How To Turn the Heater On In Your Car

Turning the heater on in your car can be as simple as turning on the engine, adjusting the temperature, and switching on the fan.
Written by Abbey Orzech
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
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To turn the heater on in most cars you simply have to turn on the engine, adjust the temperature level to your liking, and switch on the fan. You may need to wait five to ten minutes before the car’s engine is warm enough to start blowing hot air.
Daily cold temperatures and frost on the windshield are quickly approaching and with them the desire of many drivers to regularly start their car’s heating system again. Moving from the warm comfort of the bed to the cold outside of your morning commute is made all the more painful by freezing car cabin air, so knowing how your car’s heater works are essential.
However, the HVAC systems of modern cars can seem a bit complex and even older models may have some dials you’re unfamiliar with. So
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How to turn on your car heater?

The last thing you want while you’re shivering in your seat is to accidentally turn on the cold air instead of the warm air, or have to stare at all the dials and gauges without knowing which way will defrost your windshield and which way will make your visibility worse. Being able to effectively work your car’s heating and cooling system is essential to a comfortable and safe drive.
Thankfully, turning on your car heater isn’t all that complex once you’re able to identify the various dials and switches that make it work. In fact, turning the car heater on in most cars is as simple as a three-step process:
  • Turn the engine on (it may take five to ten minutes for the engine to heat up properly)
  • Turn the temperature dial to a comfortable heat level
  • Turn the blower motor to your desired fan level
If your car is equipped with an automatic heating and cooling system, you could be in for even less work. An automatic climate control system allows you to set temperature controls for both your warm air and cool air preferences. When turned on, it will automatically blow out either hot or cold air to maintain the temperature range you set.
To set up your automatic climate control, find and press the “AUTO” button on your car’s dash and set the preferred temperature for the entire car or for both sides of the vehicle if you have the dual climate control option. After you input the temperature range the first time, you’ll only need to hit the “AUTO” button to get the warm air kicking.

Do you turn on the air conditioning system for heat in a car?

Though we usually associate air conditioning with cool air, the air conditioning system in a vehicle controls both the heat and the cool air. To implement the AC system for heat, turn the temperature dial and fan setting dial clockwise, or if you have a digital display you’ll simply press the increase temperature button and turn the fan on.

How to manually turn on the car heater?

Now, some of the older models of cars out there do not give you the option of an automatic climate control system. And of course, there are likely to be some of you who prefer the manual style of operating so you can adjust the car’s temperature as your body temperature adjusts.
If you don’t have or don’t want to use an automatic heater and cooler, you will manually turn on the car heater instead.
This takes us back to the simple three steps from before. Turn your engine on and let the vehicle idle for a few minutes to warm up. Toggle the temperature button, spin the wheel or dial, or press increase on your digital display to turn the heat up. The warm air won’t start blowing out and distributing throughout the cabin, though, until you switch on the fan and set your desired fan speed.

What do the different heater controls do?

Admittedly, many vehicle heating system controls can look a bit intense and complex. However, your heating controls’ functionality is actually pretty simple once you understand what each button or dial does.

Temperature controls

Typically, the temperature controls are easily spotted. Many vehicles, particularly older models, have color coding: turn towards blue for cold air and red for hot air. However, cars with digital displays may skip the color coding and simply show you the actual temperature the system is set at.
There is also a chance that your vehicle comes equipped with dual temperature controls that can be customized differently for the driver’s side and the passenger's side. Manipulate the temperature controls until you’ve reached your desired temperature.

Fan speed controls

Along with the temperature toggles, the fan speed controls may be among the most important heater controls. As you may be able to guess, the fan speed controls help you adjust the blower motor’s fan speed. The higher the speed, the quicker the air moves around the car cabin.

Air direction

The air direction controls directly the blowing air to various locations inside the vehicle. Essentially, these controls will let you choose where you want the air to blow out from, and there are typically a few options:
  • Windshield vents
  • Dashboard/face vents
  • Feet vents
  • Face and feet vents
  • Windshield and feet vents
You’ll usually see an image of a person with arrows pointing to different air directions. Simply select your preferred air-blowing options.

Recirculation button

Car heater systems draw in outside air, circulate it through the heat exchanger, and distribute it throughout the interior cabin. The recirculation button typically depicts a curved arrow and halts the heater system’s circulation of outside air, instead recirculating the cabin air.
This button is particularly useful when first warming up your vehicle because it will be quicker to heat up partially warm air than the cold outside air. You may also wish to employ the recirculation button when the outside air quality is poor.

Windshield and rear windshield defrosters

Anyone who has ever gotten into their vehicle to be met with foggy, misty windows knows the importance of your windshield defrosters. When you turn on the defroster controls, you signal the computer of your car’s heater control module to prioritize clearing the windshield and rear windshield
Especially important for visibility and safe driving, the windshield and rear windshield defrosters are crucial to know.
MORE: How to defrost car windows
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What to do if your car heater doesn’t turn on?

So you know how to turn your car’s heating system on and you’re familiar with the function of all the controls...but what happens when the heat just won’t work? Without a functioning car heater, your drives are likely to be uncomfortable at best and dangerous at worst.
The best course of action when your car heater doesn’t turn on is to bring your vehicle to a certified mechanic for diagnostics and repair. However, if you prefer working things out for yourself, you can try to diagnose the issue at home.

Check the thermostat

The all-important thermostat makes the air blowing from your vents warm or cold. Like any car part, excessive or extended use can cause over-wear and damage. A broken thermostat leads to too-cold air, overheating, or a total system halt. Some vehicles have onboard diagnostic tools that can alert you to thermostat troubles, otherwise, you may need to bring your vehicle to a mechanic.
MORE:Why your car heater is blowing cold air

Look for electrical problems

The problem with your car heater could also be caused by electrical problems. But before dealing with any electrical systems, be sure there is no power running through your vehicle to avoid electrocution. If you feel comfortable, check for any loose wires, blown fuses, or issues with the blower motor.

Clear dirt or other blockages

Since the heating system in a car draws in air from the outside, it is likely also sucking in dirt and debris from the outside. Excessive dirt and debris present in the heating system lead to clogs and blockages that can cause heater malfunctioning.

Stuck heater controls

Maybe there was an unfortunate day recently when you had to slam on your brakes and accidentally spilled your large Diet Coke all over the dash. The sticky soda syrup dripped down all over the heater controls and stuck them in place—if this or some other dirt has led to sticky heater controls, a quick clean might fix the issue.
If not, you may be dealing with broken heater controls or incorrect electrical connections. Unless you feel confident dismantling your heater controls, it will be best to bring your vehicle to a certified mechanic.

How to find cheap car insurance

When the heater in your car isn’t working and you’re right in the middle of a frigid winter, that car repair is going to be high on your list of priorities. Unfortunately, HVAC repairs can rack up your mechanic bill quite quickly and might leave you searching for savings anywhere you can find them. Make it easy on yourself—use
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FAQs

If your car is blowing cold air when your heat is on, it may mean your thermostat is broken or malfunctioning. Bring your vehicle to a mechanic certified in HVAC work for diagnostic and repair.
Turn your engine on and let it idle for five to 10 minutes before turning the car heater on. It will also be helpful to employ the recirculation button when you turn the heater on so the heating system stops pulling in outside air and instead recirculates the cabin air.
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