How Your Car Idling Habit Hurts You if You Don’t Kick it
After a ten minute session of snow-brushing and de-icing, you plop yourself into your car, switch on the ignition, crank the heater up, and sit there. Mind you, it’s 7:55, traffic is building up and you’re running a bit late for work. But this is tradition. Besides trying to shake the shivers, you figure you might as well check your phone for emails, texts, and tweets while the engine warms up. A little less than ten minutes later, you decide it’s time to peel out, and make your way to work. You are no stranger to the practice of car idling. However, what you don’t realize is how it can sabotage your life and affect others.
It Gets You Nowhere
So idling seems harmless right? Perhaps, it’s just five minutes or so, and you figure it’s not going to hurt anyone, your vehicle or yourself. Here’s the problem with that thinking: those few minutes when repeated collectively, can add up to something greater. Or within the timeframe of those quick moments, you might actually get into a situation you don’t want to. There really are consequences.
Waste of gas
A couple minutes with no movement won’t empty your tank. But imagine how much gas you waste by repeatedly sitting motionless, while the engine is on. The amount of time you spend idling may account for 25% of the time you spend in your car and affect fuel efficiency. Every 10 minutes of idling can waste between 1/10 and 4/10 of your car’s fuel. To put that into perspective, if you spend $200 on gas a month, that could mean wasting $20 – $40. And according to research, reducing idling by as little as 3 minutes daily would be equal to removing 320,000 cars off the road in Canada.
Ruins the environment
The cost of idling doesn’t only show up on a receipt from a gas station. The environment pays a price too. You might feel like concerns about the environment are exaggerated, but you probably haven’t heard all the info. Yet, there are reasons why people take eco-driving seriously. For example, 99.84% of California is suffering a drought and in two-thirds of the state, the conditions have been labelled as extreme. Climate change is one contributor to this. Air pollution now kills more people than malaria and AIDS combined, and a University of Toronto study revealed, just 25% of cars and trucks are releasing 90% of the emissions coming from all vehicles. Idling isn’t the only contributor to these conditions, but it is a big part of it.
Gets you in trouble
You don’t have to look too far down the road to feel the effects of car idling. If you’re caught in the act by law enforcement, you’ll have to pay for it. Here in Ontario, idling for more than 3-5 minutes (this varies between municipalities), can earn you a fine of $100 – $380. The fees can get quite hefty, and having to deal with the police or judge is a hassle you probably don’t want to deal with. But they all are possibilities if you don’t put the brakes on idling.
Waste of time
On a personal level, car idling is a waste of your precious time. You could drive off and give yourself a five or ten minute head start. For example, have you ever thought to yourself, that leaving your house five minutes earlier could have helped you beat traffic or a backup from an accident? Eliminate your idle time and you can turn into a traffic-dodging ninja. And for those days you’re in a hurry, that extra five or ten minute window can make a big difference.
What’s Making You Tick
First off, it’s worth noting that everyone idles to some extent. It’s rare to see someone turn the car on, shift from “park” to “drive”, and floor the pedal immediately afterwards, unless they’re practicing for getaway skills like some car thief. It’s a problem though, when you’re lingering on the driveway or parking lot minutes after you switched on.
And again, the act of idling isn’t a reflection of poor character. It’s a habit that has been fueled by external factors, some of which you might not give much thought to. In fact, there are three common reasons why drivers fall into the practice of excessive idling.
It’s freezing outside
On a subconscious level, you probably idle because it’s pretty damn cold outside. A few seconds out in the frigid temperatures is enough to leave you thinking about nothing else but getting warm. It’s almost like a survival instinct. Consequently, you sit in the driver seat, waiting to get warm before doing anything else, which means, driving off must wait.
Someone said you need to warm up you car
One of the greatest car myths out there, is that you must warm up your car before driving off. Again, it is a MYTH. The practice lives on from previous decades – namely, the 80s and beforehand – when cars still used carburetors (as opposed to the fuel injectors used today). Now, are we saying that you need to drive off immediately after starting? Heck no. A warm up of 30 – 60 seconds can take some load off the engine. But those 5 – 10 + minute sessions are completely unnecessary.
You need a moment
One of the most subtle reasons for excessive idling, is being stuck in your own head. Sometimes, we need to pause, if we are to process certain feelings, make decisions or prepare for some event. And those internal activities often happen in the car. Like the individual whose bent on warming up, the need to resolve some mental or emotional conundrum can absorb you so fully, that you’ll decide to move only once your mind is clear.
Counterargument for Idling
So how do you break free from the habit of idling? The short answer is remind yourself not to do it. Of course, it takes some effort to completely abandon the practice. But there’s one thing that you’re told you should do and shouldn’t do that will make it easier: multitasking. It’s not about distracting yourself, but rather, remembering that you can accomplish the goals of idling (whether conscious or unconscious) without having to idle at all.
You can warm up and drive simultaneously
Winter in Ontario can be brutal. So it’s understandable that you want your car to be as toasty and cozy as possible. But sitting and waiting for your car to get warm, won’t make you feel warmer any faster than if you drove at the same time. Treat it like people who decide to walk up an escalator even if they don’t have to move – you can drive and warm up at once.
Warm up the engine but not for as long as others say
As we mentioned earlier, a quick warm up (a minute or less) of your engine is fine. But any more than that is unnecessary. Gone are the days of carburetors that benefitted from this practice. There’s no need to sit for several minutes in the hopes your engine will run smoother. It doesn’t make a big difference.
Have your moment elsewhere
We all need a moment to make sense of our lives at times. And we all have our place for doing so. If your car is your location of zen, that’s fair. However, you don’t need to idle to think. With that said, you shouldn’t drive and ruminate over sensitive thoughts since that can distract you from focusing on the road. However, perhaps when your car is warm, you can park somewhere with the engine off? Or you can think about things before you jump in the car? Whatever you choose, you don’t have to idle.
If you’re a chronic (or even occasional) idler, think about the impact the practice may have on your life, even if it only seems subtle. Cutting back can have far reaching effects. Your gas money won’t go to waste, and neither will your time. Additionally, you won’t have to risk a rare yet possible encounter with the law. Of course, breaking the habit of idling in your car takes some work, but it is worth trying. If you catch yourself doing it for more than a minute, then that alone is a good thing. It means you’re aware, and the fix is to simply get moving. Like any other habit, giving it a few weeks will help you conquer the urge.