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Old 11-30-2011, 04:42 PM   #1
ivkowalenko
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Wrench Thinking about installing a Block Heater

I'm considering putting a block heater into my 94 SC1 for a few reasons.
  • When it's cold (40F or below) the engine starts a little harder, but reliably, and the entire car ocilates with it (not violent enough to call it a shake, more like someone's rocking the car forward and back with their foot on the bumper)
  • The engine doesn't reach proper operating temperature until right about the time I get to work (I have a short commute), so I'm not sure I'm doing right by the engine
  • I'm not enjoying running outside, in the bitter cold, before I have to go to turn over the car so the heater can get warm enough to defrost the inside of my windows properly
  • These pre-departure warm-up periods are killing my fuel economy. I'm averaging somewhere around 20-25 MPG, and I drive pretty gently. I typically try start my car three to five minutes before I expect to leave, but sometimes at work I'm detained for a further five to ten minutes beyond what I expect.
To point out what I mean by "bitter cold," I mean we've already had a couple 15F mornings around here. And the previous owner was right: the car is extremely reliable about starting up, and it starts up exactly the same, whether it's 35F or 15F (but it is distinctly different from starting up if it's, say, 50F).

Now, at $45 for the heater, and one is sitting at my local NAPA Auto Parts' warehouse, just waiting to be run down to the correct store, this seems like a good idea. Granted, it's more expensive than a tank of gas, but that's only because my travel mug is larger than my gas tank. Still, it seems like a safe investment, it's easy to install, and Ecomodder estimates it should deliver about 4% improvement in fuel economy. Even more brilliantly: I'm thinking about just slapping a christmas light timer on the line (or some other out-door safe auto on/off timer that can handle the power, don't worry) so I don't even need to worry about plugging it in early enough on awful days (just plug it in at night, when I'm all awake and not despearate for a cup of coffee) So on paper, it sounds like a good idea. But there are a few things making me think twice:
  • I can only really hook it up when I park in our driveway, but I'm the third car, so I'm sometimes parked on the street, where I can't get power
  • I don't think there are any places I can park at work that are near power outlets
  • When I park in the driveway, I'm still going to need to run an extension cord (shortest three-prong one we have is 25ft, but I think I'll have to use the 50ft one) and someone expressed concern to me about losing amperage over the extension cord
So given the limited usage window I have, and the potential problems as far as getting power to the heater, does this still sound like as good an idea? Winter is just starting around here, for the next week it's not expected to get above 37F (for just one day), but the winter is expected to be "very cold" with "average snowfall" (and for us, last winter we had a snowfall rivaling that of the 1991 Halloween Blizzard). Our average winter temperatures are in the region of 10-20F most of the time (favoring the lower part of that spectrum) and we will very often go below 0F.

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Old 11-30-2011, 04:55 PM   #2
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

Mine didn't care about 15f. That's certainly not bitter cold. I only had problems when it was near -20f, but that was fixed with a backup battery that I left inside and swapped with the frozen one.

It might be more cost effective to swap to 5w30 or 0w30 oil if your really worried about the cold.

If nothing else, $45 isn't much for peace of mind.

...
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Old 11-30-2011, 05:10 PM   #3
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

If your car is running like that, then you have problems that you should fix, and not mask them with a block heater.

My '99 SL2 starts perfectly in even the coldest weather. The worst mileage I have ever accomplished was about 24, before the engine was rebuilt, when it was burning lots of oil and the valves were somewhat pitted, and the ignition coils were partially shorted and faulty. Often I cut my to-work time very short, and wind up racing to work. I climb a fairly steep bridge, and only travel about 4-5 miles to work, so the engine barely reaches operating temperature.

How is your compression? Is it high? Is it even? Do you have burned valves?

How are your injectors? Are they cleaned? Have you ever run injector cleaner through the tank?

How are the spark plugs? Are they clean and of the proper kind? Are the tops coated with oil from a leaking valve cover gasket? The plug wires? The ignition coils? Dirty? Low secondary resistance at room temperature?

How's the fuel pressure? Low fuel pressure that collapses to 0 right away is an indication of a faulty regulator or possibly fuel pump check valve, and will also cause difficult starts.

Any of the other items mentioned above will cause difficult starts. Any of the above that cause a misfire will cause an oscillation type vibration of the engine. Sometimes as an engine warms this will go away. Burned valves less so. Kind of stays there all the time.

