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Sometimes, when an adventurous Canadian takes a roadtrip to the United States, an American or two will give his/her vehicle a once-over. One can only assume that this examination is akin to a cultural exchange for some Americans. More often than not, the American will find a difference or two and ask any of the following questions:
"So, y'all use that metric system up there, huh?"
"Is that CAA the same as our AAA?"
"What the hell does 'Je me souviens' mean?"
"Are all your cars up there electric?"
The last question increases in frequency the further south one goes. No, most cars in Canada are not electric. That electrical cord poking out of the grill is for the block heater.

Granted, not all Americans are ignorant to the need for block heaters in cold climates. Most cars in Alaska, Montana, Minnesota or Maine -- in short, any U.S. state bordering Canada -- are equipped with block heaters. When you live in a region where the temperature can drop below -30C (approximately -25F), a block heater is a necessity if you want your car to start in the morning.

A block heater warms the radiator and the engine coolant contained therein, as well as the entire engine compartment. At temperatures below -30C, engine antifreeze begins to congeal, restricting the flow of water though the coolant system. This means that the engine will take longer to reach peak operating temperature, and that your car's passenger compartment heater will blow frigid air for a few minutes longer each time you start your car. Because your engine is operating at a more ideal temperature, fuel economy is improved up to 10 per cent instead of cold starting your car. Sometimes, your car won't even start at all without the block heater working. Trust me, I know.

Cautionary notes:
There are some dangers with using block heaters, but these can be avoided with a little foresight. Firstly, there is the danger of an electrical short. As the power cord for the heater is exposed to the winter elements, it is prone to having the rubber coating crack, and the tines may be wet from melting ice.

The most common accident involving block heaters usually involves stupidity on the part of the driver: forgetting to unplug the block heater before pulling out of your parking spot. This can damage the power cord, break plastic pieces off from your grill and may cause damage to the electrical outlet.

Block heaters require an average of one-and-a-half to two hours to fully warm the engine. Plugging the heater in longer than that is wasteful, and may cost the homeowner an extra $20 CDN per month on his/her electricity bill.

Natural Resources Canada, Office of Energy Efficiency - http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/english/media/block.cfm

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