Why Warming Up the Car is the Worst Thing You Can Do This Winter

Depending on where you live, the Winter season is either right around the corner, or has already dumped 36 inches of fluffy white love in your lap (our Colorado town is of the latter variety).

This means that soon it will be necessary for many walkers and bikers to start using their cars again, and many will participate in the winter tradition of “warming up the car.” Although this excessive idling is considered a necessary and sometimes chivalrous act, it contributes to a dramatic increase in air pollution during the cold weather season.

In fact, “in winter conditions, emissions from an idling vehicle are more than double the normal level immediately after a cold start (Hamilton County).

Many people are unaware that heating up the car can have such harmful effects, and we are all confused by myths like “it takes more gas to turn the car on than to keep it running, or “turning the car on and off damages the engine.” So we sit and wait for the frost to dissolve on the windsheild and the seat warmers to be cranking at full capacity before we climb in.

Although typically ignored or played down by state and even national environmental regulators, more people need to be educated that the best way to warm up your car or truck is to drive it. And studies have shown that frequent restarting has little impact on engine parts such as battery and starter motor.

Idle Facts:

  • Ten seconds of idling can use more fuel than turning off the engine and restarting it. If you are stopped for more than 10 seconds – except in traffic – turn off your engine.
  • Every 10 minutes of idling costs you at least 2/10 (0.2) of a gallon of gas – and up about 7/10 (0.7) of a gallon for an 8-cylinder engine. Keep in mind that every gallon of gas you use you produce about 19 pounds of carbon dioxide.
  • Exessive idling occurs at drive through windows, drive through bank deposits, and train crossings; while waiting for your kids to get out of school, running into the convenience store, and when picking up your friends for a night out.

To make matters worse, research published in PLoS ONE Journal suggests that “pollution from traffic can ‘reprogram’ genes in the womb, increasing the risk for asthma.” Even if you don’t buy the studies findings that fetuses breathing in exhaust will have asthma, doctors are already sure that “pollution triggers symptoms in two thirds of people with asthma, and many say that a reduction in air pollution would make the single biggest difference to their quality of life.”

A good rule of thumb is: “Idling gets zero miles per gallon.”

In the United States and Canada, if every driver avoided idling for just 5 minutes a day, millions of tons of CO2 would be prevented from entering the atmosphere each year. That would represent a staggering contribution to positive climate change efforts (Gary Klinga).

TAKE ACTION by signing one of these Care2 petitions, and remember that a pair of gloves, a handy windshield scraper and a few minutes of cold are small sacrifices for a healthy planet.

Clean Air for Children

Ban Drive-Thrus in Canada

Image Credit: blog.lehighvalleylive.com

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LMj Sunshine

Thank you for info.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you for info.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you for info.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you for info.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you for info.

Rhona R.
Rhona H.3 years ago

When I pass people sitting in cars at the side of the road idling, it makes me furious. I thought it had got through to everyone by now that the damage done to the environment by such a practice is immense. Apart from that, any kid being pushed in a pram is at just about the same height as the exhaust pipe. There should be a law against it.

Chinmayee Jog
Chinmayee Jog5 years ago

Oh man, I had no idea...but it makes sense not to idle. I live in a city that gets cold, but it doesn't snow here (although that might change if the weather patterns get altered even further) so I don't have to worry about it too much. But I can see why the idling should be stopped.

pierluigi bonatesta


Casey Broughton
Casey Broughton5 years ago

very helpful information! thanks.... i'll bundle up and brave the cold.

wizzy wizard
wiz wi6 years ago

if the car park outside cover the screen up before bed save a lot of time clening the ice off first thing in the moning also save frezzing your hand off as well.and having the eengine running while doing so .it also save fuel