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Winter Is Back, but Don’t Idle Your Car

  • There’s no national law against idling a vehicle, but even if it’s not illegal where you live, it just doesn’t make sense to leave your car running if you’re not in it.
  • With the cold weather, it might be tempting to warm up your vehicle, but with modern cars, it’s faster and more efficient to just start moving.
  • Local laws vary, and you’re unlikely to get a ticket for idling, but it has happened. And unless you’re still driving something with a carburetor, you’re not getting much benefit from the idle, anyway.

Idling cars are an illegal plaything. At least, they are in some states. As the weather gets colder across the U.S., more people are likely letting their car “warm up” for a few minutes before they get in and drive. It doesn’t make sense from a technological standpoint, and it may be illegal where you live.

The general rule—as has been true for years—is that there’s little real benefit to letting your car warm up before you start driving. We’ve been struggling to learn this lesson. In 2014, the Washington Post cited a 2009 study that found that the average American thought a car should idle for at least five minutes when it’s below freezing out. There was a time, when carburetors ruled the earth, that idling a cold car was a useful idea, but this is not true today. A modern car heats up in about 30 seconds once you start moving, making a five-minute warmup really just an exercise in wasting emissions.

Check Your Local Rules

Most laws about idling refer to commercial, diesel-powered vehicles, and many rules were implemented to prevent semis from running their engines while parked in busy areas. The American Transportation Research Institute provides truck drivers with an up-to-date list of local rules, which can change when crossing city or county lines, but drivers of passenger cars don’t have as easy a source of information. In general, though, the places where it’s illegal to idle a vehicle only come into effect after around five minutes. One exception is New York City, where the limit is three minutes.

The EPA Weighs In

Since idling rules vary so much between jurisdictions, we can’t say with certainty that you’ll get a ticket for idling your vehicle the way a Michigan man did in 2017. Michigan’s quirky idling law states that leaving the keys in with the car running is illegal because someone could steal the car, but it is okay to use a remote starter because then the key isn’t in the car. The last official and comprehensive guide we could find is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) “Compilation of State, County, and Local Anti-Idling Regulations,” but that came out in 2006. Speaking of the EPA, the Agency doesn’t say one way or the other if states should regulate vehicle idling, but it does offer a draft anti-idling law for states to use if they want to—and a “toolkit” to mount an anti-idling campaign at your kids’ school. As the joke goes, idling gets you nowhere.

This content is imported from poll. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

This content is imported from poll. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

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