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What’s the True Cost of Idling?

  • By Cesar Yepez

When workers idle, whether in the workplace or on the road results in draining company resources. Idling on the road may be costing you more than you know.

Five minutes of idling can consume .01 to .04 liters, depending on the vehicle and over the course of a year that can add up to 10 to 20 gallons. America alone wastes around 3.8 million gallons a day due to idling.

Ten seconds of idling consumes more fuel than restarting a car.

Myth vs Fact

There are several myths about idling that can mislead you into believing it can be beneficial however they are rarely true.

Myth 1: Idling is good for your engine

Cars these days have things like fuel injections and electronic ignition start which lessen the overall wear and tear of engine use so that they can last longer and run more efficiently. Don’t back track with idling.

Excessive idling can be incredibly damaging to an engine because the fuel is not able to fully combust as it can’t reach optimal operating temperature to do so. This causes fuel residue to build up in cylinder walls which can contaminate engine oil and reduce its ability to sufficiently lubricate.

Myth 2: Shutting off and restarting your vehicle is hard on the engine and uses more gas than if you leave it running

The second half is explained above; if you leave a car idling for longer than 10 seconds then you have consumed more fuel than it takes to restart a car. However, it is partially true that frequent restarting of your vehicle can be hard on the engine but hardly more than what it already goes through.

When you first start a car, it takes less than a minute to adequately lubricate the engine. During those moments without lubrication, the grinding metal-on-metal expels metallic dust along the engine, which can cause problem down the road. It takes a prolonged period of time for it to completely leave the engine, meaning stopping the engine for a few minutes instead of idling should leave sufficient enough lubrication without continually damaging the engine.

Myth 3: The engine should be warmed before driving

This is the most common reason for idling however it had been proven that driving the car would heat the engine and all other components faster. Idling can warm the car, specifically the cab and main running parts, however it doesn’t heat all parts meaning other areas won’t run as smoothly for the first few minutes.

If the environment gets especially chill then it would be best to invest in an electric engine preheater. If you prefer to idle to heat or cool down the cab, then it is still best to drive. Driving heats the engine quicker which will heat the cab quicker, and movement of the car can cause air flow which can cool the engine and cool the cab quicker.

If drivers started turning off their engines instead of idling, they could save over $130 annually, per car. Idling wastes 10 to 20 gallons on average every year, if gas stayed a steady $3 then turning off the car would save $60 or more. On top of direct saving there is also the indirect saving from lack of fuel residue build up that comes from not idling.

One hundred and thirty dollars may not seem like a lot annually, however, if you have a business that relies on transport or fleet transport this can quickly add up to money better spent elsewhere. To change that you may want to change a few policies and encourage turning off the engine instead of idling. If you find that drivers idle for too long then it may be a good idea to teach them about the damages idling can cause.

Fun Fact: There are several countries that have placed restrictions on allowing cars to idle at stopped railroad crossings to lower CO2 emissions.

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