The High Cost to Society of Idling

Problems caused by idling

There are a number of problems associated with idling:


It’s expensive

Even if the vehicle isn’t moving, if the engine is running, gas and oil are being consumed. With fuel prices as high as they are, few of us can afford to be wasteful. But we are – and to a startling extent! A recent study suggests that during the winter, Canadians idle their vehicles for a combined total of more than 75 million minutes a day, the same as one vehicle idling for 144 years. If every driver of a light-duty vehicle in Canada avoided idling for just 5 minutes we would save 1.9 million litres of fuel worth more than $1.9 million.

Vehicle idling is a great concern to for many businesses and industries, particularly those that have fleets of vehicles for moving goods or people. The average long-haul truck idles away up to $1,790 in profits a year.

It’s bad for breathing

Burning fossil fuels like gas and oil produce emissions that aggravate existing heart and lung diseases, and cause respiratory illnesses. For example, two common tailpipe emissions – hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides – react to form ground-level ozone. Ozone irritates and inflames the respiratory tract.

Do you know anyone with asthma? They’ll thank you for not uselessly idling your car. Ground-level ozone has been implicated as a bronchoconstrictor, causing airways to shrink or close, precipitating deadly asthma attacks. According to Health Canada, more than 16,000 Canadians die prematurely every year because of air pollution.

It’s bad for children

Children are particularly vulnerable to poor air quality – they breathe faster than adults and inhale more air per pound of body weight. Air pollution tends to be worse in the late afternoon, precisely when driving parents gather to pick up their children, who excitedly rush from school into clouds of exhaust from idling vehicles. Idling vehicles are also a safety issue.  Children are unaware of a vehicles intent when it sits idling.

It’s ineffective

Contrary to popular belief, idling is not an effective way to warm up your vehicle, even in cold weather. The best way to do this is to drive. In fact, with today’s modern engines, you need no more than 30 seconds of idling on winter days before driving away.

Idling only warms the engine, not the wheel bearings, steering, suspension, transmission, and tires. These parts also need to be warmed up, and the only way to do that is to get the vehicle moving.

It’s damaging

Idling isn’t good for your vehicle. Here’s why: an idling engine is not operating at its peak temperature, which means fuel combustion is incomplete. This leaves fuel residues that can condense on cylinder walls, where they contaminate oil and damage engine components such as spark plugs. When spark plugs are fouled, fuel consumption increases by 4 to 5 percent. Finally, idling can allow water to condense in the vehicle’s exhaust, causing rust in the exhaust system. As if the mean, salty winter roads weren’t enough to corrode your muffler to flaky brown bits.

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