Idling Your Car: Break the Lose/Lose Fossil Fuel Cycle

The season is upon us—the landscape is cold and barren, the temperatures are low, life slows, and fuel waste increases exponentially. A mix of too many people on the planet combined with modern entitlement to uninterrupted comfort and convenience wreaks havoc on our limited fossil fuel supply, our air quality, and as credible science and reality show, our climate. Nonetheless, at any given moment, thousands of gallons of fuel are being wasted across the globe as people needlessly leave their vehicles idling: semi-trucks parked for hours at rest stops left on, idling cars sitting outside the convenience store, people texting “LOL, no way!” while their car sits getting zero miles to the gallon… All this and worse has become the norm.

Recognizing and confronting the problem can be our first step in stopping this unnecessary, destructive menace to our vehicles, pocketbooks, and most importantly, the air we all share and breathe.

Of course, the sinister agenda behind this article is to advocate for cleaner air and concerted efforts to cut waste and any extra money otherwise given to oil companies. As if the hundreds of billions in annual taxpayer subsidies they receive isn’t enough, it’s not abnormal for the average person to idle 5 to 10 minutes a day. Whether going off the expired myths about warming up the car before driving it, or the idea that one saves gas by leaving the vehicle running while stopped for a period of time, people often idle intentionally.

Worse though, many drivers simply leave the car running without giving it a second thought. I often wonder what’s worse: the fact that we’re allowed not to care about the planet, or the widespread conditioning, even encouragement, not to care. Personally, I’ve stopped worrying myself if I disagree with others on religion or politics; I have a hard time, though, validating self-centered entitlement that gives the middle finger to the health of the planet—that’s really a middle finger to all living things who rely on a livable planet.

Idling is a lose/lose scenario. While information about idling is widely available on the Internet for further study, here are a few points to remember:

* Think of the “20 Second Rule.” If you’re going to be stopped for more than 20 seconds, just turn off the vehicle. This may not apply at stop lights or in moving traffic, but being stopped by a train, parked temporarily outside the store, waiting at a drive-through, etc., it’s best to turn off the motor.

* Modern cars are best warmed up by driving them. In the case of addressing frosted or fogged windows in winter, the best solution is to dump cold water on them. Idling is bad for your car’s spark plugs, cylinders, and exhaust systems, and can result in decreased gas mileage over time.

* For every two minutes of idling, the average vehicle could have traveled about one mile. Indeed, idling amounts to literally zero miles to the gallon.

* Oil is a limited, non-renewable resource that pollutes the air, water, and land. For every gallon of gas burned, about 19 pounds of carbon are released into the atmosphere. Considering the financial and environmental costs as money and resources needlessly go up in smoke, a dedicated personal effort to stop idling only makes sense.

Awareness of idling can be both beneficial and troubling. While it’s another way to do our part as global citizens while saving money, it’s often disturbing to see how common the practice is, even here in the semi-green bubble of Corvallis. Like many communities around the world, and considering Corvallis’ current approach to sustainability, it would not be unreasonable for the city to impose a no-idling ordinance to raise awareness and encourage conservation of an expensive, dirty, and temporary resource.

by Dan Crall