Although the calendar is about to change over to March (the month named after a Nazi rally, and no I’m not looking that up you’ll just have to trust me on it), my car is currently plugged in outside. The forecast calls for -28 when I’ll be leaving tomorrow. Brr.
For those of you lucky enough to live in warmer climates (don’t worry Canadians, the global warming will get to us soon enough), the reason why us on the prairies plug our cars in is when it gets below -20 or so the oil starts to freeze inside the car’s engine. Plugging in the car’s block heater warms up the oil, which then moves freely when the car is started. It’s a pretty ingenious little invention, actually. I’m going to start telling people I came up with it.
They’ll totally believe me, right?
The thing with plugging your car in is it gets a little expensive, or so they say. Don’t worry, we’ve come up with a solution to that, too. You can buy a timer that kicks in a few hours before you have to leave in the morning, ensuring the oil gets sufficiently heated without driving up the ol’ electric bill. Timers cost about $20, depending on how fancy the model is.
But is it actually worth it? Or are dads everywhere right about how plugging your car in costs a fortune? Let’s take a closer look at exactly how much it’ll set you back?
Once we figure out a couple of variables it’ll be easy to figure out how much it costs to plug your car in.
Let’s start with the price of power, first. Since I live in cold, freedom loving Alberta, we’ll use the spot price here as our guide. That comes to approximately $0.05 per kilowatt. We’ll ignore all the administration fees and other such fixed costs, since we’d be shelling out for them anyway. We’re also going to ignore Alberta’s dreaded CARBON TAX.
Compare that to Ontario, which can pay up to $0.15 per kilowatt hour. Ha! Take that, Ontario. Alberta wins again. Quebec, meanwhile, pays just a little more than Alberta, at about $0.06 per kilowatt hour. Note that Alberta’s energy prices swing more wildly than Quebec’s, meaning Quebecers likely get the better long-term deal.
Wattage of the block heater
Next we have to determine how much electricity you’d use plugging your car in. I was originally told the contraption was more than 1,000 watts, which means it used a kilowatt of energy every hour. This could add up over the course of a whole night.
But that just isn’t true. A little research (read: paying some dumbass kids the change from my pocket to do a little googling) and I discovered your car’s block heater is likely using 350 to 500 watts per hour. Some larger trucks are using 1,000 watts or even more, but you probably don’t drive one of those.
Then it’s a matter of just doing the math. I pay $0.05 per kilowatt of energy. If my car uses 500 watts to run the block heater (which is high, my Buick is likely closer to 350), that means I’m at a mere $0.025 per hour to run my block heater. It turns out it doesn’t cost very much to plug my car in.
Add in the additional costs of getting your power to your house and it still doesn’t cost much to leave your car plugged in all night. We’re looking at about $0.50, max. That’s basically nothing. You still might want to get the timer though, since even saving $0.25 each night can add up to the point where it becomes a good investment over the course of a few winters.
How this has affected my behavior
I figure I plug my car in between 10 and 15 times each winter. This means I would be spending anywhere from $5 to $10 each year on it. I could get a timer and reduce my expenditures by a few bucks, but now that I’ve done the math it isn’t a priority.
Before, I would get up early in the morning and sneak outside to plug my car a couple hours before I had to go somewhere. I don’t do this any longer. I’ll plug it in when I get home the night before and not worry about the cost.
Is it really worth saving a lousy quarter to have to go outside in -30 weather?
Hell, maybe I should take this a step further and just call a cab on those super cold winter days.