How to Make Your Car Feel Warm as Fast as Possible in Cold Minnesota (and Elsewhere) Winters

I just l left the staff Christmas party at Famous Dave’s, and it was freezing outside. (I used to ignore the cold; now I’m starting to think I get less used to the cold as time goes by.) I had to drive my car back to the office, which caused me to reflect on what I do to get my car as warm as possible as soon as possible.

There are two methods to warming up your car. The first is when you warm it up before even driving it, which is better for your car. The second is when you start driving it almost right away, but want to get it warm ASAP because you are so cold.

I’m usually doing the second, because I don’t like to take the time for the first. My goal in either case is to warm up the inside of the car as quickly as possible, because I don’t like freezing. There are a few things that help in this regard — I think.

First, at the very beginning, obviously, it just makes you more cold to have the heat on. So I wait for the engine to warm up a bit first. Nothing special there.

Second, you know how you can set your heater to blow out the air at your feet only, at chest-level only, or at both (or defrost and such as well)? I start out having it blow at chest-level only. That makes me feel warmer right away.

Third, after I’m feeling a bit warmer, I switch the heater to blow the air out at the foot-level and regular-level combo. Since heat rises, it warms the car up more fully to have the heat coming out at the floor. In other words, it distributes the heat better. But if you have the heat coming up only from the floor, it takes longer for to actually feel warm. Thus, I do the combo — I’m making some progress in distributing the heat, while still feeling warmer more directly.

Fourth, once I start feeling too hot, I put it on the floor only. This allows the car to stay warm, without feeling too warm. Usually.

There is one slight revision to this approach when I’m letting the car warm up in my garage (with the garage door open, obviously) as I watch from inside my house. In these cases I make the heat blow out from the floor only right from the start (even before the engine is warm at all), since I have the luxury of waiting for the car to be totally warm before I get in. This allows the heat to be more widely distributed right from the time I get in.

Last of all, I put the fan level on 3. My wife says that level 4 is so fast that the air doesn’t have a chance to warm up enough. I don’t know if that’s exactly the case or not, but it seems to work well for me.

I don’t know if there is any way to perfect any of this, but for now at least this is the best way I know to make my car feel warm maybe 45 seconds sooner than it otherwise would be in these cold winters.

  • Brian Phillips

    First of all, What’s best next: eating at Famous Dave’s.

    Secondly, thanks for influencing me to dread the cold of Minnesota winters even more (We’re hoping to move there).

  • Phil
  • Sheila

    I use the recirculate button at first to help it warm up faster. You can’t use it for too long though or the windows will start to fog up.

  • Eric

    Another tip: If you keep a lot of garbage in your car (you know, because cleaning it wastes precious time that could be used getting your inbox to zero), then you could use it to start a small fire on the floor of the passenger side.

    Of course, this only works once (unless you get more garbage).

  • Sara

    Hibernate or buy a 2nd home in Florida. Ok, neither of those are reasonable!

    I do almost exactly what you list and it seems to work well. Although last night when retrieving my car after 24 hours outside at the aiport it was VERY sad and took a bit to get warm!

    Another thing I do, since I tend to have back and neck problems anyway is to warm up one of those rice or corn packs in the microwave and bring it with me in the car and tuck it behind my back!

    Of course, my husband who is always warm, even when it is below zero, is the one who has the car with the seat warmers!!! Not fair!

  • Scottg

    Not to rain on your parade, but letting your car idle for extended periods is not good for your car. Idling builds up carbon deposits. Once your car has achieved full oil pressure it is good to go, although some would say that you should not put undo strain on the engine until it starts to warm up. Letting your car idle until it warms up is just wasting gas and building unwanted carbon deposits, even in frosty Minnesota.

  • Matt


    Really glad to hear that, actually. While obviously it’s nice for the car to feel warmer by letting it idle to warm up, this means that if you just get in your car and go in the cold (saving time), it’s not as bad on the car as I may have thought (though maybe there is still some undo strain on the engine).

  • theologien

    The best answer for MN is to get a block heater. Not only will your care start on the coldest days of hell, the car will warm immediately.

    Of course, you do have to plug it in at night.

  • Deron

    I must say that a remote starter is a real blessing on those -10 days.

    But I do like Eric’s alternative plan.