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A woman cleans snow from her car in downtown Detroit on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011. (Patricia Beck/AP Photo)
A woman cleans snow from her car in downtown Detroit on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011. (Patricia Beck/AP Photo)

You & Your Car

Remote starters: good or bad? Add to ...

A search of the internet shows a disparity of views regarding remote starters. On one side are those who say they are the greatest thing since sliced bread and on the other are people who say they hurt either the car or the environment. Which one is correct? – Mark

Both, to some degree. The obvious upside is the ability to get into a vehicle that has been warmed up, one where the defrosters have had a chance to do their thing. The other side is correct in that the environment will suffer – slightly. As is the case with so many things that we find comfortable or pleasurable, there are costs associated.

The most difficult time for an internal combustion engine is the cold start. The lubricants are at their least-protective stage, having drained away since the engine was shut down – not completely, but enough that during the first couple of revolutions from start-up, lubrication/protection is minimal until the systems are up to speed and fluids flowing freely. This is why you should never rev a cold engine.

But this happens whether you start the engine remotely or from inside the car so that does not come under consideration here. The environmental damage is the issue. Manufacturers are increasingly applying stop/start technology to vehicles, having the engine shut down when the vehicle comes to a rest and start up instantly when you take your foot off the brake.

The idea is that any time spent idling is using fuel – at the cost of consumption and pollution. There are groups across the country promoting shutting engines off when in the drive-thru lineup or when dropping off or picking up children at school. Idling uses fuel, used fuel leaves behind harmful emissions. It has become common for manufacturers to equip vehicles with remote-start capability. The aftermarket is filled with available systems.

Cold Canadian winters make this feature attractive. They also make it necessary to warm up the vehicle while you scrape away frost or ice and remove snow from the vehicle. The defroster has little effect until the coolant has circulated long enough to absorb some heat from the engine. Moderation is the key, you can do the above in a few minutes – or wait 10 or 15 minutes for the system to do it all for you, leaving it up to the individual to determine how much their comfort is worth in terms of environmental impact.

Winter run-flats

I recently purchased a Toyota Sienna. It came with all-season, run-flat tires and no spare tire – or provision for one. I normally swap all-season for winter tires on my vehicles and wonder if this will be possible with the new Toyota and its run-flats? – Paul

Yes, it is possible. There was a problem in the early years with a lack of choice for winter run-flats but several manufacturers have stepped up, including Bridgestone, (Blizzak LM25), Dunlop (SP Winter Sport M3 ROF), Michelin (Pilot (Alpin PA2 ZP) and Pirelli (Sottozero Serie II). You may have to change wheel size to find a suitable replacement. I would recommend a 17-inch wheel, readily available from your Toyota dealer, Canadian Tire, etc. The trick is to find a tire with a similar overall diameter as the original to ensure your speedometer remains accurate. Appropriate tire sizes would include 215/65R/17 and 235/60R/17. Both are within 1 per cent of the original in diameter.

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