How about the temp sensor? Is it new? When they fail, they give erroneous readings, which causes the fuel system to inject the wrong amount of fuel. If rich, the engine will lope and be difficult to start.

How is the EGR valve? Is it clean? Does it close properly? A leaky EGR valve will cause the engine to run poorly and be somewhat difficult to start at times.

Does your car have a manual trans? Does the clutch fully release? If the clutch does not fully release and you are holding it in while a gear is selected, sometimes it will cause the car to jump and oscillate when first started. It's really quite disturbing.

Fix the problem. Don't mask over it.

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Old 11-30-2011, 06:58 PM   #4
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

I say put that baby in there and enjoy the warmth that much sooner when you fire up the car.

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Old 11-30-2011, 08:54 PM   #5
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

The problem is.. there aren't any freeze plugs to put it in.

...
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Purchased 114k 10/07
Added OEM CC

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Old 11-30-2011, 09:15 PM   #6
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

Lower radiator hose heater should work.
Turn the heater on only an hour before, just wasting power otherwise.
Use 12 gauge wire for extension cord.

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Old 11-30-2011, 09:23 PM   #7
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

Strike my last
Thanks OldNuc, found this in a prior post...
The Saturn block heater is part number 21006019 for 91-97 and 21008372 for 98-02.
Just bolts on, no freeze plug removal or hose cutting...
However the 91-97 are discontinued, looks like a JY search...

Last edited by mattwithcats; 11-30-2011 at 09:36 PM..

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Old 12-01-2011, 12:37 AM   #8
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

The 98 and newer unit may be slightly modified to fit on the earlier car. You can buy them here.

Saturn OEM Parts Source
GM Parts Giant- http://www.gmpartsgiant.com/
GM Parts Direct- http://www.gmpartsdirect.com/
Get Saturn Parts- http://www.trademotion.com/splash/in...?siteid=214643
Your local dealers - http://www.partsvoice.com/
http://www.vpartsinc.com/

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Old 12-01-2011, 12:41 AM   #9
ivkowalenko
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

Quote:
Originally Posted by td1238 View Post
If your car is running like that, then you have problems that you should fix, and not mask them with a block heater.

My '99 SL2 starts perfectly in even the coldest weather. The worst mileage I have ever accomplished was about 24, before the engine was rebuilt, when it was burning lots of oil and the valves were somewhat pitted, and the ignition coils were partially shorted and faulty. Often I cut my to-work time very short, and wind up racing to work. I climb a fairly steep bridge, and only travel about 4-5 miles to work, so the engine barely reaches operating temperature.
The car starts reliably and quickly. Looking back, oscillation may or may not be the right word to describe it. The engine runs at low RPMs and produces enough motion to cause the car to move forwards and back, slightly. It's not a constant thing, and ends after about 30 seconds to a minute of idling. Using the accelerator does not make anything worse, though the motion becomes a little less noticeable. Here's a quick video I shot, starting the car while cold: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D43fGPh8Kus

