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How often should I start my car and let it idle in cold weather? Answer: Don't.

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 11/12/2019 Dalvin Brown and Ben Tobin, USA TODAY

© Getty An intense cold snap is threatening to smash record lows across much of the nation through Thursday. 

With temperatures sliding and winter fast approaching, many car owners are asking: How often should I start my car to warm it up?

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Turns out, the answer doesn't lie in frequency.

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Experts at AAA, a federation of motor clubs, say it's not a good idea to warm your car up to keep it from freezing. 

"Ninety-five percent of the cars on the road today don't use carburetors, so you no longer need to warm them up on cold days," said Mike Calkins, manager of technical services at AAA.

Instead of repeatedly starting up your car to keep it warm, drivers who are concerned about their engines freezing could have a block heater installed for under $100, Calkins said. A block heater, which plugs into standard electrical outlets, will keep the engine from getting cold so the car starts easier the next morning.

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If a driver were to start their engine in extremely cold weather, without a block heater, they would need to get it up to full operating temperature, which is best accomplished through driving the car around.

However, even after some driving, it only takes a couple of hours for the engine to cool down from full operating temperature, Calkins says. Moreover, he says that repeatedly starting a car without running it long enough to recharge the battery can lower the battery's capacity over time.

Antifreeze protection also serves as a good alternative to starting up cars often. 

According to Calkins, antifreeze "prevents the coolant mixture from freezing." When water or any liquid freezes, it expands, which Calkins says can create pressure that can crack engine blocks and cause damage in the car.

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Calkins says that cars typically use a 50-50 mix of antifreeze and water, which provides protection for negative 30 to negative 35-degree-Fahrenheit weather. However, if temperatures go lower, car owners should have a higher concentration of antifreeze, up to 70 percent.

If a driver isn't sure what the antifreeze protection level is in their car, Calkins recommends they find out soon to protect against possible damage.

This story originally published in January 2019.

Follow Dalvin Brown on Twitter: @Dalvin_Brown

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How often should I start my car and let it idle in cold weather? Answer: Don't.

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