Tell your butler Archibald that despite the frigid climes, you’re going to the haberdashery, so he’d better get the car ready. In the early days of motoring, that proved quite an affair, especially in the winter. Archibald would likely have to drain the car’s oil, heat it up in a pan for twenty minutes, put it back in the car, almost break his wrist starting the car, and let the car idle for ten minutes, making adjustments to the choke and spark advance until the idle had stabilized.
Thankfully, that’s not the case anymore. Running to the store in the dead of winter takes no longer than it would any other day of the year. Yet we tend to give our cars ample time to warm up, filling our driveways with white clouds of exhaust steam. It’s good for the car, right?
But that’s not why we really do it. Let’s be honest: we just want our cars to be all warm and toasty when we get in. Perhaps car seat warmers are a viable alternative.
The practice of warming up a car in the winter originated in the days before fuel injection. Carburetors proved extremely finicky in the winter. Due to the difference in air density, carburetors ran leaner in the winter, so the choke had to be adjusted, either manually or automatically, to enrich the fuel/air mixture, before the car could set out, or the increased load would often shut it down.
But chances are, your car is fuel injected (as most have been since the late ‘80s), and it’s ready to go within 15-30 seconds after starting. This is enough time to get warm oil and coolant circulating. (It is important to note, however, that revs should be kept under about 4,000 or so for a few minutes after taking off. This will help the block adjust slowly and steadily to the change in temperature.)
Leaving after 15 seconds will save you gas, heat up your car faster, and keep you on schedule, but it doesn’t solve the real problem: climbing into a refrigerator and getting hypothermia for the several minutes it takes to heat up your cabin.
That’s why we recommend Dorman Seat Heaters or Crimestoppers Seat Warmer. In fact, they’re not only better for your car, they’re better at warming you up. Put on that imaginary white lab coat you wish you had, because it’s time for some science and crap. It’s all about energy transfer, energy in this situation taking the form of heat.
For traditional cabin warming, the energy has to transfer between several different media before warming your icy bum. From 1)the liquid of the engine coolant to 2) the metal of the heater core to 3) the cold air rushing through the heater core to 4) your coat and clothes to 5) your skin. With each of the five media, some of the energy/heat is lost. This is good, because pouring hot antifreeze on your skin will do more than warm you up quick, but bad because it takes sixteen years to heat you up on your way to work.
With a seat warmer system, the energy must transfer from 1) the warmer to 2) your clothes to 3) your skin. Since there’s very little air between your rump and back and the warmers, there’s very little energy lost.
Moreover, the lower back is a great place to start warming your body. There are nerves and stuff there, and it feels nice when those nerves are warm. Alternatively, with vent-based heating, your back is about the last area to get warm, insulated as it is by the seat foam.
Finally, seat warmers maintain a constant heat. Many older cars get colder when stopped, and that’s a massive annoyance for anyone commuting through the city. A heated car seat cushion keeps a consistent temperature whether you’re on the highway or waiting at the eternal red light.
What do you think about seat warmers? Do you have a set? Are they a good alternative to letting your car warm up for fifteen minutes while your house leeches in the carbon monoxide? Do you think Archibald would have appreciated them?
Bonus installation tips:
- For the Crimestopper models, be sure to wire your seat heaters to a power source that naturally shuts off with the rest of the car, lest you drain the battery with toasty seats while you’re not in them. Also, be ready to adjust the pad positioning to find the most comfortable coverage.
- For the Dorman models, you probably won’t need the hottest setting most of the time, which is good. Better too much heat than not enough. Also, many installers have found zip-ties more useful than the hog rings included in the kit.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.