Raza Dawood said he always gives the same advice to people buying a vehicle in Saskatchewan.

“Make sure your car has a block heater,” said the owner of Usman’s Auto in Saskatoon.

Not everyone knows what a block heater is, and there’s no guarantee that vehicles sold in Canada are outfitted with one.

Plugging a vehicle in is an essential step in making sure it starts during extreme cold temperatures. A block heater warms the engine, coolant and oil when it’s plugged in, making starting the vehicle easier and less battery intensive.

During January’s cold snap, Dawood’s auto shop received 10 to 15 calls a day from people having car troubles.

“They keep asking how my car is stuck? I can’t start in the morning, so what could be the problem?”

Dawood said the first question to callers is if they had their block heater plugged in. Often he found the caller didn’t know what he was talking about. 

“It’s a common problem especially in Saskatchewan, especially because people move from other provinces. [In] other provinces they don’t have block heaters,” Dawood said.  

WATCH | Mechanic shows how to check if your vehicle has a block heater, says many don’t: 

Mechanic shows how to check if your vehicle has a block heater, says many don’t

Saskatoon auto shop owner Raza Dawood demonstrates how to look for a block heater in a vehicle. He says cold weather is a rude awakening for customers with out-of-province or used vehicles without block heaters.

But it’s not just people moving from elsewhere that don’t know to ask about block heaters. 

Jared Rusch has driven several winters in the province. In the summer of 2021, he took home a new-to-him vehicle from a dealership. When winter came, he tried to plug in the vehicle as he’d always done before. 

“[I] could not find the cable anywhere, and I looked high and low, and came to the realization that there was no block heater — even though every car I’ve bought since high school has had one,” said Rusch, who lives in Saskatoon. 

“I just kind of thought it was standard, but apparently not.”

If a vehicle comes without a block heater, an auto shop can typically install one for a cost.

Rusch said he wishes the dealership would have pointed out that the vehicle did not come with a block heater and thinks it should be standard practice for all vehicles sold in Canada to have them already installed.

“It’s very cold here, and [that’s] definitely something that people need to prolong the life of their car.”

Now is a good time to take other steps to help vehicles make it through the cold winter, said Christine Niemczyk, a spokesperson for roadside assistance company CAA.

On top of plugging in vehicles (if they have a block heater), she said people should make sure their cords aren’t frayed and that their battery is in good shape.

“With our extreme weather, we know what weakens the battery, and instead of just charging the battery you may need to change it and to replace it, because the lifespan of a battery in Saskatchewan is about three to four years,” Niemczyk said.

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