Manitoba Drivers Warned About Block Heaters in Garages

By: Cliff Ritter on January 28, 2013

Manitoba is subject to some of the coldest winter conditions in Canada, and Manitoban drivers heavily rely on block heaters to start their cars.  However, Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) warns drivers to refrain from plugging in the block heaters inside the garage.  The public auto insurance group says faulty extension cords and worn out plugs have caused dozens of vehicle fires and burned down several garages.

MPI spokespeople emphasize how important it is for drivers to check the extension cords of their block heaters.  MPI fire investigator George Murray says all too often people allow cords to hang from the front of their cars while they drive, and in some cases run over the cords.

When you see a cord, and he's got all these cuts, and he's spliced it and he's taped it that’s not a good thing.”

Murray says frayed block heater extension cords have been responsible for garage fires over the last three weeks.  Murray says for every 1,000 fire damaged cars in Manitoba each year, at least 50 of those fires are caused by plugged in block heaters inside garages – at a cost of anywhere from $4 million to $5 million annually.

Murray says block heaters should be inspected every year before the temperatures fall below freezing.  He also suggests that drivers use their block heater plug-in protective covers, and unplug the extension cord from the rubber end to avoid causing a spark.

Errol Schultz has driven in Manitoba winters for years, and says he can’t understand how people think powering block heaters inside a garage is a good idea.

“It doesn't make any sense.  I mean, the car’s not going to freeze in there, so the block will stay warm enough so when you start your car, it’s fine.”

MPI says their concerns are echoed by Winnipeg firefighters, who agree that too many house and car fires are caused by block heaters.