Paul Brand: How to use a block heater

  • Article by: PAUL BRAND
  • Updated: January 2, 2005 - 10:00 PM

This story was published Jan. 10, 2004.

QOn last Sunday's radio show, you mentioned block heaters. It got me to thinking about using mine since the cold weather is here and this is the first winter I've had to park outside. Since I've never used the factory-installed block heater, can I start using it now? Or will it send sediment and crud through the cooling system or cause any other problems? Also, if you recommend starting to use it now, how long can I leave it plugged in, several hours? Overnight?

AFunny that you mention block heaters: I asked my oldest boy if his '93 Chevy K5 Blazer had a block heater that he could plug in last Sunday night. He said no, and added that his battery was 'giving up the ghost' and probably would not start the truck Monday morning. He was right, and had to borrow the family Tahoe to get to work.

Don't hesitate to plug in the block heater on your truck. The fact that it hasn't been used isn't an issue. Most 'block' heaters consist of small electrical heating elements mounted into a replacement 'frost plug' installed on the engine block. The heating element reaches into the cooling jacket surrounding the cylinders so that it is directly immersed in the coolant full-time, whether the unit is ever plugged in or not. So, since you've kept up with routine cooling system service, there should be no significant sediment in the system anyway.

Unless temperatures drop to 30 or 40 below zero, set up an outlet timer to turn on the block heater two to four hours before you need to start the vehicle. That's enough time to warm the coolant sufficiently to assist the engine in cranking and starting. By the way, a key benefit of warming the coolant is to warm the cylinder walls to reduce the percentage of incoming fuel that condenses on the cold metal and contributes to non-start/flooded engines.

QI own a '99 Cadillac DeVille with 4.6-liter V8; the car has 36,000 miles on it. Over the past 20 months, the 'service engine' light has come on several times. Each time, the dealer has quickly diagnosed the problem as a fouled No. 3 spark plug. A replacement plug sent me on my way. Last January, the light came on again and the dealer again diagnosed the problem as a fouled No. 3 spark plug. They determined the spark plug and injector were the cause. The plug was replaced and the injector cleaned. My question is what are the chances of this happening again? The car is now out of warranty.

AActually, it is probably still covered by the federally mandated five-year/80,000-mile emissions warranty. And it seems quite logical that a fouled spark plug causing a misfire would lead to an emissions failure, which is confirmed by the 'service engine' light.

What would cause repeated fouling of a specific spark plug? Logically, the powertrain computer should deliver equal pulse widths to each injector, which in turn should deliver equal amounts of fuel. For just one spark plug to foul, the injector is delivering too much fuel because of shorted windings or some other failure, or the injector is delivering a very poor spray pattern because of deposits, or the cylinder itself is developing poor compression and thus inefficiently burning the fuel, or the ignition system is allowing that spark plug to misfire to the point of fouling.

The dealer has addressed the problem by replacing the spark plug and cleaning all the injectors. This is a logical approach to resolving the issue, but may or may not be the ultimate solution. Since the problem is well documented during the original manufacturers warranty, plus the five-year coverage of the emissions warranty, I really don't see this being a question of warranty coverage or not.

If the problem recurs, the dealer should do a cylinder balance test and/or compression test to determine if there is a mechanical issue with that cylinder. If not, the dealer should focus on the injector itself, and confirm proper operation of the ignition system/coil for that spark plug.

QI have a '97 Mazda Protege with 1.5-iter engine. I have been breaking alternator belts left and right lately, and can't seem to see what is causing them to fail. The normal tension ( 1/2 inch of deflection or so) is too tight, and the belt squeals like a banshee and breaks within a short time, depending on how far my son drives the car that day.

AWhy is the 'normal' tension too tight? Mazda calls for less than 1/2 inch of deflection on the A/C belt and about 1/4 inch of deflection on the alternator belt with 22 pounds of pressure applied mid-span. Perhaps the squealing, which may be leading to overheating and rapid failure, is caused by inadequate belt tension. Also, belt alignment is critical. Visually check to make sure all the pulleys driven by that belt operate in the same vertical plane. Use a straightedge or ruler to confirm this if you're not sure. A bent mounting bracket or a pulley with serious run-out could cause rapid belt failure.

Finally, if everything looks good, perhaps one of the belt-driven components is generating excessive drag from a bad bearing, causing the belt to slip and fail.

