrape ice from the windows just get in, start it, and drive off. It will reach its full operating temperature in just a few minutes.

I did some checking and came across a paper on emissions and catalyst efficiency by E.A. Feest and D.C.W. Blaikley, CITA Study No 4 - Influence of catalyst of temperature on effectiveness of in-service testing - Final Report. Here's a few pertinent passages:

"The generally acknowledged view (Ref. 2) is that the time required for catalysts to attain their light-off temperature is considerably shorter than that required for the engine to warm up (e.g. 2 minutes for the catalyst rather than eight minutes for the engine)."

"TRL has reported some pertinent data, obtained from six catalyst and three diesel passenger cars, where each vehicle was fully soaked to ambient temperatures of -10, 0, 10, 20 and 30 °C and the second-by-second emissions from these vehicles tested over a TRL-defined test cycle (Ref. 2). The data for the average pollutant emissions from all 6 catalyst cars show a small increase in the CO2 emissions for the cold starts relative to the equivalent hot start (i.e. in excess emissions) that increases from 4.4% for 30°C starting to 19% for -10°C starting. The figures for CO illustrate the importance of cold starting to CO emissions, the excess emissions rising from 8.6g for 30°C starting to 80g, (a 460% increase) for -10°C starting."

"Catalyst ‘light–off’ A catalyst needs to reach a certain temperature, known as ‘light-off’, before it becomes operational. There are two commonly accepted definitions of light-off temperature: - the temperature at which any emissions reduction is first seen, - the temperature at which 50% emissions reduction of a particular pollutant is observed ..."

To translate the above Celsius temperatures to Fahrenheit - -10 C = 14 F, 0 = 32, 10 = 50, 20 = 68, and 30 = 86.

So please stop your whining about how cold it is. Put a jacket on, check your car's antifreeze, have the battery checked (most batteries last 3-4 years), and do your routine maintenance.

Oh yeah, if the check engine light comes on find out why and FIX IT!

And double oh yeah - it is a catalytic converter not a CADILLAC converter. 


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