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Stop The Idle Threat Featured on Mar 17, 2008
Don't just sit there! If you drive, avoid idle time. Turn off your car whenever possible.
Eliminating 5 minutes of engine idle time per day for one month will reduce your CO2 emissions by 27 lbs.
3557 people have reduced CO2 emissions by 47.4 tons by completing this challenge so far. That's equal to turning off the electricity of 35 homes for about 1 month!
We’re not ashamed to admit that some of us at Rally Control have… Prius envy. We would all love to own and drive a hybrid. Some already do, of course. And they’ve been very willing to take us for a spin. Getting into the car, we already knew about the advantages to driving a hybrid. What we weren’t prepared for, however, was the feeling of contentment we got when the car pulled up to a stoplight. Silence. There was a peaceful, Zen-like silence in which we could hear ourselves breathe and think “Why can’t my car be quiet when it’s sitting still?” It can if we turn it off.
The Carbon Connection
You may ask, “Is idling my car that big of a problem?” You be the judge. On average, each American car is idled 5 to 10 minutes per day. It is estimated that those cars idle enough each day to burn an additional 3.8 million gallons of gasoline. That’s right — 3.8 million gallons each day. That means that useless idling is responsible for Americans releasing an extra 40,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each day or 13 million tons of CO2 per year.
There are other environmental implications of idling a car. For instance, the catalytic converter in the exhaust system only works efficiently at very high temperatures. The catalytic converter doesn’t reach those temperatures unless and until the car is driven. Starting your cold car and letting it warm up in the driveway means that the exhaust system is spewing toxic emissions into the air that would have otherwise been neutralized by the catalytic converter.
Getting It Done
The biggest hurdle in meeting this Challenge is to forget what you might have heard about your car. Today’s cars have electronic ignitions and more efficient batteries. Turning your car off and restarting it does not cause the wear-and-tear on your starter that it once did. Repeated starting and stopping won’t drain your battery. And, while restarting your car may momentarily use more gasoline than engine would have used if left running, it is a tiny difference. In fact, the rule of thumb is that if you going to idle your car for longer than 10 seconds, it’s more efficient to turn the car off and restart it later.
With spring almost here and March Madness already underway, you may be tempted to put winter out of your mind. But winter weather is often one of the biggest reasons people give for idling their cars. Let’s start with some ways you can reduce your idling time when the weather outside is frightful:
- Remember, the best way to warm up your car is to drive your car. Click and Clack from radio’s Car Talk say that “cars these days don’t need to be warmed up. Except in below-zero conditions, you can just start the engine and drive off.”
- Maybe you aren’t as worried about the car as you are about your own comfort. If it’s winter, you may be tempted to idle your car so that the heater has enough time to warm up the inside of the car before you get inside and drive away. The heater works when the car’s engine is warmed up and the best way to warm up your car is to drive your car. Just remember to dress warm for those first two miles you drive before the heater kicks in.
- Finally, letting your car run for 15 minutes just so you don’t have to scrape the frost off your windshield is not a good use of gasoline. Get a good ice scraper and leave the car turned off until you’re ready to go.
Here are other suggestions to help you meet this Challenge, no matter what the weather:
- Think about where you tend to idle your car. Do you keep the car running when your boyfriend runs into the grocery for a gallon of milk? Do you sit in the car and keep it running when you pick the kids up from school? Do you leave it on while you sit in line waiting for a ferry? If you’re going to be sitting still for longer than a minute, turn the car off and restart it when you need to go.
- Let’s assume you pull over to the side of the road to take an important call on your cell phone or have a long overdue heart-to-heart with your teenager. Don’t idle the car. Turn it off.
- Stuck in traffic? Gridlock got you locked in place? You’re not going anywhere. So turn off your engine and enjoy the moment of peace.
- Make friends with the Accessories position on your car’s ignition switch. You can still listen to the radio when the car’s engine isn’t running. The amount the radio will drain your battery is miniscule. In fact, the Accessories setting is purposely set up to only allow you to use electrical car components that don’t use too much power (i.e., it won’t let you use the power windows).
Can you think of anything we haven’t? If so, please share your thoughts and suggestions with your fellow Rallyers in the Challenge forum section below.
Rules of the Challenge
This Challenge asks you reduce the amount of time you idle your car by 5 minutes per day for one month. By eliminating an average of 5 minutes of idling time each day for 30 days, you will reduce your CO2 emissions by 27 lbs for the month. This Challenge is repeatable.
To read more about the environmental impacts of idling cars, we would like to recommend that you read the Anti-Idling Primer from the Hinkle Charitable Foundation. We found it a very valuable resource in writing this Challenge. In addition, you might also read:
See the Math
Here’s how we’re doing our carbon calculations:
- The Challenge is based on reducing your daily idle timer by 5 minutes.
- Idling a 4-cylinder car for 5 minutes burns approximately 4 ounces of gasoline. Idling an 8-cylinder car for 5 minutes burns about 8 ounces of gasoline. We’ll split the difference and say that idling an average car burns 6 ounces of gasoline for every 5 minutes.
- There are 128 fluid ounces in a gallon.
- Burning 1 gallon of gasoline in a car or truck engine releases 19.4 lbs of CO2 (and other assorted nasties) into Earth’s atmosphere.
Now put all that together to get the following equation:
The duration of the Challenge is one month or 30 days. A savings of 0.9 lbs of CO2 per day for 30 days equals a savings of 27 lbs CO2 for the month.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “That man is idle who can do something better.” Well, Emerson didn’t mean “idling,” but you get the point by now. You can be doing something better than idling your car. Give it a try.
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