Winter idling is bad for the environment and is even bad for your car.
By Thom Oommen
Published February 09, 2007
Winter has finally arrived despite our best efforts, willing or otherwise, to contribute to climate change (and I was just getting used to riding my bike in relative comfort during winter.) I suppose it's a good sign that we can still rely on some things in life.
One of the things I used to count on in winter as a boy was my father's morning ritual. No not shaving or showering, but just as common: winter idling. You see, if my dad's car didn't have a good twenty minutes of idling in the morning, the engine would stall as he drove along to work.
During the 1980s and earlier, winter idling was a necessity if one chose to drive. I wasn't alone; we all witnessed this parental behaviour every day the temperature dropped below zero. These memories stick with you and inform your choices later in life.
Unfortunately, today people still behave like it's the 1980s (in more ways than one). The myth of "essential" winter idling remains very powerful for many drivers. Since 1990, though, advances in technology have negated any technical need to idle in winter.
When was the last time you or someone you know stalled their car? It doesn't happen any more, thanks to fuel injection and computerized engines. The average car today has more processing power than the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed humans on the moon.
Natural Resources Canada recommends a maximum of 30 seconds of idling in winter, to get fluids moving, followed by consistent and steady driving; if you gun it you're more likely to stall.
For one thing, idling doesn't actually get all a vehicle's parts moving. Only driving does that: a vehicle is more than an engine. Even worse, excessive idling can corrode exhaust systems and foul spark plugs, which leads to decreased fuel efficiency. Nobody enjoys a trip to the mechanic for no good reason.
Many people already know that from a technical standpoint, their vehicle doesn't need to idle in winter. The sole reason they idle is to warm the interior.
Is comfort a good justification for fuelling climate change or poor air quality? Do you want to breathe in all that exhaust or have your children do so? What health impacts might this have? I'm still amazed to watch people casually clean the snow off their vehicles in a cloud of chemicals in the morning.
A car is not a coat. If the steering wheel is cold, get some driving gloves. If you're cold when you get in, please ponder what you're wearing. Maybe that light jacket isn't enough - think about a thick coat, toque and scarf instead.
I assure you that well-dressed kids and even a bundled-up baby can handle a cold car in the morning. When did Canadians get so soft?
With the City of Hamilton seriously pondering an anti-idling by-law, Hamiltonians would be advised to rethink some of the myths of and reasons behind winter idling.
I encourage you, dear reader, to pass on this information to your family and friends. It's the only way this wasteful behaviour will ever be changed.
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