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Vehicle Idling: It Gets You Nowhere#

Many of us don’t consider the financial, health, and environmental impacts of idling our vehicles while at drive-through windows, rail crossings, or while warming up our vehicles on a cold winter morning. However, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, idling a vehicle for more than ten seconds uses more fuel and creates more harmful emissions than turning off and restarting your engine. Find out more about how you can bust idling myths and reduce your idling time, save money, and breathe easy.

Exhaust is Harmful#

An image of a sign stating

Idling is running the engine of a vehicle while the vehicle is not going anywhere. Unnecessary vehicle idling isn't good for our air, wallets, or cars. So what can we do about it? Easy ways to reduce idling include:

  1. Turning off your engine (when safe to do so):
    • When idling more than 30 seconds.
    • While waiting at train crossings.
    • While waiting at school pick-up/drop-off zones.
  2. On cold days, warm up your engine by driving slowly.
  3. Instead of waiting in a drive-thru, park your vehicle and go inside the store/restaurant for ordering or pick-up

Learn more from our informative video, produced in cooperation with the Poudre School District.

Car Exhaust Is Harmful To Human Health#

Just one minute of idling puts more carbon monoxide into the air than smoking 3 packs of cigarettes. Idling fumes are linked to asthma, decreased lung function, cardiac disease, cancer and other serious health problems, and according to the EPA, diesel exhaust contains both very small particles and 40 chemicals that are classified as “hazardous air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act. Plus, most people don’t realize that exposure to many air pollutants is much higher inside their cars than along the roadside. Inside a vehicle, the carbon monoxide levels can reach up to 7 times the outside air level, according to the International Center for Technology Assessment.

Idling Wastes Money#

The average driver wastes 1 to 2 tanks of gas each year from idling. Not only is it a waste of money, it’s hard on your vehicle. Idling can lead to expensive repairs. For example, it can cause oil contamination due to residue build-up on the cylinders; Corrosion caused by excessive condensation collected in the exhaust system; And, decreased peak engine operating temperature due to spark plug residue.

Idling Pollutes The Environment#

Did you know? Only five minutes of idling each day emits 25 pounds of air pollution and 260 pounds of carbon dioxide each year, contributing to global warming.

Do you know of a place that might benefit from an anti-idling program? Check out some of the tools below to start your own idle-free zone!


Is there anything I can do about vehicle idling?
Yes you can! Simply turn off your vehicle.

Isn't the best way to warm up a vehicle to let it idle for several minutes?
No. Idling is NOT an efficient way to warm your vehicle, even in cold weather. A slow drive-off during the first mile is the best way to warm a vehicle's transmission, tires, suspension, steering, & wheel bearing.

Can eliminating unnecessary idling save money?
Yes. One hour of idling burns up to 1 gallon of fuel. Avoiding 5 minutes of idling each day can save $35 every year. When you idle, you get zero miles per gallon-talk about money going up in smoke!

Is idling a problem in Fort Collins?
Absolutely! Local surveys suggest there are more than of 15,000 hours of unnecessary idling in Fort Collins every year, from activities like warming up vehicles on cold mornings to idling while dropping off/picking up kids from school.

In Fort Collins, is it illegal to turn off your engine while in traffic?
If you are in the car, and traffic isn't moving for 30 seconds or more, it's not illegal to turn off the engine.

Can't frequent re-starting of my vehicle engines damage it?
Re-starting has little impact on engine components like the battery and starter. You can actually reduce wear and tear when you turn off your vehicle, rather than idling. Excessive idling can damage your engine components like cylinders, spark plugs, and the exhaust system.

Doesn't turning off and restarting my vehicle use more gas than if I left it running?
Just thirty seconds of idling uses more fuel than restarting the engine. If you're going to stop for 30 seconds or more (except in traffic), shut the engine off. Some experts estimate even 10 seconds is the break-even point.

Does idling vehicle pollution have a significant impact to our health and environment?
Yes. The impact is quite significant because the toxins emitted from idling vehicles impair our lungs and heart. Idling fumes have been linked to asthma, decreased lung function, cardiac disease, cancer and other serious health problems. Children, the elderly, and those with respiratory ailments are most at-risk. Prolonged exposure can possibly lead to death.

Can sitting in an idling vehicle prevent exposure to car exhaust?
No. According to the International Center for Technology Assessment (CTA), exposure to most car pollutants like volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carbon monoxide (CO) is much higher inside vehicles than road-side. Higher exposure occurs when sitting in traffic congestion, on highways or in a line-up of idling vehicles at a school or drive-thru. In these situations, CO levels can be 7 times the outside air level.

Is traffic signal timing optimized to minimize vehicle idling?
Yes. The City of Fort Collins finished re-timing all major arterial traffic signals in 2010, saving over 1 million gallons of fuel and almost $18 million in community-wide time and fuel costs each year.