Before the temperature started to drop, I would average between 25 and 35, but I've only had the car for about two months, and five tanks of gas, so I don't have a lot of data on this. Absolute worst I've done is 19 MPG, but that was before some maintenance.
Quote:
Originally Posted by td1238 View Post
How is your compression? Is it high? Is it even? Do you have burned valves?
I don't know. I don't have access to a compression tester right now, but a family friend who is a mechanic is thinking about buying one. I might get him one as an early Christmas present.
Quote:
Originally Posted by td1238 View Post
How are your injectors? Are they cleaned? Have you ever run injector cleaner through the tank?
The injector looked pretty clean, and one of the first things I did after getting the car was run a bottle of cleaner through it.
Quote:
Originally Posted by td1238 View Post
How are the spark plugs? Are they clean and of the proper kind? Are the tops coated with oil from a leaking valve cover gasket? The plug wires? The ignition coils? Dirty? Low secondary resistance at room temperature?
Plugs, wires and valve cover gasket are new (replaced them all at the same time, mid-October). Not sure about the ignition coils. We haven't tested those.
Quote:
Originally Posted by td1238 View Post
How's the fuel pressure? Low fuel pressure that collapses to 0 right away is an indication of a faulty regulator or possibly fuel pump check valve, and will also cause difficult starts.
Again, not sure about these.
Quote:
Originally Posted by td1238 View Post
Any of the other items mentioned above will cause difficult starts. Any of the above that cause a misfire will cause an oscillation type vibration of the engine. Sometimes as an engine warms this will go away. Burned valves less so. Kind of stays there all the time.
Judging by your description, it sounds like more a misfire than burned valves. Except for it idling 100-150 RPMs high, it runs just fine when it's not started <40F.
Quote:
Originally Posted by td1238 View Post
How about the temp sensor? Is it new? When they fail, they give erroneous readings, which causes the fuel system to inject the wrong amount of fuel. If rich, the engine will lope and be difficult to start.
Ahh, yes. It's not. I do, however, have plans to replace it as soon as possible. I've got one sitting in my glove box right now, in addition to a few bulbs to hopefully fix the HOT light issue, mentioned in the video.
Quote:
Originally Posted by td1238 View Post
How is the EGR valve? Is it clean? Does it close properly? A leaky EGR valve will cause the engine to run poorly and be somewhat difficult to start at times.
No clue about the EGR valve. In fact, I'm not even sure where I would find the EGR.
Quote:
Originally Posted by td1238 View Post
Does your car have a manual trans? Does the clutch fully release? If the clutch does not fully release and you are holding it in while a gear is selected, sometimes it will cause the car to jump and oscillate when first started. It's really quite disturbing.
It's a manual transmission, and the clutch feels fine. There's no unusual jumping involved. The issue is unrelated as to whether or not the car is in gear, or if the clutch is engaged.
Quote:
Originally Posted by td1238 View Post
Fix the problem. Don't mask over it.
That's part of the reason I came here. If it's something more serious, I definitely want to fix it. I'll probably install the block heater too, just because I'm tired of waiting for the engine to heat up enough to defrost the inside of my front window.

With all this advice, I might need a heated garage, too, because I don't know if I can test all this at our family friends', since he likes to use it too...

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Old 12-01-2011, 12:52 AM   #10
ivkowalenko
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

Quote:
Originally Posted by off-track View Post
The problem is.. there aren't any freeze plugs to put it in. :hmm:
Remind me to double check everything NAPA tells me from now on...
Quote:
Originally Posted by mattwithcats View Post
Lower radiator hose heater should work.
Turn the heater on only an hour before, just wasting power otherwise.
Use 12 gauge wire for extension cord.
Yeah, I found on the Wikipedia a report from Manitoba Hydro with research done by Agricultural Engineering Department of the University of Saskatchewan, which found that only the first hour of heating was efficient. The second hour got you a few degrees more, but there's so much diminishing returns. I have no plans to run the block heater for four hours (hence the timer).
I'll have to double check the gauge of our extension cords.
Quote:
Originally Posted by mattwithcats View Post
Strike my last
Thanks OldNuc, found this in a prior post...
The Saturn block heater is part number 21006019 for 91-97 and 21008372 for 98-02.
Just bolts on, no freeze plug removal or hose cutting...
However the 91-97 are discontinued, looks like a JY search...
Quote:
Originally Posted by OldNuc View Post
The 98 and newer unit may be slightly modified to fit on the earlier car. You can buy them here.

Saturn OEM Parts Source
GM Parts Giant- http://www.gmpartsgiant.com/
GM Parts Direct- http://www.gmpartsdirect.com/
Get Saturn Parts- http://www.trademotion.com/splash/in...?siteid=214643
Your local dealers - http://www.partsvoice.com/
http://www.vpartsinc.com/
Get Saturn Parts says it's discontinued, but lets me add it to my cart for ~$70. Does that mean I can actually order it from there? Also, what kind of modifications are we talking about to make the '98+ unit fit? I've only got access to so many tools and parts, so depending on what it is, it might be beyond my skill/resources.

Last edited by ivkowalenko; 12-01-2011 at 01:03 AM.. Reason: Got my sources straight on the Canadians

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Old 12-01-2011, 04:35 AM   #11
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

Shorter bolt and bend the tab so it's snug on the block.

If it's a manual, change the tranny fluid. Easy to do, drain plug under car (left side by tranny) and fill / dipstick is by brake reservoir.
Use Dexron III, not Dex VI fluid. 2.7 quarts needed.

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Old 12-01-2011, 01:21 PM   #12
dbsanfte
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

My vote would be that the upper engine mount is shot.

