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Old 01-02-2009, 05:01 PM
Location: Appalachian Mountains
508 posts, read 859,225 times
Reputation: 380


Being an ol' southern boy this heater for your engine block is totally new to me! I've done a little research on the subject, but am probably more confused now than before I started. So, I need some help from you cold weather folks. I've seen some ads for magnetic block heaters. Any good? What do you suggest? Thanks.
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Old 01-02-2009, 06:28 PM
Location: Dangling from a mooses antlers
6,287 posts, read 10,892,261 times
Reputation: 4806
Depends on where your going to. In Fairbanks I used one of those circulating water heaters. In Anchorage we got by with a freeze plug heater on our Subaru and Nissan.
I don't know anything about the magnetic heaters.
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Old 01-02-2009, 11:19 PM
Location: AK
71 posts, read 139,850 times
Reputation: 38
I lived in Anchorage from 1997 to 2001 and never had any heater on my cars. None of my friends ever had the heaters either and our cars always started just fine. Well, one time I did have a gas line freeze but some "Heat" took care of that.

If your car is in good shape and newer then you should be fine around Anchorage. If you head farther north then I think heaters are a must.

Last edited by mwachel; 01-03-2009 at 12:53 AM.. Reason: HEET not Heat
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Old 01-03-2009, 01:02 AM
Location: Not far from Fairbanks, AK
15,700 posts, read 25,314,400 times
Reputation: 11236
There are different kinds of block heaters. For your specific vehicle, check with the dealer to see what heater is recommended, since installing some heaters by yourself can void the engine warranty of new vehicles.

Types of heaters (all are electric, or have an electric heating element at the heater, and an extension cord):

-Magnetic. May work sometimes, but the block must be made of iron. Also, there always the a risk of the heater dropping from the block when you are driving if not properly secured.

-Circulation (canister) heater. About the size of a soda can, usually installed on the hot-water hose leading to the cab's heater. Requires draining some antifreeze, cutting the hose at the correct location, and also connecting both hoses to the correct ports on the heater. The flow arrows must exactly match the flow of the antifreeze. This is best done by a mechanic, or the dealer.

-Radiator-hose heater. Much like a canister heater, except that this one is installed on one of the radiator hoses. The hose must be cut, the the heater installed so each portion of the cut hose is connected to the heater (same as the canister heater in that the hose is cut, and the heater is placed right where the cut is made). Again, the antifreeze must be drained, and the heater is installed in the correct hose in accordance to the instructions. Best done by the dealer, or a mechanic.

-Bolted-on block heater. My Honda Civic uses one of these, and I installed mine back in 1987. However, that's the heater recommended by the dealer. This one fits a small area on the aluminum block, where there is a bolt to hold it in place.

-Engine-block heater. This one is installed in the correct engine freeze plug (one of the round plates along the side of the block). This one has a "L-shaped" heating element. When the heater is installed on the block, the element is inside the block cavity where the antifreeze flows. Improperly torqued, this heater can leak antifreeze through the O-ring or gasket all around the body or casing. The casing or body of this heater replaces the freeze plug. This type of heater is perhaps the most difficult to install, and only the right freeze plug must be removed from the block. Best done by the dealer, or a mechanic.

Most of these heaters are from 300-450 Watts. The cord must be routed and secured so it does not come in contact with any moving, or hot parts (belts, fans, steering, hot exhaust pipe, fuel lines, etc.).
If you are coming to Alaska, most mechanics in town can do that for you. That's the best way to go about it. NAPA usually has the correct heater for your specific vehicle, or the dealer. But again, block heaters can void the warranty of the motor, so let the dealer or authorized mechanic shop take care of it.
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Old 01-05-2009, 03:11 PM
Location: Appalachian Mountains
508 posts, read 859,225 times
Reputation: 380
Sorry for the delayed "thanks." Your info is a tremendous help!
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Old 01-05-2009, 05:41 PM
Location: Haines, AK
1,121 posts, read 3,833,752 times
Reputation: 666
Default careful where you plug it in

Another thing about block heaters...careful where you plug it in. It's a good idea to use a GFCI circuit for that particular extension cord, particularly towards the beginning and end of the season when it's wetter. Use a cord that's built to be more flexible in cold weather, some will crack and break if you try to coil them up at very low temps. They draw enough amperage so that you don't want to plug them into a circuit that's already supplying a heater or other high-amperage draw. If you want to use a timer so that it's not drawing power all night make sure it's a water-heater type timer thats rated for the amps, regular lamp timers definately aren't.

Another caution is to always route the cord where you'll always see it when you get in the car. It's WAY too easy to forget and try to drive off with it still connected, particularly when it's buried in fresh snow. What I do is to take the coiled up slack and hang it off the drivers side mirror, that way it's impossible to miss when you open the door.
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Old 01-05-2009, 06:55 PM
Location: Appalachian Mountains
508 posts, read 859,225 times
Reputation: 380
Thanks, rotorhead. That last bit of info is definitely something I don't want to learn the hard way!
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Old 01-06-2009, 02:10 AM
Location: Interior alaska
6,381 posts, read 11,381,876 times
Reputation: 3445
Having an extention cord with the "lighted" end for letting you know there is power is a good deal too, plus you can see it walking up to the car/truck to remind you to unplug it.
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Old 01-06-2009, 02:29 AM
Location: Barrow, Alaska
3,539 posts, read 6,131,192 times
Reputation: 1818
A couple of points come to mind as I read this thread.

One is that more fires are caused by the circulating heaters that are spliced into the radiator or heater hoses than by all others combined. For that reason alone, they should be avoided if there is any other type of heater available.

The one "gotcha" that I know of with freeze plug heaters, which otherwise seem to be the best, is that the heater element will burn out very quickly if the antifreeze level drops lower than the heater element while it is powered up. That is a very unlikely thing to happen, but it's instant death for the heater.

As far as a lighted extension cord, there's a better way. Put a 3-way adapter, or one of those short cords with a light, or wire up a "nightlight" to be where it can be seen. The point is to have the light be part of the permanently installed wiring that comes after the point where you plug/unplug everything. That way you know that the vehicle is plugged in, rather than knowing only that the extension cord is plugged in. (It makes checking if a vehicle is plugged in by looking out a window or even across the road a viable method, rather than having to put on a coat to go look closely.) The even more important point is that the extension cord socket and the plug from the vehicle, which are repeatedly plugged and unplugged, are both going to need replacement every year or every two years. The one coming from the vehicle should not be hard wired if it is to be easy to replace.
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Old 01-17-2009, 03:08 PM
3 posts, read 17,809 times
Reputation: 11
i drive a 2005 nissan xterra (auto). i am planning on getting a engine block heater and battery blanket installed when i arrive to anchorage via ferry. It should cost me about $500, is that too much? is there anything else that i should have installed for my car in the freezing fairbanks weather?
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