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I’ve always personally filed this under the “if I ever need one of these, I’m gonna freakin’ move so that I don’t” category, but I’m still fascinated by them.  Block heaters, according to Wikipedia, are generally installed via a freeze plug opening in the block, though some sources use heated dipsticks.  The basic idea here is to keep the block — metal, fluids, and all — at a reasonable temperature when the weather outside, well, isn’t.

While I’ve never personally tried it, installing your own block heater doesn’t appear to be that difficult of a task.  Froogle turned up a number of heaters ranging from $25 to $200, most of which install via the freeze plug method.

Removing a freeze plug is a relatively easy task: simply drill a couple of holes in it — slowly to prevent adding metal shavings to the inside of the block — then attach a wire or string to the plug and knock it free.  (The wire helps if you accidentally knock it into the block.  Using the wire is way easier than disassembling the engine.  Really.)  Tap the new one — or the heater — into place carefully, then check the seal.

Of course, advice from our northern friends is happily accepted.

Block Heaters [Froogle]

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6 Responses to Finds: An Engine Block Heater

  1. mike says:

    just need to keep in mind that these do not help your car (interior) warm up faster.

    they’re designed to keep your oil from solidifying and to allow diesel engines to start in extremely cold weather.

    more @ wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Block_heater

    (sorry, i’ve read too many forum posts about “i installed a block heater and my car/truck is still freezing for 20 minutes after i start it!”)

    • Carlos Ruano says:

      An engine block heater will in fact help the car’s interior warm up faster. You may not believe it when you are suffering from hypothermia in the driver’s seat, but it stands to reason that an engine heater of any kind will cause the coolant temperature to rise sooner than if no heater is installed. It also stands to reason that if the coolant temperature reaches elevated temperatures sooner, then the heater core will also warm up faster. A warm heater core means warm air through your vents when the heater fan is blowing.

  2. I believe the sign of a truly manly vehicle is that you can warm the engine by building a fire under it.

  3. Myself says:

    Keeping the oil liquid is a good idea, and of course many cars suggest lighter-weight oil for cold weather so it flows better during starting. Block warmers and heated dipsticks would seem to be the same concept. I’ve seen another one that goes inline with the lower radiator hose and just dumps watts into the water jacket. Sounds like a less “interesting” installation than the freeze-plug style.

    Batteries are a large part of the problem too: Lead-acid batteries are much less capable when they get cold, and a battery that works fine when it’s sweater weather might leave you stranded when you get to hat-and-gloves season.

    Also, the electrolyte in the battery can freeze. Because the chemical composition of the battery changes depending on how charged or discharged it is, the temperature at which it freezes varies widely. This is also why a hydrometer can tell you a battery’s state. Anyway, a discharged battery freezes much more easily, so if your charging system has problems and you’re in a bitter cold environment, this can bite you too. Even worse: If your battery is discharged and frozen, and you get a jumpstart, attempting to charge a frozen battery will destroy it. See http://www.uuhome.de/william.darden/carfaq4.htm#freeze_points for temperatures.

    Adding a battery warming blanket isn’t a bad idea, even if you’re not at risk for frozen electrolyte, simply because the cranking amperage capacity is so much higher when the battery’s warm.

    And of course, once you have a block warmer and battery blanket wired up under the hood, you might as well hang a trickle charger off the AC power input. Splice ’em all together to run from a single plug, and put a retractable cord reel behind the grill. 🙂

    Handy hint: Trees along the street decked with festive lights? Free outlets!

  4. drippytongue says:

    10 miles from Embarrass Minnesota, Thee icebox of the nation. Winter ’04 we hit -51, winter -05 -48, winter ’06 -52, winter ’07 -48. Right now as I type it is Sunny and 2degrees. Oil dipstick heater? Put a hot strip of metal in your oil isn’t going to do much at all, you’ll notice no change in starting on cold days. Frost plug heater? hmmm. popping a hole in the side of your engine block where the water flows and hope it doesn’t leak and it is -20, hmmmm. Magnet that clings to the oil pan, while hitting bumps and snow and doesn’t heat the water, um no no. The inline tank heater, the kind that attaches to the heater hose with radiator clamps, you know, the one that when you jump in your rig and start the engine when it is -42.7 and turn on the defroster/heater and you have heat NOW! Ya, that one in my humble opinion is the way to go. Basically I know how nice it is to get in the truck and have heat now. More importantly having a pickup truck that starts just like it is 80degrees outside is even more rewarding. The inline heater has to possitioned lower than the water pump. Other than that you simply cut the 5/8″ hose and have the flow go toward the water pump. Circulates water around engine and the heater core inside the vehicle. Even if you don’t have these extremes of temps wouldn’t it be nice to have heat, before you get to work or the store?

  5. Jeff says:

    If you’re looking to find a
    “retractable cord reel for behind the grill ”
    I have what you require.
    Arctic Leash – Vehicle Mount – The ultimate cold weather automotive engine block heater extension cord.

    Introducing the only watertight retractable automotive extension cord reel that permanently mounts to your vehicle. Protects against severe weather without draining the battery. Saves time, money, & fuel. Assists in reducing vehicle emissions. Safe & simple to use. Easy to install. Conveniently ready whenever you need it. Completely hidden out of sight.
    Just – Pull to plug in – retract with a tug.
    Never carry an extension cord again!

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