Busting Idling Myths

Idling: Bad for you, bad for your car, bad for the planet

Let’s take a nostalgia trip, especially for you kids of the ‘80s and before. Imagine your wintry school days, especially those days when you didn’t have to walk uphill both ways in a snowstorm. Maybe your parents, an older sibling, or one of your friends would pick you up at school. Maybe you rode the bus. Remember trying to find your transportation in the low-lying gassy cloud of exhaust fumes from all the cars and buses idling? Mmmm, that smell. Good times!

Fast forward to pre-COVID winter 2019-2020 or maybe even this coming winter. Same situation, but much better visibility and less smell. Problem(s) solved, right? Not so fast!

I hear some saying wait, isn’t idling, aka “warming up your engine,” better than starting up cold? Isn’t idling better than turning off and then restarting your engine? Idling isn’t that bad, is it, for our health, our car, our planet? All myths, and for the myth busting read on!

Myth: Warming up your engine is better than starting up cold and driving away 30 seconds later.

Reality: Presuming your car is fuel-injected, i.e., newer than the carbureted muscle-car era, warming up your engine and car interior strips oil from the cylinders and pistons. Meanwhile, a certain solvent called gasoline damages your cylinder walls while running cold. The solution? Dress warm and drive for 5-15 minutes, your engine and toasty vehicle occupants will thank you.

Myth: Idling is better than turning off and restarting your engine during those short stops waiting in drive-through lanes, at railroad crossings, at school, etc.

Reality: Have you seen gas prices lately? Every hour of idling burns up to a gallon of gas, depending on your car’s fuel efficiency. After only 10 seconds of idling, you’ve burned more gas and released more greenhouse gases like CO2 into the atmosphere than if you stopped the engine and restarted when you’re ready to go. Oh, and the engine effects already mentioned before.

Myth: My idling a little bit here-and-there doesn’t have that much impact, does it?

Reality: Multiply that little bit of idling from one car by over 250 million personal vehicles in the U.S. alone! I won’t make you do the math, here are the answers: 30 million tons of CO2 every year JUST FROM IDLING, 20 pounds of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere per gallon of gas burned!

While we’re at it, how about our health? Pulmonary (you know, breathing), cardiovascular, allergies, asthma, etc., are all affected by idling. For children, it’s worse because they breathe about 50% more per pound than adults. If we curtail our idling, it would be like taking 5 million cars off the road. It may not be 5 million actual cars to make our commutes shorter, but we’ll all sure breathe easier.

Tom Galante, Commissioner
Natural Resources Commission

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