There are many reasons why people will tell you they should
idle their vehicles’ engines. For instance, some people think that
it uses more fuel or is more polluting to start and stop an engine
than to leave it running. It’s true that catalytic converters –
which reduce carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions –
work best when warmed up. However, the best way to warm the
converter is to drive the vehicle. Studies show that in cold
weather, a gasoline engine that is shut off for under 10 minutes
does not cool down enough to reduce the effectiveness of the
catalytic converter. And in warm weather, idling vehicles circulate
coolant that may cool the engine and catalytic converter
faster than turning it off.
As for saving gasoline, a light-duty car with a warm engine
that idles for more than 10 seconds burns more fuel and emits more greenhouse gases than shutting down the engine and starting
Many people believe that in cold weather, they must warm
up their vehicle for a few minutes before driving. However,
modern electronically-controlled engines do not need to be
warmed up. To make matters worse, emissions from an idling
vehicle in winter conditions are more than double the normal
level immediately after a cold start. Vehicle engines warm up
fastest when a vehicle is being driven, so as long as your windshield
and other windows are clear of frost and snow, there is little
reason to idle on start-up. Use of a block heater in very cold
weather warms the engine before starting and reduces pollution
At any rate, warming up the vehicle involves more than the
engine. The tires, transmission, wheel bearings and other moving
parts also need to be warm for the vehicle to perform well.
And most of these parts don’t begin to warm up until you drive.
In fact, excessive idling can damage your engine’s components,
including cylinders, spark plugs and the exhaust system.
Diesel vehicles, on the other hand, do require a few minutes
to warm up before being driven. Fortunately, there are available
a variety of anti-idling devices designed to reduce the need for
idling to warm up the engine, cool the vehicle or run auxiliary
equipment when stopped.
Diesel trucks create a particular problem, especially the hundreds
of thousands of heavy duty, long-haul trucks with sleeper
cabs that crisscross the continent. The drivers of these trucks are
required to take safety rest periods at truck stops or rest areas every
day. Most truck drivers leave their engines running during
these rest periods to provide power for heat, air conditioning, refrigeration
and other systems. This engine idling burns nearly a
billion gallons of diesel a year in the U.S. alone, emitting an estimated
20 tons of air pollution and greenhouse gases.
In order to reduce this sort of truck idling, systems have been
developed to provide alternative power. One such technology is
called Truck Electrified Parking (TEP.) TEP provides grid-supplied
electrical power through electrical outlets mounted on
pedestals at truck stop and rest area parking spaces. Truckers
need to install 120-volt appliances or converters, but the cost
works out to less than the cost of burning diesel fuel. The system
has been tested in New York State and became operational
along transportation corridors in Washington and Oregon just
this past summer.
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