Easy to check, take a look under the hood. What's the condition of the rubber? Can you fit a bic pen between the rubber and the steel? If so, it's done.

This would also show up at only certain harmonics of RPM. Adding or releasing throttle would make it worse or better, depending.

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Old 12-01-2011, 09:32 PM   #13
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

Quote:
Originally Posted by ivkowalenko View Post
Remind me to IGNORE everything NAPA tells me from now on...
Fixed it for you..

Another "small" issue with a hose heater is that the thermostat is inside the block so it may never open = no circulation of the warmed coolant.

Quote:
Get Saturn Parts says it's discontinued, but lets me add it to my cart for ~$70. Does that mean I can actually order it from there? Also, what kind of modifications are we talking about to make the '98+ unit fit? I've only got access to so many tools and parts, so depending on what it is, it might be beyond my skill/resources.
Not likely. If you dig around the old posts here you should find the differences. As Matt said, it had to do with the mounting tab that slipped into a slot in the head IIRC? Some were able to bend/grind the tab to get the heater to sit flush on the block. Without that you can't get the proper heat transfer and, I remember someone stating that it would get red hot if there wasn't a good thermal transfer!

Being that your are in upper MN I'd bet there is a really good chance you might find one at your local JY (if they haven't all been nipped already like they are here)?

+1 on a new solid TAM.

...
1997 - SL2, barebones, 161k, Auto - Rebuild complete and.. burnt a valve 20k later Arrgh!
Purchased 114k 10/07
Added OEM CC

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Old 12-01-2011, 11:48 PM   #14
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

Block heaters are always a good thing however, I would start with pulling the SEL code to begin with.
The oscillation you are referring to sounds close to a temporary "3 cylinder firing" condition.
It`s been my experience that a car equipped with good spark plugs/wires, strong battery and synthetic oil will get you started even in the nastiest cold but a block heater will get you up to temperature that much quicker.

A good qualty outdoor 50` 12 AWG extension cable would be more than adequate to supply the necessary current.

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Old 12-02-2011, 12:01 AM   #15
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

GM parts direct is your lowest price for the 98 and newer unit. The 97 and older is not readily available but the fix fro the 98 is in the post below yours. Not a difficult fix. Do not try and force the mounting bolt as the block will break. You will need a mirror so you can see the slot in the bottom of the head that the tab goes into and figure out which way to bend it. The heater is supposed to actually touch the block when installed correctly.
http://www.gmpartsdirect.com/results.cfm

Get Saturn Parts is telling you that the 97 and older is discontinued and not available. They can not clear old data out of the trademotion catalog. You have to use teh 98 unit. Link above.


Quote:
Originally Posted by ivkowalenko View Post
Remind me to double check everything NAPA tells me from now on...

Yeah, I found on the Wikipedia a report from Manitoba Hydro with research done by Agricultural Engineering Department of the University of Saskatchewan, which found that only the first hour of heating was efficient. The second hour got you a few degrees more, but there's so much diminishing returns. I have no plans to run the block heater for four hours (hence the timer).
I'll have to double check the gauge of our extension cords.


Get Saturn Parts says it's discontinued, but lets me add it to my cart for ~$70. Does that mean I can actually order it from there? Also, what kind of modifications are we talking about to make the '98+ unit fit? I've only got access to so many tools and parts, so depending on what it is, it might be beyond my skill/resources.

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Old 12-02-2011, 03:24 AM   #16
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

Quote:
Originally Posted by ivkowalenko View Post
To point out what I mean by "bitter cold," I mean we've already had a couple 15F mornings around here.
15F is not "bitter cold". Bitter doesn't even start until until -15F, which is 30F colder. I've had Saturns that started at -30F, but you had to run them every day if it was under -20F overnight.

Try -40, when F and C are the same. That said, a block heater is a good idea in Minnesota, although I think this winter may turn out to be mild.

...
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#5, 1998 SW2m, rebuilt at 126K, running nicely at 204K miles.

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Old 12-02-2011, 12:54 PM   #17
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

Switch to synthetic oil, it will start much better when cold.
If it's not warming up in just a few minutes, check your thermostat.
I had my 97 SL2 in Iowa for quite a few years and had no problems getting it started or warmed up.

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Old 12-02-2011, 09:47 PM   #18
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

Quote:
Originally Posted by dbsanfte View Post
My vote would be that the upper engine mount is shot.

