Eliminate Vehicle Idling to Save Gas and Emissions

As winter progresses, I find it more and more difficult to simply get out of bed and jump into my car to go to work everyday. As it progressively is getting colder every day, I try to make sure to warm my car up a little before I can head out on the road. The only problem with this is that the longer I leave my car idle, the more emissions my car emits. The question that most people as well as I have is what is the appropriate time to warm a car up before driving in cold temperatures?

Window with Frost
Photo by foxypar4.

No Starting Necessary?

As much of a surprise as this may seem to many, modern cars do not require any warming at all before driving in cold temperatures. My father always told me to start up my car before I head out onto the road to allow for its oil and other engine lubricants to flow better. This may apply to older cars that are more prone to sludge build up, but modern cars are better suited to handle this. Idling is not the most effective way of heating your car anyways, driving it is. As soon as I begin to drive my car, I always notice that it heats up much more quickly than just sitting their while it idles. Also, allowing it to idle for excessive amounts of time can actually build up more gunk in your engine. On top of that you are just wasting gas and emitting unnecessary carbon emissions.

How about Frost?

It seems like the two main reason most people warm their cars in the cold is either because of frost or for their personal comfort. A better method may be to wear warming clothes into your car and only allow your car to idle for up to 30 seconds. Also, use a scraper instead of warming your car up to get rid of that pesky frost.

Turn Your Engine Off

When you are running into a store for a quick second or stuck in tons of traffic with no movement in sight, it is not always the best idea to let your car running. For every two minutes you let your car idle is equivalent to driving your car 1 mile. The only difference, you are not moving at all. If you are going into a store, there is no reason to leave you car running. You put your car at risk to being stolen as well as wasting gas. This seems like the obvious choice to turn off your car, but most people feel completely different about turning their cars off in traffic. The biggest worry of most is that turning your car off and on can lead to lots of wear on your car. This is the furthest thing from the truth. Restarting your car uses less fuel than leaving your car idle for under 30 seconds. Also, your engine is not negatively affected by frequent restarts and the parts associated with starting a vehicle are inexpensive to replace.

Just remember these facts the next time you go to start your car when it is freezing outside or completely stopped in traffic. There is no need to emit more carbon emissions than we currently already do and it could also save you a little on your fuel expenses.

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  1. I still let my car run for 2 or 3 minutes during winter. Actually, this is the first time I hear that it is not necessary to do it. I’m gonna consult with my husband about this, since he is doing the same thing.

    • Pays to Live Green
    • January 5th, 2009

    Curtain Girl: I was also under the same impression and would start my car up for a minute or two just to give it a chance to warm up. In many of the things I read, it said that if you car is “modern”, then there is no need to idle your car at all in the morning. The definition of modern is not really clear and I’m assuming that it would mean cars made within the last 10 years or so. I could be wrong with that number though.

  2. I don’t know if it is a secret us northerners keep from those of you below the mason dixon line, but windshield washer fluid is a defroster. Squirt your windshield once and all frost and most ice and snow will melt right away. No warming up necessary. Using chemicals I guess though.

  3. Once again you caught me with this one. Living in Utah it is now the end of March and we still get snow. It is so tempting to start the car early to let it warm up and the windshield to be frost free. Scraping is not fun, but it might be a must.

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