Many things can affect the fuel consumption of your vehicle: your driving style and behaviour, vehicle acceleration, braking and driving speed, overall age and operating condition of your vehicle, temperature, weather, traffic, road conditions, as well as drive systems and powered accessories (e.g. air conditioning) installed on your vehicle.
The millions of Canadians who drive vehicles every day can take steps to help save fuel and money, and reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that contribute to climate change. The solutions include actions such as carefully planning trips by combining errands, driving at the posted speed limits, avoiding jackrabbit starts and stops, maintaining proper tire pressure, or even walking or taking a bus instead of the car. But one of the easiest actions that motorists can take is to avoid unnecessary idling.
In fact, one of the most powerful arguments in favour of reduced idling is an economic one. For the average vehicle with a 3-litre engine, every 10 minutes of idling costs 300 millilitres (over 1 cup) in wasted fuel – and one half of a litre (over 2 cups) if your vehicle has a 5-litre engine. Unnecessary idling wastes fuel – and wasted fuel is wasted money.
Many Canadian fleet operators have implemented idling policies to reduce their fuel costs and improve their competitiveness. With today's high fuel prices, individual Canadians might be well-advised to consider adopting their own personal idling policy.
If drivers of light-duty vehicles avoided idling by just three minutes a day, over the year Canadians would collectively save 630 million litres of fuel, and $630 million in fuel costs (assuming a fuel cost of $1.00/L).
Idling longer than 10 seconds uses more fuel and produces more CO2 compared to restarting the engine. But will turning off the vehicle to avoid idling result in higher maintenance costs and extra wear and tear for the starter and battery? Actually, the break-even point to offset any incremental maintenance costs is under 60 seconds. You'll save money on fuel that should more than offset any potential increase in maintenance costs. And your vehicle won't produce unnecessary emissions of CO2, the principle greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
Considering all factors, if you're going to be stopped for more than 60 seconds - except in traffic – turn the engine off. Unnecessary idling wastes money and fuel, and produces greenhouse gases (GHGs) that contribute to climate change.
If you're a typical Canadian driver, you should have lots of opportunities to put your personal idling policy into practice. Research indicates that many Canadian motorists idle their vehicles an average of six to eight minutes a day. Results drawn from a 1998 Survey of Attitudes, Awareness and Behaviour of Drivers suggest that in the winter, Canadians voluntarily idle their vehicles for a combined total of more than 75 million minutes a day. For this day alone, over 2.2 million litres of fuel would be used, producing over five million kilograms of GHGs and equal the amount of fuel required to drive over 1100 vehicles for a year or to idle one vehicle for 144 years! We idle about 40 percent less in summer, but for Canadian motorists it still amounts to a significant waste of fuel and money.
There's another issue to consider. Most gasoline is derived from crude oil, a non-renewable resource. We're not in danger of running out in the near future, but crude oil reserves in Canada and around the world are dwindling and the demand for oil is expected to increase, resulting in higher oil prices. Why waste this valuable resource?
To sum up, gasoline is costly, its use has significant environmental impacts, and there's not an endless supply – three good reasons not to waste fuel through unnecessary vehicle idling.