Shuswap Climate Action Society
supporting community knowledge and solutions
About the Author
Anne Morris is a graduate of McGill University and of the University of Lethbridge. She is a longtime activist in education and advocacy on the issues of a healthy environment, social justice, and peace, and the links between them. She is also engaged in education about the growing risk of a nuclear weapons disaster and what we can do to help prevent it. She is Co-Chair of the Salmon Arm Ecumenical KAIROS Committee.
Idling Gets You Nowhere!
by Anne Morris
Idling gets you nowhere. It impacts the environment, our health, and it wastes fuel and money.
Exhaust from gas and diesel-burning motor vehicles contains a range of gases emitted into the atmosphere. One is carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Each litre of gasoline used produces about 2.3 kg CO2; each litre of diesel - 2.7 kg of CO2.
Motor vehicle exhaust also includes pollutants such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, all of which contribute to air pollution and smog.
Carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide are linked to health problems such as asthma and lung disease, stroke, cancer, and heart attack. Children are particularly vulnerable to these pollutants because they breathe more quickly and inhale more air per pound of body weight. Canada has the third highest rate of childhood asthma cases in the world (1).
In addition to toxic gases, motor vehicle exhaust contains incredibly small bits of unburnt fuel called “ultrafine particulates”, which have a range of negative health effects. These particulates can get into the bloodstream; they can get into a pregnant woman’s womb and affect the growing fetus (2). They can also travel through the olfactory structures and into the brain. Research shows a link between exposure to these tiny particulates and Alzheimer’s disease (3).
An idling vehicle emits much more pollution than one travelling at 50 km/h. When a vehicle engine is idling, the fuel is not burning as efficiently as when the vehicle is in motion. Thus it emits more of the toxic gases and particulates mentioned above. For children and youth, particulates are of special concern because their brains are developing.
Letting your car idle while parked, or waiting for a train to pass, might seem insignificant. But idling is not only harmful to human health and the environment, it also wastes fuel and money.
For the average vehicle with a 3-litre engine, every 10 minutes of idling costs 300 millilitres of wasted fuel, and for vehicles with a 5-litre engine, half a litre is wasted. If drivers of light-duty vehicles avoided idling by just three minutes a day, over the year Canadians would collectively save 630 million litres of fuel and $630 million in fuel costs, assuming a fuel cost of $1.00/L (4).
Excessive idling also can be hard on your engine. Because an engine is not working at its peak operating temperature when it’s idling, the fuel does not undergo complete combustion. This leaves fuel residue that can contaminate engine oil and make spark plugs dirty.
If you’re going to be stopped for more than 60 seconds — whether parked or waiting for a train to pass — turn the engine off! To warm up your vehicle, drive it rather than idle the engine. On cold winter days, no more than 60 seconds of idling is needed, and on warmer days, 30 seconds is sufficient.
The bottom line: the more fuel you use, the more CO2, pollutant gases, and ultrafine particulates you produce. And one of the best ways to cut fuel consumption is to avoid idling. After all, it gets you nowhere.
(1) ’Canada has third highest global rate of new childhood asthma cases from traffic pollution,’ Damian Carrington, Canada’s National Observer, April 11, 2019. https://www.nationalobserver.com/2019/04/11/news/canada-has-third-highest-global-ratenew-childhood-asthma-cases-traffic-pollution
(2) ‘Something in the Air,’ The Nature of Things, February 17, 2019, https://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episodes/something-in-the-air
(3) ‘How some trees could protect kids from air pollution linked to Alzheimer’s: scientist’, CBC Radio (The Current) February 14, 2019. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-february-14-2019-1.5019102/
4) ‘Turn if Off - Idling gets you NOWHERE,’ National Resources Canada https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/oee/pdf/transportation/idling/material/ pdf/info-card-e-low-res.pdf