Idle Thoughts — Turn the Damned Thing Off!

Because I don’t live on my land yet, I have to drive there, and I am painfully aware of the gas I’m burning up. It’s one of those shades-of-green things. I feel the work I’m doing on my 44 acres is good for the planet, but that good is sooted up with the carbon I burn to get there. So I’ve been on the lookout for ways to green up my driving.

Idling pumps a lot of extra carbon, toxins and wasted dollars out of here.

Idling pumps a lot of extra carbon, toxins and wasted dollars out of here.

I got some good tips at the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair workshop last month. (See my previous post, Ten Ways to Cut Gas Costs and Save the Planet here. ) One of the biggest things I got out of the workshop was STOP IDLING. Further research on line has led me to IDLING GETS YOU NOWHERE. YOU GET ZERO MILES PER GALLON WHILE IDLING.. The word is getting out. I’d like to mention that many years ago when I was living in the Netherlands, I remember waiting in line to cross a river on one of the countless Dutch ferries. A Dutchman rapped on my window. “Turn off your engine!” he barked in a voice dripping with disbelief that I could be so careless and wasteful.

The facts are on his side. According to the Environmental Defense Fund and countless others:

  1. For every 10 minutes your engine is off, you prevent one pound of carbon dioxide from being released into the air. (remember Global Warming? – see __ ) The Sierra Club says that U.S. cars burn some 1.4 billion gallons of fuel just idling (and we aren’t even counting trucks here!) That adds up to 58 million tons of carbon dioxide while we are just sitting there, going nowhere.
  2. Cutting emissions makes the air healthier. What we are spewing has been linked to asthma, heart disease, chronic bronchitis and cancer.
  3. Keep the money in your wallet. You waste between 1/5 to 7/10 of a gallon of fuel for every hour you idle. Sierra Club says the amount of fuel we burn as a nation while waiting for fast food is estimated at 50 million gallons a year! (World-wide fast food expansion plans are well underway, and it has been predicted that if China and India line up at their shiny, new McDonald’s and KFC franchises, they will idle away 30 billion gallons of gas every year.
    We are supersizing our pollution too.

    We are supersizing our pollution too.

    I don’t think it will be too many more years till we will be wishing we still had the fuel we burned up for a Big Mac.


  • Turn it off, if you think you will be waiting more than 10 seconds. Idling for that long will waste more gas than re-starting the engine.
  • Warm your engine by driving, not idling. Electronic engines don’t need to warm up anymore – not even in winter. The best way to warm an engine is by starting up slowly. Your engine will warm up twice as quickly when driven than it will sitting at idle.
  • Warm yourself by driving, not idling. The car heating system will get heat to you faster while driving. Also, sitting in an idling car to keep warm means you are breathing your own dirty exhaust as it leaks into the cabin as well as wasting gas and poisoning the earth.
  • Protect your engine. Frequent re-starts add no more than $10 or wear to your car per year, while idling can cost from $70 to $650 depending on your car, your idle practices and fuel prices.

Take better care of my car, my lungs and my planet just by twisting my wrist? What’s not to like?

One final note:

Alert reader,  Cuong Huynh added this comment, with which I totally agree!

Shutting down your engine while idling is a valid way to increase gas mileage. Personally, I would recommend that drivers need to understand some downsides and implications of this technique. Because the engine is not operating, systems that depend on engine power will cease to function. These include non-operating/harder-to-operate steering and brakes, non-operating accessories like the A/C, while other accessories like headlights and radios are on battery power only. So if a driver understands this and is aware of the fact that you are not in control of the car, then he/she can decide on the risk level to take. Two serious additional things to consider: it may be against the law to do this where you live, and in the case of emergency you may become a sitting duck, especially near or on a train track;)

My next post will be a photo essay on building our timber frame barn.


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