Warming Up Your Engine & Air Pollution

The research is in, and the takeaways are consistent: It's a waste of time and money to “warm up” your automobile in the winter before starting to drive. Doing so creates unnecessary pollution.

Groups from the U.S. EPA to the government of Canada and the late host of NPR's “Car Talk” program agree - idling before you start moving has basically no benefit for your car's engine. Sometimes, letting the engine run can defrost a little, but even then, getting the car or truck moving is the ideal way to increase the engine's temperature.

Regardless, a survey of 1,300 people in the U.S. found that, people think cars and trucks should be idled for more than five minutes when the weather is wintry. The results of that misconception are as follows:

  • On a national level, 40,000 tons per day of unnecessary CO2 alone released into the atmosphere
  • More personal exposure to pollutants while sitting in stopped autos
  • Throughout the U.S., 3.8 million gallons in wasted fuel
  • For every car or truck that idles to warm up, more than $100 per year in wasted fuel
  • For each car, up to $9 annually maintenance costs

The myth used to be a truth. Before electronics in the starting and fuel delivery systems, vehicles used carburetors to blend air and fuel for the engine to use. If a car was driven cold, that mixture could be off and make the engine stall. Almost all new cars have much better technology. Besides conserving gas when you turn the ignition, electronic parts measure the engine temperature and make up for it. Now, experts say to idle your engine for no longer than 10 seconds before driving.

When you stop heating up the engine, there will be many benefits. First, your car or truck will drive better and heat up sooner. A vehicle that is driving also starts the process of filtering the tailpipe air faster. When you are just idling, the catalytic converter doesn't kick in for up to twice as long, and the dirtier air invariably gets to your lungs because, obviously, you're not going anywhere.

If you have questions about whether your car or truck needs to be warmed up in the winter, reach out to the auto professionals at Christian Brothers Knoxville. Avoiding idling saves time and is good for your car, good for the environment and better for your pocketbook.