To submit a question, write to Paul Brand, Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Please explain the problem in as much detail as possible and please include your daytime phone number in case I need more information. Because of the volume of mail received, it isn't always possible to send a personal reply.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Philadelphia 3:30 PM
San Diego 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Phoenix 52 3rd Qtr 8:25
New York 52
Portland 6:00 PM
New Orleans
Utah 6:00 PM
Atlanta 7:00 PM
San Antonio 7:30 PM
Indiana 8:00 PM
Milwaukee 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Arizona 3:00 PM
Los Angeles
Colorado 6:00 PM
Philadelphia 6:00 PM
Ottawa 6:00 PM
Washington 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Tampa Bay 6:00 PM
NY Islanders
Florida 6:00 PM
NY Rangers 6:00 PM
Chicago 6:00 PM
Nashville 7:00 PM
Calgary 9:00 PM
St. Louis 9:30 PM
San Jose
VA Commonwealth 68 FINAL
Cincinnati 47
Charlotte 78 FINAL
Georgetown 81
Michigan 51
Louisville 76 FINAL
Western Ky 67
Mount St Marys 37 2nd Half 5:30
American Univ 39
Abilene Christian 32 2nd Half 1:41
Boise State 73
UMass Lowell 44 2nd Half 7:50
Duquesne 65
South Alabama 38 2nd Half 10:55
Ohio State 46 2nd Half 10:41
North Carolina 64
Massachusetts 33 2nd Half 13:24
Providence 55
Syracuse 47 2nd Half 17:21
Villanova 35
Citadel 36 2nd Half 10:36
Virginia Tech 42
Belmont 29 2nd Half
Fairfield 27
St Bonaventure 18 1st Half 6:54
Binghamton 14
Montreat 13 1st Half 9:33
Campbell 21
Delaware 23 1st Half 7:53
Fair-Dickinson 23
South Florida 8 1st Half 10:50
Florida State 13
Vanderbilt 17 1st Half 8:51
Georgia Tech 15
SC State 14 1st Half 11:53
Houston 12
Missouri 14 1st Half 8:23
Illinois 16
Truett-McConnell 12 1st Half 9:39
Jacksonville 12
Toledo 26 1st Half 9:56
McNeese State 20
Elon 14 1st Half 11:26
UNC Greensboro 12
Drexel 11 1st Half 9:15
Penn State 18
St Francis-PA 21 1st Half 7:13
Rutgers 31
Albany 23 1st Half 5:00
Yale 18
PSU-Beaver 12 1st Half 11:28
Longwood 18
Eastern Ill 12 1st Half 9:56
Indiana State 9
Indiana 1:30 PM
Marshall 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
Lafayette 2:00 PM
Oral Roberts 2:00 PM
Western Mich 2:00 PM
Delaware State 2:00 PM
Fla Atlantic 2:00 PM
St Francis-NY
Arkansas Tech 2:00 PM
Stephen F Austin
Howard Payne 2:00 PM
UMBC 2:00 PM
Kennesaw St
St Josephs (IN) 2:05 PM
Chicago State
Eastern Mich 2:05 PM
Missouri State
UCLA 2:30 PM
UC Davis 3:00 PM
Air Force
Houston Baptist 3:00 PM
UC Riverside
Davidson 3:00 PM
Coll of Charleston
USC Upstate 3:00 PM
Miss State
NC Central 3:00 PM
Miss Valley St
Illinois State 3:00 PM
Murray State
Louisiana 3:00 PM
Northwestern St
Oakland 3:00 PM
Detroit 3:00 PM
Rhode Island
Presbyterian 3:00 PM
UT Martin
Monmouth 3:00 PM
Southern U 3:00 PM
Iowa State 4:00 PM
Wake Forest 4:00 PM
High Point 4:00 PM
James Madison
Texas Southern 4:00 PM
Michigan State
New Hampshire 4:00 PM
Sacred Heart
Northeastern 4:00 PM
Santa Clara
Huston-Tillotson 4:00 PM
Texas State
Purdue 4:15 PM
Notre Dame
Prairie View 4:30 PM
Sam Houston St
Xavier 5:00 PM
Bluffton 6:00 PM
NJIT 6:00 PM
Central Conn St
Hofstra 6:00 PM
Boston Univ 6:00 PM
Iona 6:00 PM
George Mason
Valparaiso 6:00 PM
IUPU-Ft Wayne
Texas A&M 6:00 PM
Kansas State
Morgan State 6:00 PM
Saint Josephs 6:00 PM
East Carolina 6:00 PM
Richmond 6:00 PM
La Salle 6:00 PM
Incarnate Word 6:05 PM
CS-Bakersfield 6:30 PM
Idaho State
Iowa 6:30 PM
Northern Iowa
Milwaukee 6:30 PM
SIU Edwardsville
