Block heaters, a true piece of North Dakota heritage

This isn't an electric truck. The plug is for the block heater.

I’m getting a block heater installed in my pickup Thursday. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do but kept putting off for far too long. Now temperatures have really fallen and I want to keep from wearing out the parts.

Block heaters were actually invented by a North Dakota man named Andrew Freeman back in the 1940s. Before then, residents of cold climates used all sorts of creative means to get their cars started on cold mornings, from shoveling burning coals onto the ground beneath a car to draining the oil every night and storing it inside to keep it warm before refilling it in the morning. To learn more of Freeman’s life story, check out this Dakota Datebook article from Prairie Public Radio.

Block heaters aren’t just good for your convenience; they’re good for the environment. Because cold gas doesn’t vaporize and mix with air as well, a cold engine has to use a bunch more fuel when it starts cold. By starting with a warmer engine block, far less gas is used. This article here details the many kinds of block heaters and some advantages and disadvantages of each.

I’m getting a freeze-plug block heater installed. They’re probably the most common sort of heaters around here. I’ve been using the same sort on my car the past three winters. I’ve never been too sure at what temperature it becomes really beneficial to use a block heater, but I always used it whenever it got below 0 degrees Farenheit. Reading some of the material above, though, I’m thinking it might be wise to use it whenever it gets below 20 or 10 degrees.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. At what temperatures├é┬ádo you use your block heater? What sort of heater is it? Also, if you live anywhere other than the Jamestown or Fargo areas, climate-wise, what’s your experience with these devices?

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3 Responses to Block heaters, a true piece of North Dakota heritage

  1. Gene W. Anderson says:

    I can’t resist–As a former ND resident { Portland,ND } I know about the heaters-Now living
    in Las Vegas for the past 20 yr’s-In 1990 I took my pickup in for a oil change, as I was waiting
    for the work to be done, the mechanic came in & ask what that wire was attached to my
    grill? I replied ” I plug my truck in so I can start it ” He replied ” That’s odd, cuz it started up
    fine when I drove it onto the rack “– I replied ” It’s fully charged “– I often wonder if he ever
    figured it out—LOL—-Merry Christmas & The Best for 2011–

  2. I moved from ND to NM about a month ago. I had a block heater installed before I moved. I had never heard of a block heater but was advised to get one before I moved to ND. For the last two weeks, I’ve had it plugged in constantly – in case I wanted to use the car. I’ve only been out once on my own in the last two weeks because of snow. The Mustang just doesn’t like the snow and performs poorly on ice and snow. But it’s plugged in, just in case.

  3. joel says:

    I use my block heater when it’s less than 0 if the car is parked outside, or -10 if the car is in the garage. Not that the vehicle won’t start, but it’s easier on it to have the oil not quite as thick from being so cold. I lived in the Detroit, Michigan, area before coming back to ND a few years ago. They are enough further south that they don’t get below zero too much, and almost never in the teens below zero. And therefore nobody has a block heater, even though it’s a northern city. It was fun telling people I had an electric car, when they saw my plug hanging from my grill.