Idling vehicles waste gas, contribute to global warming

Steve Nugent /


Published Sep 29, 2012 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

I am disappointed and concerned about the careless behavior that I observe every time I leave my house for an errand in Central Oregon. Whether it’s to the grocery, the post office or the school, I see it happening every single day, all day long. It just makes no sense to me.

What I’m talking about is vehicle drivers that leave their vehicles idling when they are parked or even when they leave their vehicles unattended for significant periods. I’m not talking about a few seconds or one or two cars either. I routinely see multiple cars sitting idling in a parking lot with their drivers reading the newspaper, texting or talking on their phones or just sitting waiting for another passenger. At Walmart and Costco I have observed empty vehicles, idling with the doors locked. This is not about keeping the passenger comfortable either. Most of these vehicles have the windows open anyway. People, when asked why they are doing this (and I’ve asked quite a few times), actually report that they are just too lazy to turn the engine off.

Besides the obvious cost of burning gas when you don’t need to or the local pollution effect, which is bad enough, a new concern looms much larger, and that is global warming. If you add up all of these idling vehicles, including school buses, work vehicles and delivery vehicles, the numbers are staggering. Conservative estimates are that 4 million gallons of fuel are wasted each year in the U.S. alone, releasing 80 million pounds of carbon monoxide into the atmosphere.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has scientifically determined that the intensity of the drought across the U.S. this summer cannot be explained by normal climate cycles. They concluded that it was more intense due to greenhouse gases from humans. The polar caps and Greenland’s surface ice are melting now at an unprecedented rate. Even the swimmer who tried to swim for the third time from Cuba to Florida had to abort due to an explosion of poisonous jellyfish in the ocean. This is not just about Eskimos that have to relocate because their sea ice is diminishing. Global warming is now impacting all of us in the pocketbook, limiting our choices and even endangering our lives. If you think you are somehow immune, you are wrong.

Food prices are expected to increase due to the U.S. drought. The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the states are spending money they don’t have on an increasing and significant number of weather-related disasters including floods, drought, tornadoes, wildfires and hurricanes. Commodity prices are higher or certain commodities are unavailable due to flooding in other countries, such as the memory chip and hard disk problem in Singapore last year. Fisheries are being affected across the planet, causing wild species to perish, leaving us with only lower-quality farmed fish to eat. The West Nile Virus is an epidemic spreading rapidly due to the extreme weather conditions in Texas over the last two years. These are things that impact every one of us, no matter how rich or poor we are.

There are a lot of myths about idling cars. Here are the facts:

1. Idling your engine for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel than stopping and restarting it.

2. Idling pollution is worse than driving pollution due to engine temperature and efficiency.

3. Engines warm up better by running than idling.

4. Idling fouls spark plugs and valves and increases corrosion in exhaust systems.

5. Idling reduces oil life by 75 percent.

6. Pollution inside idling cars is worse than driving, particularly endangering children.

7. Modern diesel engines start easily under all conditions.

Twenty states/cities across the U.S. have already enacted anti-idling laws. Oregon enacted a statewide anti-idling law for large trucks Jan. 1.

You can do your part to help reduce global warming by turning your engine off when parked or leaving your vehicle unattended. It will have a positive impact on you and others.