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Eco-Living Tip: Automobile Idling Myths 4


The year is 1969. Yasser Arafat is appointed the leader of the PLO, Apollo 11 lands on the moon, the Concorde jet breaks the sound barrier and 500,000 hippies congregate on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in New York.

While all of this was happening, a father somewhere was teaching his son how to drive:

Now listen here son. I reckon some day you’re going to be the best damn driver this town has ever seen – just like your pops. Now if there’s something you should know about driving, it’s this. Don’t turn your car off if you don’t need to. It takes more gas to start the car than to let it idle. So next time you’re at the store buying your old pops a pack of Camels, just let the car idle instead of shutting it off. You got that now son?”

Fast-forward 40 years. It’s 2009 and somehow the flawed logic that perhaps applied 40 years ago still persists even to this day. People still believe that they need to idle their car for 2, 5 and sometimes 10 minutes at a time – I still see it every day.

The only fathomable excuse that has any sort of possible validity is the harsh winter weather conditions – but even this excuse warrants some level of scrutiny except on the coldest of days.

It’s commonly accepted by automobile experts that idling a car that was built in the last 30 years for more than 10 seconds uses more gas than turning it off and starting it again.

There are few other forms of unnecessary pollution than that of idling an automobile. This isn’t anything new – it’s actually quite embarrassing that I’m writing an article in 2009 to explain something that should have been common knowledge for more than 2 decades – which is why I think it’s inexcusable to idle a car unnecessarily.

Drive-thru coffee shops are a hotbed for this breed of drivers. Here in Canada, a moderately successful Tim Horton’s coffee shop will see long lineups of cars persistently throughout the entire morning.

Little do these “idlers” realize that in most cases they could get out of their car, walk into the coffee shop and get back into their car before even reaching the drive-thru window.

An idling engine burns about 3.5 litres of gasoline each hour and idling engines emit almost double the amount of toxic emissions than a moving vehicle. Furthermore, warming up your car by idling is another myth that also hasn’t been relevant in decades either.

Many cities have had idling by-laws for many years – Toronto first adopted its idling By-law in 1996. Although a long list of exceptions were amended to the By-law in 1999, drive-thru restaurants were not included – so the police could theoretically hand out fines for people in long drive-thru lineups if their idling time exceeded 3 minutes.

To enforce the By-law, Toronto uses a 4-pronged approach: train city staff, educate the public, implement blitzes, and establish a complaint process.

I’m begging people out there to have some respect for the world and your neighbours and think twice before sitting out front of the grocery store idling your car for 10 minutes.

If the taxi drivers in Toronto can consistently comply, then it can’t be so hard for everyone else to resist the urge to idle.

Photo by manyhighways on Flickr

4 thoughts on “Eco-Living Tip: Automobile Idling Myths

  1. Peter Dec 14,2009 3:54 am

    I think you fail to ask a very important question. What is better for the car?

    It is better for the car’s engine and transmission to warm up before you drive off… especially if you are in need of doing any hard acceleration.

    It is also better for the car to keep it running then to turn it off, just to turn it back on again in another minute or two.

    Some people care about their cars and want to keep them for as long as they can, and running at their best potential.

  2. James D. Schwartz Dec 14,2009 11:18 am

    Peter, show me evidence that leaving your car running is “better for the car”.

    In fact, experts say that idling is in fact worse for your engine:

    “excessive idling can actually damage a car’s engine components, including cylinders, spark plugs and the exhaust system”

    I don’t know many people who turn their car on and immediately “need” to do “hard acceleration”. Maybe you’re a NASCAR driver?

    Even so, auto manufacturers don’t recommend you idle for more than 30 seconds, even on the coldest of days.

  3. Thomas Strome Dec 20,2012 8:01 pm

    My father always say that if you let your car idle you’ll burn more gasoline that when it is moving. It is true though that it burns more because the engine is still running causing it to use more gasoline than when it was moving. Tired of getting unsure results, look for Honda dealer Queens NY.

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