Thursday, June 6, 2013

Test your knowledge about fuel-efficient driving

No-idle signs give good reminder

by Melanie Forster, Air Quality Program, Southwest Regional Office

Many of us know that unnecessary engine idling pollutes the air and wastes fuel. But we all could use a friendly reminder, even Department of Ecology employees whose job is to protect our environment. “No-Idle Zone” signs have recently appeared in Ecology's parking areas. You may have seen similar signs outside schools or other areas with frequent pick-ups and drop-offs. These signs remind drivers to turn off the engine if parked for more than 30 seconds.

Why do we need no-idle signs? After all, most of us know the common-sense things to do to keep our cars in good condition and promote fuel-efficient driving. Or do we?

Test yourself with this short quiz:

1.   Which of these practices generally burns the most gas?

a.   Stopping and restarting a car's engine.

b.   Running a car's engine at idle for more than 10 seconds.

c.   They use the same amount of gas.

2.   True or False: The vast majority of vehicles should have their engines warmed up before driving to help them run more efficiently.

3.   True or False: Today's cars are so much cleaner than in the past, the amount of pollution they emit when idling is not significant.

4.   True or False: Frequent starting and stopping of your car can cause wear and tear on the car's starter.

5.   In very cold weather, you should:

a.   Warm your car up by idling for at least five minutes.

b.   Never warm your car up by idling, even to defrost the windshield.

c.   Start and stop your car several times intermittently in place of idling to warm it up.

d.   All of the above

e.   None of the above


1.B: For most cars, running a car's engine for more than 10 seconds burns more gas than stopping and restarting the engine. The idea that restarting the engine burns more fuel than letting the engine idle is a common myth.

2.False: Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of vehicles do not need to “warm up” before being driven. This may have been true for older vehicles (prior to late 80s/early 90s model years), but modern vehicles with fuel injection do not need to warm up before driving.

3.False: Even today's cleaner cars still emit harmful pollutants like oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and toxic substances including benzene and PAHs. The wasteful burning of fossil fuel from idling also generates carbon dioxide (CO2), contributing to climate change. Pollutants in vehicle exhaust contribute to a whole host of health problems, including lung diseases like asthma and emphysema, and cardiovascular problems like heart attack and stroke.

4.False: The California Energy Commission has found that turning off the engine when the vehicle is stopped for more than 30 seconds has little to no effect on the life of the starter. Excess fuel use and reduced engine life from idling would cost more than any additional starter replacement costs.

5.E: None of the above! Here in the Pacific Northwest, we rarely experience temperatures extreme enough to require much heating and air conditioning. Sure, it can be cold when you first get in your car, but it's not going to heat up any faster while you wait around in the parking lot. In fact, the vehicle's heater works more efficiently when you are driving. But use common sense; you may need to idle a little bit to defrost the windshield. Don't jeopardize your safety by driving a vehicle with frosty windows. Starting, stopping, and restarting your car isn't going to do the trick in that situation! In the summer, rolling down the windows before getting in the car will let excess heat escape. Again, if you're sitting in the vehicle anyway while you wait for the AC, you might as well be driving.

The bottom line

By now, you've probably realized you're not doing your car any favors by idling. Because an idling engine is not at optimal operating temperature, it does not combust fuel completely. This leads to residue buildup, decreasing the life of your engine.

Reducing idling is so easy to do, but has big payoffs—cleaner air and more money in your wallet! When you pick up your coffee at a drive-through, turn off your engine to save gas—and your barista's lungs. If you drop off or pick up children at school, it's especially important to turn off your engine since children's developing lungs are more sensitive than adults' to the harmful pollutants in vehicle exhaust.

Do yourself and everyone around you a big favor – turn off your engine if you will be idling for more than 30 seconds.

Read more about Clean Cars in Washington State.

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