Last updated on March 2, 2020 at 10:34 am
Have you ever seen a car or truck idling as a plume of smoke emanates from the exhaust pipe? As that stream of smoke lingers and eventually disappears into the air, do you wonder if the driver is considering the impact of that added pollution?
Chances are, the driver isn’t.
What is idling?
In the simplest terms, an engine that is burning fuel without performing work is idling. That fuel is burned, released into the air, and contributes to atmospheric pollution. The thing is though, we often idle our vehicles without thinking much of it. From sitting in traffic to stopping at a red light, there are many times when we’re stationary in our vehicles with the engine still on.
Therefore, it’s important to differentiate between necessary idling – like stopping at a red light – and unnecessary idling – like letting your engine warm up, which, according to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, is actually ineffective.
Why should we care?
For starters, every gallon of gas burned releases about 20 lbs. of carbon dioxide into the air, which is a major greenhouse gas. With all the smog cities and towns already release into the air, the last thing our blue sky needs is added, unnecessary pollution
Not to mention, idling is ultimately a waste of money. For every hour a car spends idling, it burns about 1/5 of a gallon of gasoline. That might not seem like a lot at first, but if you’re constantly letting your engine idle, it can add up. And since idling your engine actually uses more fuel than turning it off and on, you might look at idling a bit differently.
The Department of Energy has a tool that lets you calculate how much money you could be saving by idling less. It asks you to input information like how many gallons per hour your car burns when idling (there’s a table if you’re unsure!) and how much an oil change costs – all information that’ll help determine how much you could be saving.
And if saving the environment and money isn’t convincing enough, consider your health. The pollutants released from an idling engine have been linked to some pretty serious illnesses like cancer, asthma, heart disease and chronic bronchitis, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.
What states are doing
If you’re a Plymouth Rock Assurance customer, give your lawmakers a thumbs up. Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut and New Hampshire all have laws intended to restrict the amount of time you can idle your car:
- In Massachusetts, you can only unnecessarily idle your car for five minutes. After five minutes, it’s illegal to keep your engine running. This law doesn’t apply to situations where a running engine is necessary – like a delivery vehicle or if a car being serviced needs the engine to be on.
- New Jersey. Drivers in New Jersey may idle for up to three minutes, with exceptions made for special circumstances, like when operating vehicles that require engine power to accomplish their primary task or for repairs,
- Connecticut prohibits vehicles of all kinds from unnecessary idling for more than three minutes. However, Connecticut also has various exceptions, like if it’s below 20 degrees, to operate other equipment, or to do maintenance.
- New Hampshire. New Hampshire limits the amount of time you can idle your car based on the outside temperature. If it’s above 32 degrees, the maximum allowed idle time is five minutes. When it’s between -10 degrees and 32 degrees, you can run your engine for 15 minutes. When it’s below -10 degrees, there’s no limit. Like the other states, NH has exemptions to allow idling when running the engine is necessary to operate other equipment.
Next time you think about running out to your car to “warm up the engine” while you finish getting ready for work in the morning, consider the following: when your car idles, it’s hurting the environment, it’s wasting your money, it’s releasing fumes harmful to your health, and, ultimately, it could be illegal. So you might want to keep your engine turned off until you’re ready to drive.
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