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.
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.