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Earth Journal




Idle Wastage: Turn Off Your Engine If You’re Waiting 10+ Seconds

Dear EarthJournal: Is idling of my car's engine a significant contributer to green house emissions or am I being a worry wart over nothing?

Idling is indeed a scourge on the environment, given the noxious emissions coming out of our engines. A single vehicle dropping off and picking up a person each day adds one and half liters of air pollution to the atmosphere per month from idling. The 1.4 million personal vehicles on the road in the Bangalore alone could generate about 3 million tons of carbon dioxide every year just by idling. A report suggests that eliminating unnecessary idling by personal vehicles would be equivalent in emissions reductions to taking five million vehicles off the road.

Personal cars are only part of the problem. About half of the many billion gallons of fuel we waste on idling each year comes from commercial vehicles. We’ve all seen those delivery trucks with their engines humming while the driver eats his lunch inside or makes his rounds of deliveries on foot. What’s surprising is how much idling still goes on, given that most modern engines run better—and warm up faster—while in motion. And you won’t cause any measurable wear-and-tear on your car or truck by turning it off and on instead of idling, given the sturdiness of modern-day starters and batteries.

While preventing automobile idling may be an up-hill battle, the shift to hybrid and electric engines is a step in the right direction. Maybe one day when all the vehicles on the road are zero-emission EVs, idling won’t be an issue anymore. But until then, whether you’re a mom at school pick-up or a delivery driver between drops, be responsible and shut it off while you wait.


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