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Idling your car’s engine is sometimes unavoidable. Perhaps you need to find a place to stop and check your GPS quickly, or perhaps you’re waiting for a passenger who will be arriving in a few minutes. Suppose you’re stuck on the road in heavy traffic, or you’re stopped at an especially long red light. Drivers often find themselves just sitting in their cars without actually moving, even when they don’t intend to do so. While it can often be unavoidable, try to avoid  letting your car idle too long in situations where you can help it. As we’ll discuss below, idling too long can cause serious problems for drivers, passengers, pedestrians and cars themselves.

What Exactly Does It Mean to Idle Your Car?

Some drivers might not fully understand what idling a car means. Before highlighting and discussing why it’s a good idea to avoid idling your car too long, it’s best to clear things up and define what it means exactly to idle your car. When your vehicle is not moving but your engine is running, that’s when they say that your car is in an idle state. Sometimes you’re forced to let it idle, like in the situations already mentioned above and in many other cases such as:

  • When you’re warming up your car’s engine.
  • When you can’t afford to shut your cars’ engines off at every stop sign or at every the red light. Idling is unavoidable in situations like this, but it’s unnecessary to let your car run without actually moving in other situations.
  • If you don’t drive your car regularly. In cases like this, you might consider idling it once per week to protect your engine and keep it in good shape.
  • When you realize you’re running low on gas and a gas station is nearby. In this case, when you shut your engine, restarting it may take more gas than when you let it run until you fill it up again.

How long is Too Long to Let a Car Idle?

At this point, it’s understandable that drivers will often find themselves in situations where idling their cars is inevitable. What you might be wondering now is how long this idling should last. Technically, if you must leave your car in an idling state, try to limit it to between thirty seconds and one minute. Anything beyond may cause harm to yourself, your passengers, the people around your car, and to the car itself. The damage here comes in the form of air pollution, and you might even risk carbon monoxide poisoning in cases where your car is idling and the car’s air conditioner is also on. Your car’s battery may also be at a greater risk, especially if the alternator is faulty. It won’t receive any charge, hence shortening its lifespan.

Remember to always shut your engine down when at a gas station filling your tank. This is vital since idling puts your car’s parts into a high temperature state. When these high temperatures come in contact with the gas emitted by pumps, they may ignite and cause your car to end up in flames.

Why Should You Avoid Idling Your Car Too Long?

One of the worst but most common mistakes drivers make is to let their cars idle unnecessarily. You may not experience the consequences of this habit immediately, but sooner or later it will catch up with you. There is no shortage of adverse effects caused by idling, including risks to your health, the car’s lifespan, and the environment at large. Below are some of the reasons drivers should avoid idling their cars when possible.

1. Your Car Burns Through Gas

Have you ever found yourself wondering why you need to refill your gas take so often? The reason could lie in idling your car for more than two minutes in situations where it’s not necessary to do so. Most people may think that idling their car doesn’t use up gas, but it actually burns more than you might imagine. So, whenever you feel tempted to leave your engine running, you need to remember the cost of gas and how much you can save by simply shutting it down.

2. You Risk Burning Oil

Clearly, the waste caused by idling goes beyond gas. It also drains your car’s oil by burning it up. As a result, you’ll need to keep topping it up to keep things moving smoothly. Do you realize what that does to your wallet? Yes, you’ll discover that you spend a lot on fuel and oil unnecessarily at the end of the day or month, all because of an entirely avoidable situation. You need to stay ahead of your game and avoid idling your car so you don’t run low on oil.

3. It Causes Environmental Pollution

Imagine causing harm to something that you also need to survive. Your car’s exhaust emits a gas that is harmful to the environment. This gas causes air pollution that people and other animals breathe in. Idling your car does not only waste non-renewable resources like gas and oil, but it’s also dangerous to your environment. Remember that when you let your car idle for only ten minutes, it releases a total of one pound of carbon monoxide gas into the atmosphere. This clearly tells you how harmful it can get when it stays idle for long periods of time.

4. You Risk Harming Your Health

When your car is idling for an extended period of time and you’re inside, the fumes it emits can become dangerous to your health. You may develop certain health conditions that cause difficulty breathing. Such conditions include asthma, cardiac-related diseases, and lung infections. You can now see how it’s dangerous to sleep inside your car when it’s idling.

5. It Decreases the useful life of your engine

If the reasons above are still not convincing enough, you need to think about the valuable life of your engine. When in an idle state, fuel combustion doesn’t fully happen since the engine is not performing at its maximum temperature. As a result, the engine leaves residue behind that is harmful to the car’s exhaust system.

What Are the Key Takeaways?

For the above reasons, you should now understand why it’s necessary to avoid idling whenever possible. To stay idle-free, ensure you turn off your ignition if you’re sure that you’ll be waiting for more than a minute. Restarting your car won’t consume more gas than idling in cases like this. Also, remember that you can still warm up the cabin interior of your car and the engine by driving, not idling.

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