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Let's Clear the Air

While idling may represent only a small portion of a vehicle's daily activity, it produces more emissions per minute than if driving. This is because an idling engine is not operating at its peak temperature and, therefore, not completely burning the fuel. During winter, an idling vehicle's emissions more than double immediately after a cold start. As well, the catalytic converter - the device that cleans pollutants from the vehicle's exhaust - doesn't function at its peak until it reaches optimal temperatures, which are best reached by driving the vehicle.

Consider this: If all Canadians avoided idling for five minutes every day, we could prevent more than 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering our environment. That's like taking 350,000 cars off the road!

Clearing the Air of Idling Myths

Myth: Your vehicle's engine should be warm before driving.
Fact: Idling is not the most effective way to warm a vehicle's engine. The best way to warm up your car is to drive it at a moderate speed. Even on the coldest days, you can drive away after 30 seconds.

Myth: Idling is good for your engine.
Fact: Idling can damage your vehicle's engine components. An idling engine is not operating at its peak temperature,which means complete fuel combustion is not occurring. The accumulation of soot deposits on cylinder walls can lead to oil contamination and damage engine components.

Myth: Shutting off and restarting your vehicle uses more gas than if you let it idle.
Fact: Idling for 10 seconds uses more fuel than restarting your engine.

Myth: Shutting off and restarting your vehicle is hard on the engine.
Fact: Frequent restarting has little impact on engine components, such as the battery and starter. When shutting off and restarting the vehicle, the potential for fuel savings outweighs the wear on the vehicle's components.

Ready To Clear the Air?

Here are a few things you can do to reduce idling:

  • Turn your engine off after 60 seconds of idling, except in traffic. For example, turn your vehicle off when doing things such as: dropping off or waiting for a passenger, waiting in drive-thru lineups or running into the convenience store or bank.
  • Minimize the use of remote car starters. These devices encourage you to start your car before you're ready to leave, resulting in unnecessary idling.
  • Use a block heater to warm up your engine in the winter. A block heater plugged in for no more than two hours (using a timer) will improve overall fuel efficiency by as much as 10% and reduce exhaust fumes. For a short trip on a cold day, fuel savings could be as much as 20%.

Talk to your family, friends and neighbours about the benefits of being idle-free. Encourage them to join you in saving money, protecting the environment and clearing the air we breathe!

Sources: Natural Resources Canada and Sierra Club Canada

Last edited: June 13, 2017

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