“To idle or not to idle?” This is a question we answer with our actions each time we get behind the wheel. Today’s article invites you to pay attention to whether you idle for longer than a minute at a time. If you discover that your idling is 61 seconds or longer, this article may inspire you to turn off your engine after 59 seconds have passed. This discussion will zero in on the “idling” of combustion engine vehicles that run on fossil fuels. Idling is an avoidable waste of resources while polluting the precious air we breathe.
During the last couple of years, I have observed a growing year-round habit between humans and their vehicles. Maybe you have noticed an increase of people sitting in cars with the ignition “on,” phoning, texting and generally hanging out in the car while it spews exhaust and travels absolutely nowhere.
I am not suggesting doing any of these activities while driving. Clearly, if you are unable or unwilling to shut off the ignition, the wiser choice is to idle, rather than multi-task while in motion. Looking at this from a "waste not" perspective, if your intention is to go nowhere for more than a minute, turning the engine off is the safest and most efficacious choice.
Another "idling activity" that has become common place is when the driver has exited the vehicle while it is running. Often, tiny people, adults or dogs are left inside. Sometimes, the idling car is left with no one inside. Observing children who may be locked in the car seat or climbing around the car while it idles is very risky.
Unattended children in an idling car is the most dangerous in the short run in addition to negatively impacting “our” air quality. Call me an old fuddy duddy, but is this safe? Is it unlawful? Should people who do this get extra insurance coverage for mishaps waiting to happen? From an environmental perspective this choice is equally troubling. There are a multiplicity of aspects to idling as a lifestyle that challenge good judgment (in my judgment).
Have you heard the myth that it is "good" for cars to warm the engine by leaving it in neutral, before driving away? According to the University of Michigan School of Public Health, the best way to warm up a car is to drive it slowly, even in cold weather. It is reported that idling may cause damage to an engine, cylinders, spark plugs and exhaust system.
It is also true that when the windows of the car are frosted with ice, manual scraping is not a super fun thing to do on a chilly morning. When planning ahead, I have found success draping a towel on the front windshield to prevent ice from forming in the first place.
There are differing schools of thought on when to turn off the ignition. The range is from 10-60 seconds. Did you know that 10 seconds of idling uses more gas than re-starting the engine?
Idling is "fuelish." By ceasing to idle, there are several benefits:
It saves gas and money, reduces wear and tear on the engine, improves your health with better air quality and those same benefits are extended to our community. Young and shorter people and animals are closer to the ground where the exhaust enters the environment from most tail pipes. Some trucks and buses have been reconfigured with the exhaust piped to release above the vehicle.
Regardless of the season, people are idling their cars to maintain comfort in summer and winter.
Not only is it not cool to idle at school, those of us who appreciate clean air might claim that “winter, spring, summer or fall, it’s not cool to idle at all.”
Part 2 of this discussion on idling will magically appear in the next WasteNot article on March 15. It will include some qualitative (almost scientific) information on some of the impacts that occur when we idle our vehicles.
—Risa Buck has served on the Ashland Conservation Commission and in waste prevention education for more than a dozen years. You may reach her through firstname.lastname@example.org. Find past WasteNot columns online at bit.ly/rbwastenot.