It suffices to pause for just one second in order to realize how ineffective idling a car truly is. In effect, idling gets zero miles per gallon. The only conclusion one can draw from this is that idling is useless. Still, we pretty much all idle our car several minutes everyday without thinking about the monetary, environmental and health-related costs of doing it. Yet, these costs are real… and quite high.

Gasoline waste

Research shows that people tend to idle their car between 5 and 10 minutes per day. In harsh winter conditions, it can be much more than that since people incorrectly believe that idling their car is the right way to get the engine ready to take the road. The reality, however, is that the best way to warm up the engine is to drive; idling for 30 seconds before getting behind the wheel is enough in harsh winter conditions.

This automatism people have unfortunately wastes billions of dollars worth of gas worldwide every year. It is actually quite easy to do the maths: idling for one hour burns nearly one gallon of gas. Another way to put it is that two minutes of idling burns about the same quantity of fuel that is needed to go one mile. In Canada, for instance, if every driver avoided unnecessary idling for just three minutes per day, Canadians would collectively save more than 600 millions of litres of fuel and, thereby, close to one billion dollars every year.

Environmental and car damage

In New York City alone, idling cars and trucks produce 130,000 tons of carbon dioxide every year. Therefore, if idling appears to be innocuous on an individual basis, the reality is otherwise. It collectively is tantamount to burning an overwhelming quantity of fuel in vain and releasing air pollutants as well as greenhouse gases. But idling can also have a significant negative impact on one’s personal finances. Many people believe that the cost of frequently turning off and turning back on their car’s engine can be higher than letting their car idle due to the damage frequent restarting causes to some of their car’s components. This, however, is incorrect.

The wear caused by frequent engine restarting is said to total about $10 per year. Daily idling, however, can cost a motorist between $63 and $134 on the same period of time. Not only does uselessly burned gas represent a lot of wasted money, but idling also can damage the engine and induce indirect costs. In effect, when a car is idling, the engine is not operating at its peak temperature, meaning that fuel is only partly combusted. This can cause residues to build up, thereby damaging the engine and eventually increasing its fuel consumption.

Idling can also be a challenge for motorcyclists. Just like car drivers, they can find themselves stuck in traffic. This is the reason why Honda designed a system – the Idling Stop System (ISS) – which automatically turns off the motorcycle’s engine at traffic lights and other brief stops, and then turns it back on when the motorcyclist is ready to go. Fuel savings can apparently total 7% with the ISS, allowing motorcyclists to travel greater distances on their sport or cruiser moto without having to spend one more penny on gas.

In the light of all this, is appears quite clear that idling our car is a practice that induces various types of negative externalities and that costs a significant amount of money every year. A little effort to reduce idling on an individual basis would not only allow people to save some money for themselves, but it would also benefit the community: cars that do not move would stop producing considerable quantities of air pollutants and greenhouse gases…

About the author:

Alexandre Duval is a freelance blogger writing about cars, environmental issues and travel. He is also currently completing his master’s degree in political science at the University of Quebec in Montreal.