Would you recommend getting a block heater to improve passenger compartment heating in Colorado?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jun 01, 1997

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have an early Ford Explorer, 1990 or 1991, I can't
remember. I live in Colorado, where you can see purple
mountains' majesty ... in the color of one's exposed skin on
a brisk zero-degree day. I would like to put an engine block
heater in my Explorer before next winter, not so much for
the engine's benefit, but for my benefit when I sit in it to
go to work in the morning when it's minus 15 and I want
heat! I've been told there are three different kinds of
block heaters: an oil heater, a coolant line heater and a
freeze plug heater. Which do you recommend? -- Sidney

TOM: You haven't even mentioned two of the most popular
engine block heaters, Sidney; Miami and Orlando!

RAY: Actually, we recommend the coolant hose-based heaters.
The oil heaters are actually "electric dipsticks." You
replace your dipstick with a heated, electric dipstick,
which sits in the oil and presumably warms it up. And in our
experience, they do make the car easier to start, but they
don't get heat on your tootsies any faster.

TOM: And besides, how are the guys at the local drinking
hole going to react when you tell them you have to go out
and plug in your "electric dipstick"?

RAY: The freeze plug replacement heaters work pretty well,
and in fact, that's what Ford gives you if you buy one from
them. The heating element actually replaces a freeze plug in
the engine block and heats the coolant from down there. My
biggest concern about freeze plug heaters is that they can
leak after installation (we've even seen a few blow out
under extreme pressure). And if you don't get under the car
and check it regularly, you might not know it was leaking
for many moons.

TOM: So for that reason, we're partial to coolant heaters
that get installed in one of the two radiator hoses. They're
easy for your mechanic to install, the installation almost
never fails, and they do a good job.

RAY: You need one that fits the diameter of your particular
coolant hose. The heater itself costs about 40 bucks, and
you should be able to get one at any good auto parts store.
Stay warm, Sidney.

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