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Take the BRRRR out of starting a cold vehicle

Will your vehicle start Monday morning when it’s 30 degrees below zero?

When your vehicle doesn’t start due to frigid temperatures, it can be frustrating. That’s why most North Dakotans use an engine block heater on their vehicles. Engine block heaters keep your vehicle’s motor warm, allowing an easy start on those cold mornings. But there are some considerations when using an engine block heater. Your local electric cooperative offers these tips:

  • Don’t overload a circuit by plugging your engine block heater into just any outlet. A simple formula will help you decide how many watts one circuit can handle. Divide the wattage of the engine block heater by 120 volts to find out how many amps will be used. If you plug a 640-watt engine block heater into a 120-volt outlet, you are using 5.33 amps. Circuit breakers are rated in amps, so make sure the circuit has enough amps to carry the additional load. If might be best to use an exterior outlet that is protected by one circuit breaker and has ample capacity.
  • If the engine block heater has a three-prong plug, don’t alter it. Always leave the plug intact and attach extension cords correctly.
  • If you use an extension cord outdoors, make sure it is a heavy-duty extension cord rated for outdoor use.
  • Warming your engine all night and sometimes all day can use a significant amount of electricity. For better energy efficiency, purchase a timer for your block heater. A timer allows you to automatically turn the engine heater to on-and-off intervals according to your specifications.

Q&A

Q. Am I wasting money by keeping my tractor engine block heater plugged in and on all night?

A. Leaving engine block heaters on all night does waste money and energy. Agricultural producers can cut energy consumption by using an inexpensive timer to turn the heater on and off. Diesel tractor engines generally require one to three hours of heater operation before cold-weather starts, depending on the temperature (-30 degrees for three hours). Many farmers and ranchers leave heaters plugged in overnight. A 1,000-watt engine heater can cost $150 a season to use (based on 10 hours per night at 10 cents/kilowatt-hour and a 150-day heating season). Operating that same 1,000-watt heater for only two hours each morning will save $120 a year, which is more than enough to pay for the cost of the timer.

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