Warming Your Car is Warming the Globe

By ecoRI News staff

During the cold winter months, many drivers succumb to the long-standing practice of pre-starting their cars before driving. However, studies reveal that the need to “warm up” a car is a myth, and in reality harms not only your car’s engine, but also is bad for your wallet, your health and the environment.
In an informal survey performed in Providence, 75 percent of drivers said they pre-started their cars in the winter, not only to warm up the interior, but also to warm up the engine. One responder said, “I was always told it was better for the engine to give it time to warm up before driving.” While this may have been true in the past, it is no longer relevant today.

Years ago, cars were made with carburetors that required warming to get thick oil flowing. Today’s engines use thinner oils that no longer need warming up. In addition to wasting fuel, running your engine at extremely low speeds, or idling, forces the engine to run inefficiently. Over time, this strain harms the engine and reduces gas mileage. So instead of idling, car experts suggest driving slowly until the engine is warmed up.
A 2009 report by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) revealed that, depending on fuel prices, idling habits and car type, unnecessary idling costs a driver anywhere from $44 to $392 annually. According to the survey, drivers wasted more than 6 minutes to warm up time their cars. In a year, five minutes of daily idling wastes 20 gallons of gas while producing 440 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Also, if you live in one of numerous states or cities with anti-idling legislation, you may be subject to hefty fines if caught idling over the maximum time allowed. In the EDF survey, 65 percent of respondents were unaware that any state had laws prohibiting excessive idling.
In Rhode Island, the laws only apply to commercial vehicles and diesel cars and trucks. Providence Police Patrolman Anthony Corsetti said the rules are clear. “Any commercial vehicle that is parked for unloading must have the engine turned off at all times," he said. "If someone complains, we will enforce this statute, and there is a $50 fine.”
The laws exist for environmental and health reasons. Each gallon of fuel burned, emits 19.6 pounds of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and a major factor in pollution, climate change and ocean acidification. Heavy air pollution has been linked to cancer, heart and lung diseases, asthma and allergies. Pedestrians are vulnerable to harmful exhaust as they walk among idling cars and trucks. Children are more prone to breathe in car exhaust merely due to their proximity to the tailpipes.

Here are a few tips for reducing your personal vehicle emissions:

In cold weather, if the temperature is above zero, let the car sit for no more than 10 seconds. If the temperature is below zero, begin driving after 30 seconds. A vehicle’s engine warms twice as quickly when driven.

When stopping for more than 10 seconds, turn the engine off and restart when ready to move. Idling your engine for longer than 10 seconds wastes more gas than restarting, and it won’t harm your engine.

While running errands, opt to park and go inside rather than use the drive-through lane.

          Drivers of commercial vehicles must turn off vehicles when unloading or loading passengers or making deliveries. Cab heaters can keep truck drivers warm without burning fuel. Similar heaters are available for passenger vehicles.

          Carbon emission is not a problem that any government or technology can fix. The choices that we make every day impact the future. So, to recap, you need to warm up before a workout. You don’t need to warm up the car to go to work.