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Idling Myths & Facts

Myth 1: The engine should be warmed up before driving. True, the engine must be warmed up, but idling is not an effective way to warm up your vehicle, even in cold weather. The best way to do this is by driving the vehicle. With today’s modern engines, and the advent of electronic engines, you need no more than about 30 seconds of idling before driving away, even on the coldest winter days. Driving a vehicle cuts warm-up times in half. This reduces fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Every 30 minutes of idling costs you at least 2/10 (0.2) of a gallon of gas – and up about 7/10 (0.7) of a gallon for an 8-cylinder engine. Keep in mind that every gallon of gas you use you also produce about 19 pounds of carbon dioxide.
The catalytic converter – the device that cleans pollutants from the vehicle exhaust – does not function at its peak until it reaches between 750° and 1500° F. The best way to warm the converter is to drive the vehicle. Idling emits more pollution if the catalytic converter is not working properly.
In winter conditions, emissions from idling vehicles are more than double the normal level immediately after a cold start. Warming up the engine means more than just the engine. The tires, transmission, wheel bearings and other moving parts also need to warm for the vehicle to perform well. Most of these parts do not warm until the vehicle is driven.
It‘s important to drive away as soon as possible after a cold start just avoid high speeds and rapid acceleration for the first 3-5 miles. This lets the whole vehicle reach peak operating temperature as quickly as possible without paying a fuel penalty.
If your vehicle has a diesel engine, idling actually lowers the coolant temperature faster than shutting off the engine. In other words, switching off the engine keeps the engine warm longer.

Myth 2: Idling is good for your engine. Excessive idling can actually damage your engine components, including cylinders, spark plugs, and exhaust systems. An idling engine is not operating at its peak temperature, which means that fuel does not undergo complete combustion. This leaves fuel residue that can condense on cylinder walls, where they can contaminate the oil and damage parts of the engine. For example, fuel residues are often deposited on spark plugs. As you spend more time idling, the average temperature of the spark plug drops. This makes the plug get dirty more quickly, which increases fuel consumption by 4 to 5 %. Excessive idling also lets water condense in the vehicle’s exhaust, leading to corrosion and a reduction of the life of your exhaust system.
When not actively driving, people tend to idle their cars largely for one of two reasons: either to warm up the engine before driving or to avoid wear and tear on the engine in situations that require frequent restarting, such as drive-through service lines, rail crossings, car wash lines, carpool lines, and departure from concerts and sporting events, or while talking to friends or using the cell phone. By understanding the effects of idling and reducing the practice, you can improve your car’s performance, save money, and reduce needless carbon dioxide emissions.

Myth 3: Shutting off and restarting your vehicle uses more gas than if you leave it running. The bottom line is that just 10 seconds of idling uses more fuel than restarting the engine. As a rule of thumb, if you are going to stop for 10 seconds or more – except in traffic – turn off the engine. You’ll save money, and you won’t produce harmful Carbon Dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas.
Idling gets you nowhere – and it can be costly. Excessive idling wastes an enormous amount of fuel and money and generates needless greenhouse gas emissions.
Restarting a car many times has little impact on engine components such as the battery and the starter motor. The wear on parts that restarting the engine causes adds about $10 a year to the cost of driving – money that you’ll likely recover several times over in fuel savings.

Fact: Idling adds to global warming. Climate change is a serious threat to the planet caused mainly by burning fossil fuels, such as gasoline. Overwhelming scientific evidence links global warming to the earth’s highest ever average annual temperatures, melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels, increasingly severe weather events, and to the threat of many plant and animal species.

Fact: Idling does affect the environment. Keep in mind that every gallon of gas you use produces about 19 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Fact: Idling contributes to respiratory illness. The emissions of even today’s modern vehicles contain Carbon Monoxide, Nitrogen Oxide, Sulfur Dioxide, Benzene and several other toxic chemicals that impair our lungs and heart. Prolonged exposure can lead to death. Children, the elderly, and individuals with asthma are especially at high-risk.

Fact: Idling can harm our health. Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution because they breathe faster than adults and inhale more air per pound of body weight. Many people believe that they are protected from air pollution if they remain inside their vehicles. Not so according to a report by the International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA). CTA found that exposure to most auto pollutants, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbon monoxide (CO), is much higher inside vehicles than at the road side. VOCs and CO are linked to serious health problems — like respiratory infections and cancer — are known to shorten life. The highest exposure occurs when sitting in traffic congestion on highways or in a line-up of idling vehicles at a school or drive-through. Idling is linked to increases in asthma, allergies, heart and lung disease and cancer.

Fact: Idling wastes fuel. In this time of ever increasing gas prices, needless idling burns your hard earned dollars through your exhaust pipe. And remember that fossil fuels are a non-renewable resource and are being depleted in the face of ever increasing world demand.

– Idling your vehicle for more than just 10 seconds uses more fuel than restarting your engine.

– Idling your vehicle for just 10 minutes can use as much fuel as it takes to travel 5 miles.

– Idling your vehicle for 10 minutes a day uses more than 27 gallons of fuel a year.
Fact: Idling wastes money & natural resources. Thirty seconds of idling can use more fuel than turning off the engine and restarting it. If you are stopped for more than thirty seconds – except in traffic – turn off your engine. An idling car is the most inefficient car on the road — it gets zero miles per gallon. Turning off your car will save gas and money. Idling for one hour burns nearly one gallon of gasoline.
Fact: Idling damages engine components in our vehicles.Idling is not an effective way of warming up your engine, as your vehicle is made up of many moving parts. To properly warm your vehicle’s transmission, tires, suspension, steering and wheel bearings, you need to slowly drive-off.
An idling engine is not operating at peak temperature, resulting in incomplete fuel combustion. Fuel residues can condense on cylinder walls, contaminate oil and damage engine components. With more engine idling these residues tend to deposit on spark plugs. The resulting plug fouling can increase fuel consumption by 4 to 5 %. Excessive idling can also cause water to condense in the vehicle’s exhaust. This can lead to corrosion and reduce the life of the exhaust system. On the other hand, frequent restarting has little impact on engine components such as the starter motor and the battery.
A poorly tuned engine uses up to 15 % more energy when idling than a well-tuned vehicle. Keeping your vehicle in good condition is a key to fuel efficiency and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Idling your vehicle with the air conditioner on (to keep the interior cool) can increase emissions by 13 %.

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