FARGO, N.D. (AP) _ When the wind chill plummets below zero on the northern Plains, folks talk of sainthood for Andrew Freeman, who 40 years ago invented an engine heater that made it easier to start cars on cold mornings.

''I had a guy come up to me in a store the other day and thank me for inventing the heater,'' the 80-year-old Freeman said Monday. ''He said he never would have gotten his car started that day without it. I get a kick out of things like that.''

Strangers to the region may point to electrical cords visible through the grillwork on the front of cars, or stretched out through the grill to an electrical outlet, and ask if they are electric cars.

But natives know the heaters are necessary equipment on the norther Plains.

''We all have them, we all use them,' said Mark Ewens, a National Weather Service forecaster in Fargo. ''When the air temperature is 33 degrees below zero when you get off work at 7 a.m., there's no way you'd get the car started if you didn't have it plugged in.''

Freeman, a North Dakota native who lives in Grand Forks, created his first heater out of necessity. He got a patent on the device in 1947.

Tired of being unable to start his car in the winter, he devised an electric heating element attached to the end of a bolt.

The bolt replaced one of the headbolts in the engine and the heating element extended into the engine water jacket.

Newcomers who want to make certain their cars start simply go to a service station and have an engine heater installed for roughly $50. Plug it in at night and the engine and its oil are warm and ready to go in the morning.

Freeman's invention should get plenty of use in the coming days.

The mercury dipped to 25 degrees below zero overnight Sunday in Bismarck and 20 below in Minot and Jamestown. Highs Monday were from 5 below to 15 below and wind chill effect was calculated at 25 below to 45 below.

Ewens said the present cold weather isn't that unusual.

''I think people have really poor meterological memories,'' he said Monday. ''We've just had a few years of really mild winters. Now we're back to normal.''

And despite the cold, Freeman gets a warm twinge of pride when he sees all those cars with heater cords.

''You walk around town and you see a lot of cars with plugs hanging out of them, and you realize you're the guy who got that started,'' he said.