If idle hands are supposed to be the devil’s playthings, what are idling engines?

Well it’s winter again. That time of year when Canadians wake up and turn on their cars long before they plan to drive them, believing that idling an engine for several minutes in cold weather is what responsible car owners should do. They shouldn’t.

Full disclosure: I’m not a driver, have no license, and have only driven a vehicle twice in my life (both times when under the age of 20). But I’ve talked to enough mechanics and engineers and fleet managers and drivers, and read enough reports and studies to know that idling a car engine is simply a waste of money and gas.

“But gas is so cheap these days,” some may rebut, “I don’t care if I waste a bit of money idling the engine if it means my car will be toasty warm.” Well, the saying goes that things that go up must come down, but prices are not things. Prices go up and down all the time. Gas may be cheap, relatively speaking, today; not so cheap tomorrow.  And c’mon, you’re Canadian. Dress for the weather. Accept, if not embrace the fact that we are, for the most part, a cold country.

Idling doesn’t do your car any favours, either. When an engine idles, it operates at less than optimum conditions, which can lead to incomplete combustion that can leave fuel residues on spark plugs, cylinder walls and other engine parts. The residues build up over time and can corrode the engine parts, shortening the lifespan of your car and impairing fuel efficiency by up to 5%.

In summer, most drivers idle their engines while parked to keep the air conditioning running.  This is a frustrating bit of human psychology:  the majority of Canucks kvetch about the cold all winter long then crank up the AC as soon as the faintest hint of heat finally arrives.

Most people will gladly turn off their engines when asked or when they are in particular areas, such as school or hospital zones. The trouble is that most people don’t remember to do it at other times. Remind yourself at the source by putting a No Idling sticker on the inside of your car’s windshield where you’ll see it each time you get in.  But where or where does one procure such a sticker? Well, you could make your own or you could download a freebie from Natural Resources Canada’s Idle-Free Zone.

Most people will gladly turn off their engines when asked or when they are in particular areas, such as school or hospital zones. The trouble is that most people don’t remember to do it at other times. Remind yourself at the source by putting a No Idling sticker on the inside of your car’s windshield where you’ll see it each time you get in. But where or where does one procure such a sticker? Well, you could make your own or you could download a freebie from Natural Resources Canada’s Idle-Free Zone.

Rule of Thumb #1: The best way to warm up your car is to drive it. Even on the coldest days, today’s computer-driven engines require at most 1-2 minutes of warm up time.  

 

Rule of Thumb #2: If you think you’re going to be stopped for more than 60 seconds (unless in traffic), it’s more fuel efficient and less harmful to your car to turn the engine off and restart it than to let it idle.

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2 responses to “If idle hands are supposed to be the devil’s playthings, what are idling engines?

  1. I so agree with you about idling engines – and I’m a vehicle driver. Yes, I do warm up my car on cold mornings but thats to defrost my windscreen; if its clear, I often just get in and go. As for idling – how about “drive-thrus”. Wow do I hate those things, I’ve never seen so many lazy people in all my lift and talk about engine fumes……
    Perhaps the “no idling bylaws” should apply to drive-thrus as well.

    • Agreed! I’ve checked around a bit but I can’t find any municipality in Canada with an idling bylaw that is specific to drive-thrus; most anti-idling bylaws are woefully inadequate anyway. The main problem is that have you can’t enforce it unless you catch someone in the act, so the key is to educate drivers. Some cities have done interventions at key spots (schools, community centres, hospitals) where they speak directly with drivers and explain the benefits and drawbacks of idling. One company that has been doing it right for years is UPS. They cut the amount of time delivery vehicles idle by 24 minutes per driver per day – a fuel savings of $188 per driver in one year. More at: http://www.pressroom.ups.com/Fact+Sheets/ci.Saving+Fuel:+The+Benefits+of+No+Idling.print

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