Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tuesday Series- The Eco-Elitist- The Idling Myth- Just turn it off!

In the Tuesday Series - The Eco-Elitist (which I call myself "with tongue-in-cheek") - I try to offer suggestions on how you can be smarter and more eco-friendly in your daily activities and purchasing. I'm in no way perfect. There are some activities that I religiously do like recycling, bringing my own bags to the grocery store (I really just hate plastic bags), using compact fluorescent bulbs and disposing of harmful stuff (electronics, batteries properly) but there are so many things I can still do to make a difference.

Like idling. Oh, it's a bad one. And we all do it- a lot. According to the Hinkle Charitable Foundation, "Americans waste 3.8 billion gallons of gas by voluntarily idling their cars." Thanks to the development of suburbia, we are all in our cars all the time- running errands, shopping, getting coffee, going to the bank, school, dry cleaner and commuting. We are on highways and "urban sprawl" going from strip mall to strip mall. Uggh. How many traffic lights to we stop at on a daily basis and how many hours do we sit in traffic- idling? Too many to count. In hybrid cars (I got to try one out recently when I rented a car), the engine actually stops after a few seconds of idling to save gas- it's a little odd at first but it's quite cool and so smart. Now, I'm not suggesting that you shut off your engine at a traffic light or on the highway if you have a conventional car because you really can't do that but there are plenty of times you leave your car running when you could just shut it off.

Let's talk about idling first.

1. There is no need to "warm-up" your car- modern cars today are quite efficient and do not need to be warmed up in the morning for 10 minutes as once thought (unless you are in zero degree weather but that is certainly not the norm). It is actually better to drive a car to "warm it up" because it gets the catalytic converter, the engine and other parts of the car moving and "warm" if you will.

2. Starting your car does not hurt the battery or use more gas than idling- there is a myth that each time you start your car again you waste more gasoline then if you leave it idling. This is false! Modern engines do not operate well when they are idling mode. According to Hinkle, there is a 10 second rule, it is better if you shut off the engine- it's better for the car. Restarting your car does not damage or "wear-out" your battery. In fact, "idling an engine forces it to operate in a very inefficient and gasoline-rich mode that, over time, can degrade the engine's performance and reduce mileage." Too much idling can hurt the important components of your engine (such as the cylinders, spark plugs and exhaust systems. According to the California Energy Commission, "Fuel is only partially combusted when idling because an engine does not operate at its peak temperature. This leads to the build up of fuel residues on cylinder walls that can damage engine components and increase fuel consumption."

In sum, when you voluntarily idle your car for really no reason, you are wasting gas, emitting harmful CO2 into the air (which causes pollution, health problems and global warming) and you are hurting the performance of your car.

So, when you are in the fast food drive-thru, bank teller lane and it looks like it is going to be more than 10 seconds. Turn off your car.

When you are on your phone, waiting to pick someone up or running errands, and it's going to more than 10 seconds, turn the car off.

When you are dropping something off, reading something, looking at the view and it's going to be more than 10 seconds. Turn off your car.

Even better, don't sit in drive-thru lines. Park and walk in. You might get a little exercise and will be doing your part to reduce carbon emissions!


Read this great article for more detailed information: http://www.thehcf.org/antiidlingprimer.html.

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