Snow and ice are almost here after some unseasonably warm weather in Central Jersey. To many, the colder temperatures mean a quick run out to start the car in the morning to make sure it’s nice and toasty before you get inside. But whether you’re idling your vehicle for two minutes or 10 minutes, any idling means unnecessary air pollution from vehicle exhaust. A vehicle that is idling for one hour uses approximately one gallon of gasoline, which means that every minute your car idles to warm up in the morning can quickly increase your weekly gas bill and the amount of pollution your family breathes.
Of course, clearing the ice and snow off of your car is an important safety issue – you must be able to see easily out of all your car windows before driving. But this can be achieved with less than three minutes of idling and some good old fashion muscle power with an ice scraper. (According to New Jersey state law, it is illegal to idle any gasoline or diesel vehicle for more than three minutes.)
Many people are under the impression that a vehicle’s engine actually needs to warm up before it is driven, especially in cold weather. This urban legend persists in spite of the science. With modern engines, vehicles need only 30 seconds of idling in cold weather before driving. And idling doesn’t work that well anyway – hands down, the best way to really warm up your engine and get the heat flowing is to simply drive the car. The driver’s manual for a 2009 Saab 95, for example, notes: “Do not run the engine when the car is stationary. If idling, it will take much longer before the engine becomes hot. Engine wear is greatest during this warming-up phase. Therefore, drive away as soon as possible after the engine is started.” Other vehicle manuals, including for the 2010 Hyundai Elantra, indicate that an extended warm up over 10-20 seconds is not needed.
Basically, don’t idle your car, even in the cold! Preserve your car’s engine and don’t pollute the air or waste gas when it’s cold out. A little bit of work with an ice scraper goes a long way.