The colder Canadian winter climate can be harsh on your vehicle. In the winter an engine takes longer to reach an optimal operating temperature, not to mention cools off much faster once it’s turned off.

Overall more fuel is being burned to compensate in addition to more wear and tear on the vehicle components while they work overtime to warm things up.

Engine block heaters are a simple solution to many issues caused by cold temperatures.

While most vehicles should come with a block heater, some newer models or imports may not. Ask when you are looking to buy, or mark down that option when purchasing a new vehicle.

How Does an Engine Block Heater Work?

There are many types of engine block heaters, but they all work towards the same goal.

They help to pre-warm the engine in cold temperatures which results in improved fuel economy, reduced emissions, reduced wear and tear on your vehicles internal components, increased useful life of the starter and battery and a warmer vehicle to climb into.

When Should I use the Engine Block Heater?

While, without one, most vehicles will start even at frigid temperatures, the truth is your vehicle is working harder than average to start the car, heat the engine and lubricants, and work itself up to an optimal working temperature before you leave your house.

An engine block heater assists your vehicle to do these things more easily.

The average temperature you should consider using a block heater at is around -15C, give or take. At this temperature the oil has likely thickened increasing its viscosity and reducing its functionality, until it warms up.

Here are a few scenarios you may not need to use a block heater:

  • You use synthetic oil
  • You park your car in a heated parkade
  • You park in a sheltered area
  • You live in a warm climate that doesn’t see temperatures below -10C

Here are a few scenarios you should definitely consider using a block heater:

  • You use non-synthetic oil
  • You park outside
  • You live in a climate that reaches temperatures below -10C and beyond

Overall, by using an engine block heater you are maxing out the useful life of your vehicle, without having to do avoidable repairs.

What are the Different Types of Block Heaters?

Below is a break-down of the many types of engine block heaters written by – click here for more info.

1) Dipstick heater

Replaces your regular engine oil dipstick; the long, thin heating element warms your engine oil.

Ease of installation: easy

Pros: generic; easiest to install; also easiest to transfer to another car should the need arise

Cons: smaller diameter element means lower heating capacity; probably the least effective of all types for heating (I saw one rated at 60 watts vs. 250-1000+ watts for other styles)

2) Inline heater (non-circulating):

Splices into the (usually lower) coolant hose

Ease of installation: easy-moderate

Pros: generic; can probably transfer to your next car.

Cons:: coolant in the hose gets hot, but the heat may not transfer well to the engine, particularly if there’s a closed thermostat between the heater and the rest of the system

3) Inline heater (circulating)

Splices into coolant hose (usually heater core hose), uses built-in pump to circulate coolant over its heating element and through the system

Ease of installation: moderate

Pros: generic; much more effective than non-circulating inline style; probably best combination of effectiveness vs. difficulty of installation; fastest heater/defroster output

Cons: larger size; more to go wrong (built in pump, thermostat)

4) Frost plug style

Replaces an existing frost plug; small to medium sized element warms coolant directly inside the block

Ease of installation: moderate – difficult (depending on location)

Pros: traditional, proven OEM approach; efficient & effective

Cons: not easily transferable to your next car if you should want to do that

5) External element (magnetic)

Sticks flat against block/oil pan

Ease of installation: easy

Pros: generic; second easiest to install; simple to transfer to another vehicle; medium to large heating element generates lots of heat

Cons: not as efficient as frost plug style – some energy wasted heating the air around the element; may not be able to find a large enough flat area to place it; can be potentially jolted loose (though could be wire-tied to something to prevent it from falling off completely); block material must be ferromagnetic (won’t stick to aluminum)

6) External element (bolt-on)

Attaches flat against block

Ease of installation: easy to difficult (depending on location)

Pros: medium to large heater element means lots of heat

Cons: not as efficient as frost plug style – some energy wasted heating the air around the element; not easily transferable to another vehicle

Note: Generic applications (dipstick heater) will probably be less expensive than custom fit (OEM external element), and the more complex heaters (inline circulating) will cost more than the simple styles (OEM frost plug).”

Source: In praise of the lowly block heater,

Where to Get Them Installed

Overall, assess the type of engine block heater that’s best for you. If you need to have one installed and have experience with vehicle mechanics, use the list above to benchmark your experience with the level of difficulty of the installation.

If you are a beginner or have little knowledge on vehicle mechanics it’s always best to take a job to your service provider, shop or dealership. Contact us if you need a quote on a job.