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idling /'Id-li[ng], 'I-d&l-i[ng]/

  1. a : to spend time in idleness b : to move idly
  2. : to run at low power and often disconnected usually so that power is not used for useful work <the engine is idling>

It's something we've all experienced - walking past a parked vehicle with its engine running but going nowhere.

An idling engine releases twice as many exhaust fumes as a vehicle in motion, polluting our air for no good reason. This pollution is a significant contributor to environmental and health problems like climate change and smog.

The good news is that idling is one environmental problem and health threat that is easy to fix - all it takes is the turn of a key. Anyone who drives a vehicle can be part of the solution.

Canadians idle our vehicles an average of 5 to 10 minutes a day to warm up our vehicles or wait for somebody. While it may seem insignificant, the harm that it causes to your vehicle, wallet, health and the environment is considerable.

To your vehicle: Excessive idling (more than 30 seconds) can contaminate engine oil and damage engine components.

To your wallet: Idling your vehicle for as little as 10 minutes a day uses an average of 100 litres of gas a year. By turning your vehicle off, you can save up to $75 a year assuming gas costs 75 cents a litre.

To your health: Idling discharges harmful pollutants that affect us all. By idling your car, you are particularly placing young children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems at a greater health risk.

To the environment: Idling contributes to harmful greenhouse gas emissions which cause smog and climate change.

What Should I do to Prevent Idling?

  1. Reduce the warm up time for your vehicle to 30 seconds.
  2. If you are stopped more than 10 seconds, turn the engine off.
  3. When the weather is extremely cold, use a block heater to warm the engine before you start it.
  4. Avoid using remote car starters.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does my vehicle need to warm up?

Your vehicle only needs 30 seconds to warm up and circulate the engine oil.

Do I need to warm up my vehicle longer in the winter?

NO. Even in cold weather, your vehicle only needs to warm up for 30 seconds before the engine oil circulates and you can drive away.

The best way to warm up the engine and components is to drive your vehicle. In addition, the catalytic converter doesn't function at its peak until it reaches between 400C and 800C.

Idling for longer than 30 seconds is wasteful, damages the environment and produces emissions that are harmful to your health and the environment.

Can idling damage my vehicle?

YES. Excessive idling can actually damage your vehicle. The engine is not working at its peak operating temperature so fuel doesn't undergo complete combustion. This means that fuel residues are left and they can contaminate engine oil and damage engine parts. Water can also condense in the vehicle's exhaust which can lead to corrosion and reduce the life of the exhaust system.

How is idling my vehicle harmful to my health?

Idling your vehicle releases harmful emissions that can:
  • cause eye, nose and throat irritation
  • coughing and wheezing
  • breathing difficulty
  • reduced lung capacity
  • lowered resistance to infections
  • increased heart and lung conditions

How is idling my vehicle harmful to the environment?

Idling contributes to harmful greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change and the formation of smog.

How much fuel am I wasting by letting my vehicle idle?

A vehicle that idles for five minutes burns just over one-tenth of a litre, or about 12 cents worth of gasoline (assuming fuel costs $1.20 a litre). If all drivers of light-duty vehicles in Canada avoided idling their vehicles for just five minutes, we could save 1.9 million litres of fuel (or $2.28 million, assuming fuel costs $1.20/litre).

How much carbon dioxide am I producing by letting my vehicle idle?

Idling your vehicle for five minutes produces 271.4 grams of CO2 which is the principal greenhouse gas linked to climate change.

If all drivers of light-duty vehicles in Canada avoided idling their vehicles for five minutes, we could prevent more than 1.4 million tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Individual actions, when taken by millions of Canadians, can make a big difference.

Isn't it better to leave my vehicle running than to constantly turn it on and off?

NO. If you're going to be stopped for more than 10 seconds (except in traffic), you'll save fuel and money by turning off the vehicle and then restarting it when you're ready to drive again.

Catalytic converters stay warm for up to 25 minutes after you turn off the engine, so frequent stops and starts don't produce the large amount of harmful emissions seen with cold starts. In addition, frequent restarting of your vehicle has little impact on the components. The additional vehicle expense is estimated to be $10 a year.

Idle-Free Campaign Materials

Idle-Free Info Card (PDF 175 KB)
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Revised: Wednesday July 15 2015

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