In 2020, Prince Edward County introduce an idling control by-law that seeks to reduce unnecessary idling in The County. Drivers who idle their vehicle for more than three minutes could face a fine; more importantly, the by-law presents an opportunity to stop and think about idling in The County and encourage everyone to try to turn it off as much as possible!
What is idling?
Idling happens when a vehicle’s engine is left running unnecessarily while the vehicle is not in motion. The most common reasons for idling in Canada include warming up a vehicle in the winter and cooling down a vehicle in the summer. However, idling happens in a variety of everyday contexts like waiting to pick up passengers, stopping at a railway crossing, sitting in a drive-thru lane, waiting in line to fuel up, or stopping to talk to a friend at the side of the road. Idling in Prince Edward County is governed by by-law 214-2020, which seeks to curb idling in excess of three minutes at a time.
How does idling contribute to climate change?
Carbon dioxide is emitted every time you operate your vehicle. Each litre of gasoline that is used produces 2.3 kg of CO2 to the atmosphere.
When a gasoline-powered vehicle is idling, it is in its least efficient mode. It is doing nothing but sitting there, burning fuel and sending harmful emissions into the atmosphere. (Hogan, 2019) A vehicle emits a range of gasses from its tailpipe into the atmosphere, including carbon dioxide (CO2), which is the principal greenhouse gas linked to climate change, and carbon monoxide.
How does idling affect air quality and human health?
In addition to generating carbon dioxide (CO2), burning fossil fuels like gas and oil produces emissions like volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide (CO), and oxides of nitrogen (NOX) that contribute to air pollution and smog.
Two common tailpipe emissions – hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides – react to form something known as ground-level ozone. Ozone irritates and inflames the respiratory tract and can be particularly harmful to children and people with asthma. According to Health Canada, more than 16,000 Canadians die prematurely every year because of air pollution.
What’s in it for me when I “turn it off”?
When you turn off your vehicle, you save money. It’s as simple as that.
For every 10 minutes you spend idling your vehicle, you waste more than a cup of gasoline. This number doubles if the idled vehicle is a truck with a 5.0 litre engine. Unnecessary idling wastes fuel – and wasted fuel is wasted money.
Idling for longer than 10 seconds uses more fuel than restarting the engine. Accounting for “wear and tear” on the starter and battery, Canadian research shows that the “break-even” point for balancing the fuel costs against incremental maintenance costs is 60 seconds. Turn off the engine if you are stopped for more than 60 seconds – you will save money on fuel that should more than offset any potential increased maintenance costs.
As a guideline, if you’re going to stop for 60 seconds or more – except in traffic – turn the engine off.
Will turning my vehicle off really make a difference?
It’s hard to imagine the impact that your individual actions will have on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change. But individual actions, when taken by millions of Canadians, can make a difference. Eliminating unnecessary idling is one of the easiest things we as individuals can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
More than 35 Ontario municipalities have idling control / anti-idling by-laws. This represents more than 8 million Ontarians. If these 8 million Ontarians work together and turn off their cars to limit idling, it will have a big impact on air quality and greenhouse gas emissions.
Across Canada, approximately 70 or more municipalities have idling control by-laws. If every Canadian motorist reduced their idling time by three minutes every day for one year, it would reduce CO2 emissions by 1.4 million tonnes. This would be the equivalent of taking 320,000 cars of the road for the entire year.
Fact and Fiction: Common Myths About Idling
1. Restarting my engine actually uses more fuel than idling and causes wear and tear on my vehicle.
MYTH! Restarting your engine uses the same amount of fuel as idling for just 10 seconds. While there may be some incremental maintenance costs associated with restarting your engine, these potential costs are minimal. In fact, idling your engine creates fuel residue that can damage engine parts, including cylinders, spark plugs and exhaust systems. This residue can also contaminate engine oil.
Natural Resources Canada has done the math, and its recommendation is to turn the vehicle off if you are stopped for more than 60 seconds. This will save you more money in fuel costs than the potential maintenance costs, AND you won’t be emitting greenhouse gases and air pollutants.
2. I need to idle my car to warm it up in the winter.
MYTH! Contrary to popular belief, excessive idling is not an effective way to warm up your car. The best way to warm your car is to drive it. Even in cold weather, it is not necessary to idle your vehicle for more than 2-3 minutes before starting to drive. In fact, most manufacturers recommend only 30 seconds of warming up before driving away slowly. Vehicle technology has changed and today’s computer-controlled engines require much less warm up time before they are ready to drive.
3. I have a fuel-efficient car, so idling won’t cause problems.
MYTH! Every time you burn gasoline, every time you start the car, you are creating greenhouse gas emissions, contributing air pollutants, wasting fuel and contributing to your vehicle’s wear and tear. Fuel-efficient cars still burn gasoline. Regardless of the efficiency of your vehicle, an easy way to save fuel and reduce emissions is to turn off the car. Electric vehicles are exempted from the idling-control by-law, as they do not produce harmful emissions when idling.
4. My individual actions won’t save the world, so it’s not worth the bother.
MYTH! It’s hard to imagine the impact that your individual actions will have on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change. But individual actions, when taken by millions of Canadians, can make a difference. There are approximately 70 or more jurisdictions in Canada with idling control by-laws and community education programs, representing millions of vehicles. Eliminating unnecessary idling is one of the easiest things we as individuals can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate Change Connection. (2018, August). Problems Caused by Idling. Retrieved August 2021, from Climate Change Connection: https://climatechangeconnection.org/solutions/transportation/idling/problems-caused-by-idling/
Mortillaro, N. (2019, November). How Big of a Problem is Idling? Retrieved August 2021, from CBC News: https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/what-on-earth-newsletter-idling-population-climate-change-1.5351917
Natural Resources Canada. (2015, December). Idling Wastes Fuel and Money. Retrieved August 2021, from Natural Resources Canada: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/efficiency/communities-infrastructure/transportation/idling/4459
Natural Resources Canada. (2016, September). Emission Impacts from Vehicle Idling. Retrieved August 2021, from Natural Resources Canada: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/efficiency/communities-infrastructure/transportation/cars-light-trucks/idling/4415
Natural Resources Canada. (2016, September). Why Do Canadians Idle? Retrieved August 2021, from Natural Resources Canada: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/efficiency/communities-infrastructure/transportation/idling/4427