Live Green and Earn Points


Avoid car idling

By Jennifer Spero |
Gratuitous idling is a waste of gas and a grimy culprit that contributes to global-warming causing carbon emissions — although it may be torturous for some, avoid fast food drive-through windows.

When you avoid car idling you're saving gasoline — an increasingly expensive commodity — and not polluting the atmosphere with toxic tailpipe emissions.

How to avoid car idling

Not idling your car can be as easy as, well, turning a key. Whether your commute involves waiting on a ferry or a sluggish carpool partner, if you anticipate a wait — whether it's 30 seconds or 30 minutes — cut the engine. Of course, it's not recommended that you do this at traffic signals or in other situations where you might need to move again suddenly, but here are a few suggestions to get you examining your idling habits:

  • Fast foodies and drive-thru junkies: Park your car and go inside the restaurant to order. Whether you decide to gobble in the establishment itself or put away those fries back in the comfort of your car, you might find the queue inside the restaurant to be shorter than the one outside. Besides, getting in and out of your car to conduct business — grabbing a bite to eat, using an ATM, and whatnot — provides you with a bit of old-fashioned exercise.
  • Shorten the warm-up: For those dealing with chilly temperatures: warming up a car for a lengthy amount of time before driving is superfluous. If your car is in healthy automotive shape, a 30-second warm-up session will do just fine — driving is the best way to get car-blood pumping.
  • Put it into neutral: If you must idle, put your car into neutral. This will give your engine a well-deserved break, is quieter, and produces fewer emissions.

In addition to making these simple habit changes, you may want to familiarize yourself with the US Environmental Protection Agency's list of state and local governments with anti-idling laws.

For more tips on gas conservation check out Open Travel Info.

Avoiding car idling helps you go green because…

  • Tailpipe emissions generated from idling cars contain toxic pollutants that adversely affect the environment and human health. In terms of fuel economy, idling results in zero miles per gallon.

Car idling — performed daily for 5 to ten minutes by most drivers for reasons of both convenience and necessity — negatively affects fuel consumption and the environment. Every two minutes of car idling consumes the same amount of gas required to drive approximately one mile. If a driver idles for one hour, one gallon of gasoline is wasted. Contrary to automotive myth, restarting a car doesn't damage the engine and, in fact, 10 seconds spent idling consumes more fuel than restarting the engine.[1]

The United States contains less than 5 percent of the world's population but produces 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.[2] Every gallon of gasoline burned — for driving and idling — releases 20 pounds of carbon dioxide, making the transportation sector responsible for about a quarter of overall US carbon dioxide emissions.[3] Yet individual car owners aren't the only ones responsible for these emissions — so, too, are long-haul truckers and school bus drivers throughout the country.

Idling and long-haul trucking

Along with rail, long-haul trucking is responsible for the consumption of 35 billion gallons of diesel fuel and the emission of 350 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.[4] A sizable chunk of emissions — over 11 million tons of carbon dioxide and 200,000 tons of nitrogen oxides — are produced during idling.[5]

It's common knowledge that big-rig diesel vehicles are left idling while their drivers sleep. A truck's engine is also left running to heat or cool the truck's cab, mask noises, keep fuel warm, and for reasons of personal safety.

Currently, there are proactive movements to curb excessive truck idling, spearheaded by groups such as the SmartWay Transport Partnership (a collaboration between the EPA and various members of the freight industry) and Greentruck (a collaboration between American Trucking Associations and the Transportation Environmental Resource Center). Additionally, technological advances, such as the IdealAire Service Module, allow truckers to perform all necessary tasks provided by idling without emitting pollutants and wasting fuel.

Idling and school buses

In addition to freight trucks with constantly running engines, there is high anxiety over another source of noxious emissions: the idling of school buses. Various organizations such as the EPA's Clean School Bus USA are pushing to institute policies, such as "no idling" zones and the retrofitting and replacement of older, heavily polluting buses.

Although environmental worries are inherently a factor in the crusade to curb school bus diesel emissions, there's another "driving" force: the 24 million children riding vis-ÌÊ-vis the 40-plus toxic chemicals (including 15 carcinogens) found in diesel exhaust.[6]

Aside from the global-warming gas carbon dioxide, three major pollutants emitted by automobiles — hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxide — also pose dire risks to human health. Specifically, when hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide mix in sunlight and high temperatures, ground-level ozone is created. This leads to coughing, wheezing, and eye irritation, and can result in chronic lung problems. Carbon monoxide decreases levels of oxygen in the bloodstream and affects mental and visual functions.[7]


automotive fuel economy: Fuel economy in cars is important because carbon dioxide emissions are directly related to the amount of fuel burned. "Miles per gallon," or mpg, is the way most Americans measure fuel economy, while other countries may use liters of fuel per 100 km traveled. To measure your fuel economy, fill your tank and reset the odometer. At your next fill-up, divide the miles traveled by the amount of fuel needed to refill the tank. For the 2008 model year, the EPA has updated its fuel economy test to reflect today's higher speeds, increased use of air conditioning, and other factors. In many cases, the published "window sticker" mpg values will be lower.

External links


  1. California Energy Commission - Consumer Energy Center: Should I Shut Off the Motor When I'm Idling My Car
  2. International Center for Technology Assessment - Global Warming and Air Pollution
  3. - How can a gallon of gasoline produce 20 gallons of carbon dioxide
  4. US Environmental Protection Agency - SmartWay Transport Partnership: Environmental Effects
  5. US Environmental Protection Agency - SmartWay Transport Partnership: Idling Reduction: National Transportation Idle-Free Corridors
  6. US Environmental Protection Agency - Clean School Bus USA
  7. National Safety Council - Auto Emissions Fact Sheet
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