If every driver of a light-duty vehicle in Canada avoided idling for just five minutes, we would save more than 2.5 million litres of fuel.
Markham Township, Ontario - Dec. 5, 2006
Q: What is Idling?
A: Vehicle idling is basically leaving one's engine running while it is parked and not in use. Research has found that the most common reasons for engine idling are:
- doing an errand
- warming up the car
- waiting for someone
- personal comfort
- listening to the radio
- parking illegally
Q: Why is Idling a Problem?
A: Unnecessary vehicle idling is one of the biggest problems among today's drivers.
What people often don't realize about idling is that it wastes fuel, damages our vehicles, contributes greatly to climate change and affects our air quality and health.
Q: How does idling waste fuel and money?
A: Canadian motorists idle their vehicles an average of five to 10 minutes per day. A recent study suggests that in the peak of winter, Canadians voluntarily idle their vehicles for a combined total of more than 75 million minutes a day - equivalent to one vehicle idling for 144 years. We idle about 40 percent less in summer, but it still amounts to an enormous waste of fuel and money.
If every driver of a light-duty vehicle in Canada avoided idling for just five minutes, we would save more than 2.5 million litres of fuel worth more than $1.7 million (assuming a fuel price of $0.69 per litre).
Q: Is it more economical to leave my car running rather than constantly turning it on and off?
A: No. Research have shown that if you are going to be stopped for more than 10 seconds (except in traffic), you will actually save on fuel by turning off then restarting the engine. The catalytic converter will stay warm for up to 25 minutes after the engine is shut off so frequent restarts will not produce the large amounts of harmful emissions equivalent to cold starts.
Q: Is it important to idle my vehicle for a few minutes to warm up the engine, especially in winter?
A: It is a very common practice among motorists to idle their vehicles during the winter however, it is also very wasteful and damaging to the environment. Mechanics would often say that you need no more than 30 seconds of idling to circulate the engine oil on cold days. Anything more will be contributing to the production of needless greenhouse gases. The key point to remember is that other components of the car needs to be warmed as well such as the transmission, wheel bearings, as well as the catalytic converter which functions best at the optimal temperature of 400°C to 800°C.
Q: How does idling damage our engine?
A: When the vehicle is idling, the engine isn't working at its peak operating temperature. The fuel undergoes incomplete combustion. This leaves fuel residues that can contaminate engine oil and damage engine parts. For example, fuel residues tend to deposit on spark plugs. As the amount of engine idling increases, the plugs' average temperature drops, and they get dirty more quickly. This, in turn, can increase fuel consumption by four to five percent. It's a vicious circle of wasted fuel and needless greenhouse gas emissions. Excessive idling can also let water condense in the vehicle's exhaust. This can lead to corrosion and reduce the life of the exhaust system.
Q: How does idling contribute to climate change?
A: There is growing evidence that warmer global temperatures are triggering a wide range of changes in our climate. Scientists believe that global warming is being caused by the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. As more and more of these gases accumulate, they are trapping heat near the Earth's surface, which is causing temperatures to rise. The 1980s and 1990s were the warmest decades on record.
Human activities, particularly the combustion of fossil fuels, are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Although CO2 emissions from our vehicles are unavoidable, emissions from idling vehicles are unnecessary and preventable because it is so easy to be idle free at the 'turn of a key'.
Q: How does idling affect our air and health?
A: Recent studies by Health Canada and community health departments and agencies have shown a direct link between contaminants in vehicle emissions and significant respiratory health effects. Vehicle exhaust contributes greatly to poor air quality and smog resulting in increased hospital admissions, respiratory illnesses and premature deaths, particularly in urban areas.
In fact, Health Canada estimates that more than 5000 Canadians die prematurely each year because of air pollution, and thousands more become unnecessarily ill. Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution because they breathe faster than adults and inhale more air per pound of body weight. Air pollution also causes unnecessary difficulty for elderly people and those with respiratory problems, such as asthma.