Drive-thrus drive me wild, and not with desire.
According to the EPA, running a car’s engine at idling speed causes twice the wear on internal parts than driving. Idling cars waste fuel, cause excessive carbon-dioxide pollution, and of course, cost money. It takes more gas to idle for 10 seconds than to turn the car off and back on again. Think of how many times in a day you can save money and reduce pollution, with just the flick of a key!
And yet, passing a fast-food drive-thru at lunchtime, I see half a dozen cars just sitting there, spewing. Any amount of time and money saved getting a burger is wasted by having to refill the tank more often. So we have two options: stop going to drive-thrus, which isn’t bloody likely, or turn off the car while you wait.
I’m not the only one fuming about the idling fumes. A number of cities and municipalities have passed anti-idling ordinances. In Switzerland, it’s illegal to sit in traffic with the engine on when waits can be expected to last more than 30 seconds. This includes red lights and traffic jams. Other countries have followed suit with anti-idling regulations, including England, Italy, Germany, Taiwan, and Japan.
A lot of myths persist about idling, the biggest of which is that cars require time to warm up. Any car made since 1996 has a fuel-injected engine. And no, I have no idea what that means, other than what I’ve learned from the EPA and similar websites. But all of these models, 15 years old and newer, require only 30 seconds to warm up. Any further warming up actually requires driving. Any further idling actually hurts the engine. Idle cars are the devil’s playground!
With a caveat: the only time idling makes sense is in extreme temperatures, to make driving safer by defrosting ones’ fingers and toes.
You don’t have to believe me. Believe Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, from NPR’s Car Talk.
Their site lists a bunch of other great tips that are as beneficial for the environment as your wallet. In addition to regularly servicing your car, maintaining the proper tire pressure, driving at sensible speeds, carpooling or taking public transportation, my favorite is not to buy a higher octane gas than you need. Unless you’re driving a sports car that requires it in its manual, you’re only wasting money, and creating higher emissions than the regular octane option.
As for air conditioning, unless you’re talking heatwave, the general rule of thumb is that for driving under 45 miles an hour, keep the windows open. Over that speed, the drag is an impediment to savings, so it’s actually better to turn the AC on. And of course, getting those dorky windshield shades really do keep the interior cooler, saving on all kinds of hot car misery. And when going from under 45 to over, don’t gun the engine. Putting pedal to the metal is a huge waste of gas. Hard braking is also bad for your fuel economy.
Here’s an emission admission I’ve omitted: I don’t have to turn my car off at stop lights, because it does it for me. I have a hybrid, and the coolest element is that the engine stops at stops; that’s one reason the mileage is so high. But it only stops if it’s in drive, when it’s in park it idles. So that got me to notice when I’m wasting time idling in park – getting in and out of the car. Settling in, I used to turn on the engine, put away my water bottle, take off the dorky windshield shades, stick them in the back seat, find my sunglasses in my purse, find my phone, put on my headset, put on my sunglasses, take off my sweater, put away my purse, etc. All of which can take place when engine is off. So now it does. The same applies for getting out of the car, but in reverse. It’s probably saving a minute on either side, but those two minutes equal about a mile of driving. Save five minutes a day, and that’s 220 pounds of CO2 unspewed annually. (For an 8-cylinder engine, it’s 440 pounds.)
Another suggestion for saving gasoline, and therefore the earth, is to clean out the car. All unnecessary weight takes a toll on fuel economy. And while we’re cleaning, I was about to write that washing the car at home was better than a professional wash, but upon fact-checking, I learned I’m completely wrong. Not only does an at-home carwash use much more water than a professional carwash, the dirty/sudsy run-off is going straight into storm drains without treatment. Professional establishments are required to send the waste water into the sewer system, so it gets treated before hitting any waterways. If you can find a car wash that recycles water, even better. There’s also a waterless home car wash product that I don’t understand, but I’m going to try the next time I wash my car. Which, I have to admit, won’t be anytime soon. What can I say; my dirty car is a sign of my commitment to the environment.
Here’s the U.S. Department of Energy link, with even more tips!
This link gives detailed explanation for why car idling is so bad for the environment. I can now discuss catalytic converters with some degree of coherence.