Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 28, 2002
The ills of car idling
The best way to warm up your car is to drive it
By SUZANNE ELSTON
I am frequently amazed at our ability to create new products and services that torture our environment in the name of comfort. My personal favourite this season is the remote car starter.
For just under $200, the device allows you to start your car from the warm comfort of your home, while contributing to global warming and smog, and wasting considerable fuel in the process. For about the same amount of money you can buy a decent winter coat that ultimately leaves you with the same result - without polluting the environment or wasting finite fossil fuels.
Idling your car in the winter isn't just bad for the environment; it can be hard on your car's engine. Incomplete combustion means that fuel residues can condense on cylinder walls, contaminate engine oil and clog spark plugs.
The best way to warm your car up is to drive it. With computer controlled, fuel-injected engines, you need no more than 30 seconds of idling before driving away. Things like wheel bearings, steering, suspension, transmission and tires only warm up when your car is moving.
The problem is that our idling habit has nothing to do with warming up our cars. It's simply about personal comfort.
One morning I saw a woman rush out of her house in a housecoat and curlers, back two vehicles out of the garage. She left them running while she returned to her morning preparations. Given her state of undress, I'd guess that at least one of those vehicles would be idling for 20 minutes or more.
On another occasion, my walking buddy and I ended up walking up a driveway and around the front of an idling car to avoid its exhaust. The owner of the car came out of the house in time to overhear my comment about how inconsiderate some people can be. (The temperature was at least five degrees.)
The woman was so enraged that she got in her car and followed us, screaming obscenities as she went. She drove up and down the street several times before she roared off in disgust. Some people clearly don't have enough to do.
One morning I finally had enough. I was walking around a car left idling on the sidewalk, when I noticed that the driver's door was unlocked. I reached in and turned off the car. That was my single act of environmental terrorism and it felt so good.
Unnecessary car idling isn't just about personal preference. Natural Resources Canada's Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE) has identified idling as a significant contributor to global warming. In total, four per cent of the fuel that we burn in our cars is consumed by idling. According to the OEE:
Visit The Idle-Free Zone (http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/autosmart/idling/Home.cfm), the first Web site dedicated to helping Canadians in their efforts to stop unnecessary engine idling in their communities.
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