Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

The Cost of a little idling comfort

By Wayne Michaud

On a cold winter morning, from his living room, Jason presses the start button on the remote vehicle starter of his pickup truck. Outside, the engine starts up and runs for the next 15 minutes until he finally drives the truck away.

On a hot afternoon, Rebecca arrives ahead of dismissal at her daughter’s elementary school. Her car engine idles with the air conditioner on as she emails and messages on her smartphone.

Why do people let their parked vehicle engines idle? These vehicles are designed to be conveyances, but they are just sitting there going nowhere, wasting gas. So, why? The answer is that typically, their occupants seek comfort. On cold days, many of us insist on warm vehicle interiors before departing. On hot days, we want to avoid the discomfort of feeling hot and sweaty as we wait in our parked vehicles.

Unfortunately, a high price is paid for a little idling comfort:

1. Idling costs money. Passenger vehicles (cars, pickups, SUVs, vans) on average consume about 0.4 gallons of gas an hour when idling. Depending on engine size, idling for 10 minutes daily while parked can cost $50 to $200 annually. And excessive idling causes engine and component wear, including carbon soot buildup, and shortens the life of engine oil, spark plugs and the exhaust system.

2. Idling wastes energy and contributes to climate change. The University of Vermont Transportation Research Center recently conducted a comprehensive study on vehicle idling. Their report findings estimate that Vermonters voluntarily idle their passenger vehicles (while parked) for 9.6 million hours annually, consuming 4.1 million gallons of fuel and emitting 36,500 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

3. Idling has a negative impact on air quality and health. Despite emissions controls, vehicles emit harmful exhaust chemicals such as benzene, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons, especially when idling. Extreme weather exacerbates these toxins. They cause cancer and respiratory illnesses, such as asthma. Vermont has elevated levels of asthma. Children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to these toxins.

Be smart and responsible by limiting idling when parked! Sacrifice a little idling comfort to save hundreds of dollars anually, conserve energy, reduce carbon emissions, and improve our health.

Tips to limit idling are as follows.

• In all but sub-zero temperatures, limit warm-ups to 30 seconds – many vehicle owner’s manuals recommend avoiding prolonged idling; driving slowly to moderately is the best way to warm up (make sure defrosting is adequate before driving).

• If sitting in a parked vehicle for more than 10 seconds, shut the engine off as restarting only uses 10 seconds worth of fuel.

• Comply with Vermont’s idling law that limits idling to five minutes in any 60 minute period.

To learn more, visit UVM TRC report:

Wayne Michaud of Bristol, VT is director of Idle-Free VT Inc. a non-profit organization that raises awareness of unnecessary vehicle idling in Vermont. Idle-Free VT is currently implementing Vermont Idle-Free Schools, a High Meadows Fund-supported project that is providing idling awareness and eco-driving education in classrooms statewide for the 2014-15 school year.


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