My husband likes to let his Ford F-150 idle. He remote starts it in the driveway pretty much all year – he likes it warm in the winter and cool in the summer – and then he sits in it for 20 minutes, letting it idle, so he can play Sudoku on his phone, listen to the news and drink his coffee. He has the engine on anytime he’s sitting in his truck, which is a lot of the time. I’ve always thought this was ridiculous, but it’s driving me insane now that gas prices are so high. He says he doesn’t want to wear out the starter by starting and stopping it constantly or drain the battery by listening to the radio. Are there any benefits to all this idling? – Erika, Kelowna, B.C.
If you’re running your vehicle when it’s parked, you’re idling away the life of your engine.
“All extended idling does is keep your heater going, but it’s really hard on the engine,” said Steve Elder, automotive instructor with the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s School of Transportation. “It will accelerate wear because that’s not what an engine is designed to do – an engine is designed to have multiple RPM [revolutions-per-minute] ranges that you get from normal driving.”
Frequent idling also contributes to carbon build-up in your engine, which will hurt performance and fuel economy, Elder said.
“Unless it’s really just to try to get the engine up to temperature to make the cabin heat work, there’s not really any point,” Elder said, adding that it’s “okay” to idle for up to 30 seconds if it’s below zero when you first start the car.
Idling won’t extend your battery life either, Elder said.
“If you’re watching the screen or listening to the radio, that will typically shut off after 15 minutes anyway,” Elder said. “With battery technology now, you could watch something on a screen and it won’t run the battery down appreciably in a short period of time.”
As for concerns about the starter, most modern cars have a start/stop function that automatically turns off the engine when you come to a complete stop while in Drive – at a traffic light, for instance – and then turns it on again when you let off the brake.
“To me, that obviously says manufacturers are telling you they don’t need the engine to idle,” Elder said.
Natural Resources Canada recommends turning off your engine any time you’re going to be stopped for longer than 60 seconds, but says idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel and produces more C02 than restarting your engine.
The department estimates that idling a three-litre engine for 10 minutes uses about a quarter-litre of gas and produces nearly 600 grams of CO2. With gas prices averaging $1.88 a litre in British Columbia last week, idling for 10 minutes would cost you 47 cents – but if you did it every day for a year, that adds up to more than $170 and you would emit an additional 219 kilograms of CO2. Given the floods, forest fires, heatwaves and mudslides plaguing British Columbia of late, climate change is another good reason not to waste fuel.
Some Canadian cities, including Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal, have bans on idling. Vancouver, for instance, bans idling for more than three consecutive minutes in a 60-minute period. The fine is $100 for passenger vehicles. The city issued 55 tickets in 2021.
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