Long Beach State 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio 7:00 PM
SE Missouri St 7:30 PM
Lehigh 8:00 PM
Arizona State
New Mexico 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
Oklahoma 8:00 PM
Utah Valley U 8:00 PM
Weber State
Jacksonville St 8:00 PM
Northern Colorado
St Edwards 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon
NC State 8:30 PM
West Virginia
TX A&M-CC 9:00 PM
Cal Poly 9:00 PM
Fresno State 9:00 PM
Montana State 9:00 PM
Ball State 9:00 PM
San Diego St
South Dakota St 9:05 PM
Utah State
Stanford 10:00 PM
Utah 10:30 PM
Nevada 3 FINAL
Louisiana 16
Utah State 0 1st Qtr 12:51
Texas-El Paso 0
(23) Utah 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Livingstone 77 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 81
Loyola-Chicago 58 FINAL
Dartmouth 70
Georgia Tech 65 FINAL
St Francis-NY 59
Auburn 49 FINAL
St Johns 56
East Tenn St 56 FINAL
Jacksonville St 57
Western Mich 71 FINAL
Detroit 57
Cal-Irvine 42 FINAL
Wright State 80
Gardner-Webb 47 FINAL
Kennesaw St 50
(7) Stanford 22 2nd Half 10:50
(11) Tennessee 41
Alabama A&M 39 2nd Half 12:59
Ole Miss 55
Central Michigan 38 2nd Half 9:10
(1) South Carolina 62
Nebraska Omaha 37 2nd Half 7:32
Creighton 55
FIU 54 2nd Half 5:25
Western Carolina 77
Houston 59 2nd Half 7:20
Nicholls 31
St Thomas Aquinas 34 2nd Half 7:10
Army 58
St Bonaventure 43 2nd Half 10:37
Niagara 40
Texas State 47 2nd Half 5:50
Stetson 64
George Mason 44 2nd Half 11:46
ULM 38
Grambling 1:00 PM
Kansas State
American Univ 1:00 PM
MD-Eastern Shore
Lipscomb 1:00 PM
Charleston Southern 1:00 PM
Jacksonville 1:00 PM
Murray State
Missouri 15 1st Half 10:38
Wake Forest 10
Robert Morris 15 1st Half 4:32
Cornell 32
Air Force 6 1st Half 11:34
Abilene Christian 17
Hampton 7 1st Half 10:21
James Madison 22
Texas Southern 18 1st Half 11:30
TX A&M-CC 10
Tenn Tech 12 1st Half 9:16
NC A&T 15
Presbyterian 9 1st Half 8:07
NC Central 5
Penn 17 1st Half 6:41
Drexel 20
Vermont 10 1st Half 11:29
Green Bay 7
Ohio Christian 11 1st Half 5:54
Akron 30
(17) Rutgers 14 1st Half 11:56
Iona 10
Indiana 36 1st Half 7:38
Oakland 21
Indiana State 1:30 PM
Denver 1:30 PM
TX-San Antonio 2:00 PM
Texas Tech
UCF 2:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Campbell 2:00 PM
Florida A&M 2:00 PM
SE Louisiana
Northwestern St 2:00 PM
Jackson State
Lehigh 2:00 PM
Arizona State
Valparaiso 2:00 PM
Toledo 2:00 PM
Southern Ill
Liberty 2:30 PM
Wofford 2:30 PM
North Florida
Montana State 3:00 PM
Washington St
Marshall 3:00 PM
(22) West Virginia
Morgan State 3:00 PM
Northeastern 3:00 PM
Furman 3:00 PM
(15) Georgia
(18) Michigan State 3:00 PM
(9) Baylor
Ohio U 3:00 PM
Prairie View 3:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
High Point 3:00 PM
(12) Nebraska
Winthrop 3:05 PM
Wichita State
William Jewell 3:30 PM
Louisiana Tech 4:00 PM
Southern Utah 4:00 PM
Hawaii 4:00 PM
Loyola Marymount
San Jose St 4:00 PM
San Francisco
CS-Northridge 4:00 PM
San Diego State
Norfolk State 4:00 PM
East Carolina
Saint Peters 4:00 PM
Arizona 4:30 PM
Stephen F Austin
Northwestern 4:30 PM
Eastern Illinois
Oral Roberts 5:00 PM
Florida Atlantic 5:00 PM
New Mexico St
La Salle 5:00 PM
Georgia State
(16) Oregon State 5:30 PM
Sacred Heart 6:00 PM
Delaware 6:00 PM
Troy 6:00 PM
Tennessee St
Saint Louis 6:30 PM
Utah Valley U
Washington 7:00 PM
Pacific 7:00 PM
Long Beach St
Old Dominion 7:00 PM
Austin Peay 9:00 PM
Lewis-Clark State 9:00 PM
(21) Miss State 9:30 PM
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters