Should You Idle Your Car in the Winter?

The research is in, and the results are consistent: It's a waste of time and money to “warm up” your automobile in cold weather before driving. This adds to harmful greenhouse gases.

Professionals such as the U.S. EPA to Natural Resources Canada and famous radio talk show mechanics agree - running your engine in the driveway has virtually zero benefit for your engine. On occasion, letting the engine run can help defrost your car a bit, but even then, actually driving the car or truck is the best way to increase the engine's temperature.

Regardless, a 2009 survey of about 1,300 U.S. residents found that, people believe that vehicles need to be “heated up” for 5.1 minutes when the temperature is below freezing. This myth has led to:

  • Throughout the U.S., 3.8 million gallons in wasted gas
  • Nationally, 40,000 tons per day of unnecessary carbon dioxide emitted into the air
  • For each vehicle that idles to warm-up, $30-$183 annually in wasted gas
  • For each auto, $9 per year in wear and tear costs
  • More personal breathing of polluted air while sitting in stopped cars and trucks

Historically, this idea wasn't wrong, however. Before electronic starters and electronic fuel injection, cars used carburetors to mix air and fuel for the engine. If a car was driven cold, that blend could be incorrect and cause the motor to stall. Today, the vast majority of cars have much better technology. In addition to conserving fuel during ignition, electronic parts track engine temperature and adjust for it. Now, it is widely agreed by experts that you should idle your car for just a few seconds before hitting the road.

If you stop idling, there will be many beneficial effects. First, your vehicle will run better and warm up faster. A car that is driving also begins the process of cleaning its emissions faster, using the catalytic converter. When you aren't driving, the catalytic converter doesn't kick in for up to twice as long, and the resulting pollution always gets into the cabin because, of course, you're stationary.

If you have questions about whether your auto needs to be warmed up before driving, reach out to the auto professionals at Christian Brothers Norman. Avoiding idling saves time and is better for your automobile, better for the air quality and good for your pocketbook.