Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It’s not good for you, or the environment, to idle your car

Although it’s tempting on frosty mornings to start your car long before you’re ready to hop in it and go, letting it idle in the driveway pollutes your neighbourhood, wastes gas, and isn’t any better for your car than driving away thirty seconds after you start it in the first place.

But warming up the car is a Canadian habit. Based on research by the Department of Natural Resources, in the peak of winter many Canadian motorists idle their vehicles for about eight minutes a day. Nation-wide it amounts to more than 75 million minutes of idling a day, wastes over 2.2 million litres of fuel and produces over five million kilograms of greenhouse gases.

Idling is such a pollution problem in big cities that some, like New York, have passed no-idling laws. Although our communities are not densely populated idling is still a pollution problem and a public health issue since many of the places where people idle are public areas where there are more people around to breath in the fumes. As well, you inhale exhaust if you’re sitting in an idling vehicle.

An idling vehicle emits CO2 (the primary greenhouse gas) and a mix of other gasses that have been linked to increased rates of cancer, heart and lung disease, asthma and allergies. Children and the elderly are more at risk. The environmental Defense Fund calls idling the second-hand smoking of the outdoors.

Warming your vehicle on cool mornings is only one of the reasons why Canadians idle their vehicles. Empty vehicles idle in public places while the driver runs an errand, people sit in idling cars in store parking lots, presumably while someone does the shopping, and people idle while they chat.

If you have a habit of idling, being mindful of its effect on your health and on the environment might make it easier to stop. Natural Resources Canada has some other suggestions too:

- Your car doesn’t need to idle to warm the engine. In fact, the best way to warm your engine is to drive your car at a moderate speed. About 30 seconds is all that’s needed before you put it in gear and drive away. As well, driving your car gets the heater going more quickly so you won’t have to wait too long for the car’s interior to warm up.

- Don’t leave your car running while you run an errand. It will only take a minute for your vehicle to warm up again once you return.

- Instead of sitting in a parking lot with the car idling while someone is in getting groceries, turn off the car and go into the store. It saves on gas, reduces green house gas emissions and you won’t be breathing fumes that leak into the car.

- As a general rule, if you’re stopped for more than 10 seconds, turn off your engine. It has a minimal impact on the starter switch, and idling for over10 seconds uses more fuel than it would take to re-start your engine.

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