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It was one of the coldest mornings of the season thus far and I was taking a walk at dawn. I was thinking over what to write for my next article on green living.  As I walked, the crisp morning air was frequently interrupted as cars in driveways were idling to warm up for the drive to work and school while the car owners were still inside their homes.  The exhaust that poured from the car tail pipes gave me my subject for this article.

The old fashioned way to warm up a car, that so many still use, is to keep it running while you rush around to care for those last minute details before leaving the house.  It was previously believed that long warm up times were needed to get the engine hot enough to reach its peak performance level.  Engineers studying today’s cars however, have found that as your car idles at the cooler temperature, the gas in the engine is only partially combusted. Fuel residues build up in the engine and damage its components.

A study by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation shows that the best way to raise your engine's temperature to its most efficient level is to drive it almost immediately after you start it up. Even in freezing weather, it takes only a few minutes for a car engine to warm up. While the engine is warming up, you save more fuel by being careful to accelerate slowly.  

American drivers idle their car between 5 minutes and 10 minutes per day. Two minutes of idling time uses the amount of gas it takes to drive about 1 mile. A car that idles for only ten seconds uses more fuel than if the engine was shut off and then restarted. Thus, when you are waiting in a line of cars at the drive-up teller or when you are stuck in traffic or when you are waiting in your car outside for your friends to get their act together, turn off your engine and restart it when you are ready to go.

Another gas saving measure is that after you shut your engine and are ready to restart it, be sure not to depress the accelerator. You already have enough gas in the pipeline for this next startup. The only warning about this is that you should not shut your engine when in you are in regular street traffic; this is against the law and could be dangerous if you start up slowly and the person behind you speeds up quickly.

Some worry, left over from the old fashioned ways, that shutting off and restarting your car uses up too much gas and wears out the car parts but car technology has vastly changed over the years. Today’s cars use electronic fuel injector systems that rigorously control the amount of gas delivered to the engine and fuel is no longer wasted during the startup. Restarting your car, for the average driver adds about $10 per year to the cost of driving yet, over the year, more than 3 times that amount will be saved in reduced gas costs and reduced wear and tear on the car engine.

More important than the cost savings are the environmental benefits when we stop ideling our cars.  One study shows that if everyone reduced their idling by 10 minutes per day, we would reduce our nation’s carbon dioxide emissions by over 15.48 million metric tons per year. If we had the technology to eliminate idling in stop-and-go traffic we could reduce our overall fuel consumption by a whooping ten percent and we are close to that already. The Toyota Prius engines automatically turn off when the car is stopped at a red light or stuck in traffic and when the driver steps back on the accelerator the engine is fully ready for action.

Hopefully, this information will be useful for you to reduce your carbon footprint but please don’t forget the most important thing of all—use your car only when you have to. Start or continue to car pool, use the bus or train, bike ride and walk as much as possible. Stay healthy and keep the planet healthy too.

Paul Tick in a long time activist in making the World a better place to live for all of us. He founded and manges the Delmar Farmers Market, a better place to shop for your local food and crafts. He can be reached via email through our Members listing.

Comments on "Start Your Engines???"

  1. Dan Gibson's avatar Dan Gibson December 15, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Paul, Thank you for a very practical approach to increasing gas mileage without buying a new car! Is the “10 Second Rule” based on a scientific study or expert “common sense?” Any idea if it applies to diesel? I can’t stop at a mail box and jump out, mail a letter and get back in in less than 13 seconds. It seems restarting for the 3 seconds would increase wear & tear but also use more fuel, BUT I’ll do it if the 10 Second Rule is true for diesels! Have a Sunny Day! Dan

  2. OEIC default avatar Paul Tick December 15, 2011 at 9:00 pm


    I am sorry that I did not include the references that did give the scientific data on this. I will try to go back and find them. My references were not about diesel so I can’t answer that question but maybe one of our readers will take a stab at it. One appoach you may want to take is to get out and get more exercise so you can cut down your time from 13 to 10 seconds!

  3. OEIC default avatar Paul Tick December 15, 2011 at 11:16 pm

    The author of the above went back and found the reference used for the above article. They are:

    California Energy Commission: www.consumerenergycenter.org/myths/idling.html

    Slate: www.slate.com/id/2192187

    Ask your environmental questions at Slate’s Green Lantern: www.slate.com/id/2174662/landing/1

  4. Dan Gibson's avatar Dan Gibson December 15, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    Thanks Paul. I’ll investigate further! As for exercise, maybe a little. Cheers, Dan

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