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THE CAR DOCTOR

Winter car warm-up needn't be long

Plus: Seat heaters that cause fires

There is usually little reason to have your car idle for more than five minutes, says AAA's John Paul. There is usually little reason to have your car idle for more than five minutes, says AAA's John Paul. (Mark Wilson/Globe Staff)
By John Paul
Boston.com Columnist / January 14, 2010

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Q. Over the holidays the topic of how long to warm up a car came up in dinner conversation. My father said in cold weather five minutes might be good. My brother-in-law never warms up his car. What is the correct thing to do? By the way, Dad's cars last forever and my brother-in-law gets a new car every two years. Does warming up the car have something to do with how long it will last?

A. In my opinion, warming up a car wastes gas and adds to air pollution. In fact in Boston there is an anti-idling law that prohibits idling a vehicle for more than five minutes (there are certain exceptions). Certainly there are times when it makes sense to let your car warm up. One example may be that the windshield is frozen and warming up the car is necessary to scrape all the ice off the windows.

On a cold day, here is my warm-up routine: start the car, adjust the radio, put on my seatbelt, check the mirrors, and drive. The important thing is to drive "easy" for the first few miles. This allows the engine oil and other vital fluids to circulate and lubricate their necessary components. In fact some cars have a cold light that comes on that suggests the same technique. My guess is your dad probably drives in a reasonable manner even after the car warms up and this is what helps contribute to his car's long life.

Q. I have seen many new cars with windshield wipers that are frameless. Recently when I went to replace the wipers on my car I saw similar blades. I have two questions, what is the advantage of these blades and is there a difference in quality? I saw Michelin blades for $12.99 and Bosch blades for nearly $25. Is there really that much difference to justify twice the cost?

A. The beam style blades can best be described as all-weather wiper blades. In the winter they don't build up with ice and snow like conventional wiper blades and in my opinion don't look as ugly as older style winter wiper blades. Regarding price, I have seen published reports that tested many brands of wiper blades and the Bosch blades were the top pick. But I will admit that on my two family cars I'm using the more reasonably priced Michelin blades (I'm admittedly cheap) and have had good luck  Keep in mind that in most cases, even the best wiper blade may only last one year.

Q. I have a Jeep Grand Cherokee and love the heated seats, but recently there is a problem, The seats are getting really hot. Is it possible that the seats are short circuiting? Will I get electrocuted?

A. It is possible that your Jeep has a problem with the seat heaters. In fact there is a recall on 2001-2004 Jeeps with heated seats. The seat could actually catch fire. The dealer will replace the seat heating elements at no charge. If there is any question, have the dealer reference Chrysler recall No. J14.

Q. I recently had a tire repaired and the total cost was $25. Later in the day I saw a kit in a hardware store that came with a tool and some plugs for $5.99. Did I get ripped off?

A. I also recently had a tire with a nail in it. Sure, I could have plugged the tire, but that isn't a permanent or safe solution. A proper tire repair includes a combination of a patch on the inside of the tire and a plug to fill in the hole (most good shops use a "stem" style patch). In addition, once the tire is remounted it makes sense to re-balance the tire. In the case of my vehicle, the shop also rebuilt the tire pressure monitoring sensor to minimize any chances of a leak caused by dismounting the tire. The total bill with my vehicle was $35.

John Paul is the public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England. He can be reached at jpaul@aaasne.com or on Twitter @johnfpaul.