Idling gets you nowhere – and it can be costly. Excessive idling wastes a significant amount of fuel and money and generates needless greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 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 1.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and $630 million in fuel costs (assuming a fuel cost of $1.00/L).
Warming up the vehicle means more than warming the engine. The tires, transmission, wheel bearings and other moving parts also need to be warmed up for the vehicle to perform well. Most of these parts don't begin to warm up until you drive the vehicle.
Any more than ten seconds of idling uses more fuel than is required to restart the engine. However, the break-even time to offset any potential incremental maintenance costs to the starter or battery is under 60 seconds. So, as a guideline, if you're stopped for more than 60 seconds – except in traffic – turn off the engine.
For the average vehicle with a 3-litre engine, every 10 minutes of idling costs over one quarter of a litre (over 1 cup) in wasted fuel. Keep in mind that every litre of gasoline you use produces about 2.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide.
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 that contribute to climate change.
Contrary to popular belief, excessive idling is not an effective way to warm up your vehicle, even in cold weather. The best way to warm it up is to drive it. In fact, with today's computer-controlled engines, even on cold winter days, no more than two to three minutes of idling is usually enough warm-up time before starting to drive. This also reduces fuel consumption and GHG emissions.
You can help reduce the impact of cold starts – and reduce idling times – by using a block heater on cold winter days. This device warms the coolant, which in turn warms the engine block and lubricants. The engine will start more easily and reach its proper operating temperature faster.
You don't need to leave a block heater plugged in overnight to warm the engine – two hours is more than enough. In fact, you can use an automatic timer to switch on the block heater two hours before you leave. At -20°C, block heaters can improve overall fuel economy by as much as 10 percent. For a single short trip at -25°C your fuel savings could be in the order of 25 percent.
A poorly-tuned engine uses up to 15 percent more energy when idling than a well-tuned engine. Keeping your vehicle properly maintained according to the manufacturer's suggested maintenance schedule is a key to fuel efficiency and reduced GHG emissions.
Calculations drawn from a 1998 survey on driving habits suggests that in the peak of winter, Canadians voluntarily idle their vehicles for a combined total of more than 75 million minutes a day – equal to one vehicle idling for 144 years. We idle about 40 percent less in summer, but Canadian motorists still waste a significant amount of fuel and emit unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions.
Warming up a vehicle in the winter and cooling it down in the summer are the most common reasons given for idling! Surveys show that Canadians also idle while waiting for passengers, stopping at railroad crossings, waiting to park, running quick errands, sitting in drive-through lanes and when stopping to talk to an acquaintance or friend.