As conservation tips go, the suggestion to quit idling might seem like small stuff.
Indeed, it is more meaningful to give up your car for a day and take the train, car share or bundle errands and drive a lot less.
But like a lot of green behaviors that involve tweaking entrenched habits, like quitting disposable plastic water bottles and egregiously long showers, developing a new strategy around idling can help shrink your carbon footprint. And it saves gasoline.
At first blush, worrying about idling seems like a waste of time (like idling itself!). So much of our idling time is enforced by circumstances. We’re stuck in traffic jams and at stoplights. We’re waiting for someone to back out of a parking spot. We’re trapped in line at a parking garage.
But wait, says the Natural Resources Defense Council. You can put the brakes on idling in other situations, like when you’re waiting at the school drive-through to pick up your child, or in line at Starbucks.
According to the NRDC, we Americans waste 5 to 8 percent of our gasoline idling “largely due to the misconception that idling causes less wear and tear” on our cars and is better for fuel consumption.
The reality is that you’ll likely come out ahead — gas and emissions-wise — if you turn off your car whenever you’re going to idle for more than 45 seconds, and in many cases if you’re going to idle for just 10 seconds, say researchers in a 2006 paper published in the UCLA Law Review about how people can reduce energy consumption.
The savings in fuel and engine maintenance from shutting off the engine “vastly exceed the minor wear-and-tear associated with restarting the engine,” the authors reported in “Individual Carbon Emissions: The Low Hanging Fruit.”
While it was once the case that shutting off a car and restarting consumed significant fuel, this is no longer true with modern fuel-injected engines, which need almost no warm up time and once warm can be restarted with les fuel than it takes to idle for 5-10 seconds, reported the authors, who were professors at UCLA and Vanderbilt University.
So if ALL Americans reduced their unnecessary idling by 50 percent, the nation could save 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2020, according to the NRDC, which relied on the UCLA report and other studies to compile a list of easy actions to reduce greenhouse gases.