Winter Warmer

Drinking alcohol in cold weather only warms you temporarily and then you need to get inside.

Our bodies are designed to regulate heat in order to stay alive. When you’re too hot the blood vessels nearest the skin use vasodilation to open wide and allow heated blood to pass through and radiate heat away from the body, cooling you down.

When you’re cold you body does the opposite. In the cold your body uses vasoconstriction to close off the blood vessels closest to the skin to prevent heat loss. In order to keep your core warm your body limits the blood flow to your extremities, conserving heat. This is why your fingers, toes, skin, etc. get stiff & cold before your core. Fingers are expendable, your organs are not. When your body is using vasoconstriction to keep warm the last thing you want to do is dilate those blood vessels … which is exactly what alcohol does.

From old myths and advertisements, the idea that alcohol is a good way to warm up in the cold has been around for centuries.

Hot Shots

Part of why we think alcohol helps comes from St. Bernards rescuing avalanche victims in the snow wearing small barrels of brandy to warm them up. Unfortunately no St. Bernard dog has ever worn such a cask – it’s a myth popularized by the Edwin Landseer 1820 painting Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveller.

Probably the main reason we think alcohol warms us up in the cold is because it sort of does. Alcohol is a vasodilator and so it isn’t the alcohol warming you but what alcohol does to the body that warms you. In the cold alcohol opens the blood vessels that the body has closed down to preserve warmth, the result of which is that the warm reserve of blood in your core is suddenly released out to your extremities. Unfortunately this sudden warmth comes at a cost. As the warm blood reaches your extremities there is a loss of heat and as it travels back to your core your overall body temperature drops. Further, alcohol reduces your body’s ability to shiver (which is another mechanism used to increase warmth) so you’re cold and only getting colder. Now you no longer have a reserve of warmth and need to get indoors.

In this bootlegged video from MythBusters, they explore the myth that alcohol helps warm you up in cold weather.

Empty Winter Gas Tanks

An empty gas tank allows water condensation to accumulate and potentially damage your engine.

In Winter, Keep Gas In Your Car

When warm air and cold air come into contact with one another they create condensation. This is how storms work. An “empty” gas tank contains more air than gasoline and when that air is warmer than the colder air outside, condensation can build up inside the tank and drip down to mix with the gasoline.

When water and gasoline mix, the water sinks to the bottom. Among other possible effects, if the weather is cold enough the water can freeze in the fuel line and prevent gasoline from getting to the engine. A frozen fuel line will prevent you from starting your vehicle. This is why you’re supposed to keep your gas tank full in the winter. While not a concern in warmer climates where winters are mild, this can be a considerable problem in environments that experience especially cold winters.

Winter Blend

Something that helps combat freezing temperatures is winter blend gasoline. Between summer blend and winter blend, gasoline designed for winter is cheaper but also worse for the environment. However, winter gasoline’s higher volatility allows it to ignite more easily in colder weather. So if you have frozen water in your fuel line, or it’s too cold for the engine in general, any winter blend gas able to reach the engine should at least start your vehicle more easily. Still, if you experience especially frigid winters, you should always keep gas in your tank.

Added info: In areas of extreme cold, where the temperature can regularly go to -15° C (5° F), engines can strain to start and engine fluids can become more viscous. In these regions vehicles are frequently equipped with block heaters, which are aftermarket add-ons that are plugged into an external power source to heat up the engine before starting the car. It is not uncommon in parts of Alaska and northern Canada to see cars with electrical plugs hanging out of the their grills which are attached to block heaters.