Easy to check, take a look under the hood. What's the condition of the rubber? Can you fit a bic pen between the rubber and the steel? If so, it's done.

This would also show up at only certain harmonics of RPM. Adding or releasing throttle would make it worse or better, depending.
I'll see if I can check that tomorrow. We're due to get some snow, so hopefully if I can get out there during the sunlight hours... where would I find these?
Quote:
Originally Posted by mfedenko View Post
Block heaters are always a good thing however, I would start with pulling the SEL code to begin with.
The oscillation you are referring to sounds close to a temporary "3 cylinder firing" condition.
It`s been my experience that a car equipped with good spark plugs/wires, strong battery and synthetic oil will get you started even in the nastiest cold but a block heater will get you up to temperature that much quicker.

What's the story with the "temporary three cylinder firing" condition? Is it something I should be concerned about? And if it helps, tomorrow I'll fire it up and get some video of what it sounds like under the hood. Just to make sure soundproofing or anything else in the body isn't deadening any important sounds I'd need to hear for diagnostic purposes.
You mean the SES code? I've already read it out. It's a Quad Driver issue. My best guess as to what's causing that is that the HOT light isn't illuminating. I've got a fresh incandescent bulb to stick in the HOT fitting, to see if that solves the issue.
Quote:
Originally Posted by macbox View Post
15F is not "bitter cold". Bitter doesn't even start until until -15F, which is 30F colder. I've had Saturns that started at -30F, but you had to run them every day if it was under -20F overnight.

Try -40, when F and C are the same. That said, a block heater is a good idea in Minnesota, although I think this winter may turn out to be mild.
OK, 15F isn't "bitter" cold. I've done -20F, but I didn't want to start saying "oh it's going to be -20F... in the sunlight. In the shade it's -60F" and have someone from like McMurdo call me out on it Fortunately, this car is starting every time, without fail. And the previous owner said it never failed to start. Of course, I'm starting to think that the previous owner was quite the fool, since, if the condition I received the car is the condition he drove it in, he ran it with a couple vacuum leaks, carbonizing on his spark plug cables, random stripped bolts in place of proper battery posts, a loose oil filter, and an intentionally disconnected IAC (so far those are the biggest things I've discovered).
Quote:
Originally Posted by braddojm View Post
Switch to synthetic oil, it will start much better when cold.
If it's not warming up in just a few minutes, check your thermostat.
I had my 97 SL2 in Iowa for quite a few years and had no problems getting it started or warmed up.
I've heard that switching from conventional to synthetic isn't the brightest idea, as it can exacerbate existing leaks, anything to that? I only ask because I know I'm leaking something (not a lot, and I know my oil level is exactly where it should be) and I don't want to start leaking all over the place, since it's my daily driver. And the car starts to get warm within a minute or two (warm enough to start defrosting the wind shield, at least), I just don't see the temperature gauge move for closer to five to ten minutes.

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Old 12-02-2011, 10:00 PM   #19
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

Quote:
Originally Posted by ivkowalenko View Post
...I've heard that switching from conventional to synthetic isn't the brightest idea, as it can exacerbate existing leaks, anything to that? I only ask because I know I'm leaking something (not a lot, and I know my oil level is exactly where it should be) and I don't want to start leaking all over the place, since it's my daily driver. And the car starts to get warm within a minute or two (warm enough to start defrosting the wind shield, at least), I just don't see the temperature gauge move for closer to five to ten minutes.
That is a BS story and has no truth at all. Synthetic oil does not change any external leakage rate on any engine built without cotton rope main bearing seals.

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Old 12-03-2011, 06:44 AM   #20
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Default Re: Thinking about installing a Block Heater

Was the thermostat ever replaced? Replace it if the temperature gauge hovers over the 1/4 mark. Short trip driving on a worn out t-stat (that tends to run cooler) will combine to keep you colder in freezing temps. No one that has replaced their t-stat, reversed flushed their heater core and hoses has complained about a lack of heat afterwards. Use a 195F one.

If you decide to, using 5w20 (regular or synthetic) should be fine. Having a dependable start in summer or winter is the hallmark of EFI systems providing near perfect starting. I would lean towards synthetic for its better cold flow characteristics while not draining off over night before a freezing cold start the next day.

Ensuring the car is set up for winter use enhances adding a block heater whether its used or not.

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