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Mark J. Williams
Mark J. Williams
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Drivers Beware: Don’t Leave Idling Cars Unattended

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How many times have you left your car running while you take care of a small errand: running back into the house, dropping off a video, or just warming your car up on a cold morning? We all have done this, thinking that this would be harmless– never thinking that we would be singled out by a car thief. That happens to other folks, not us! A Herriman, Utah driver thought he could just drop off a vide while he left his unattended car running on a cold Utah afternoon. The odds caught up with him. Just as he exited his car, a thief jumped into the running car. The owner of the car immediately observed the car jacker and ran back to his car. Unfortunately, the thief ran over the leg of the owner as he tried to stop the heist. Luckily, the injuries were minor. However, the car is still missing.

An idling unattended car is a crime of opportunity. Bad guys roam near areas where people are more likely to leave their running cars unattended, especially during the winter: home garages or driveways, drop-off areas (like video stores, banks, cleaners, fast food stores, etc.). The best rule of prevention of this crime: Never leave your car running without an adult inside the car.

Some feel compelled to idle by arguing that it saves fuel or it is beneficial for engines on a cold morning. These myths have been unmasked by the California Energy Commission in the following article found in "Energy Myths and Fallacies" forum answering the question: "Should I shut off my motor when I’m idling my car?"

HERE’S THE RULE OF THUMB: If you’re in a drive-through restaurant/business line or waiting for someone and you’ll be parked and sitting for 10 seconds or longer… turn off your car’s engine.

Why??

For every two minutes a car is idling, it uses about the same amount of fuel it takes to go about one mile. Research indicates that the average person idles their car five to 10 minutes a day. People usually idle their cars more in the winter than in the summer. But even in winter, you don’t need to let your car sit and idle for five minutes to "warm it up" when 30 seconds will do just fine.

But you’re not going anywhere. Idling gets ZERO miles per gallon.

The recommendation is: If you are going to be parked for more than 30 seconds, turn off the engine. Ten seconds of idling can use more fuel than turning off the engine and restarting it. And when you start your engine, don’t step down on the accelerator, just simply turn the key to start.

An alternative to idling is to park your car, walk inside, do your business and then go back to your car.

Here are some other Myths associated with idling.

Myth #1: The engine should be warmed up before driving. Reality: Idling is not an effective way to warm up your vehicle, even in cold weather. The best way to do this is to drive the vehicle. With today’s modern engines, you need no more than 30 seconds of idling on winter days before driving away.

Myth #2: Idling is good for your engine. Reality: Excessive idling can actually damage your engine components, including cylinders, spark plugs, and exhaust systems. Fuel is only partially combusted when idling because an engine does not operate at its peak temperature. This leads to the build up of fuel residues on cylinder walls that can damage engine components and increase fuel consumption.

Myth #3: Shutting off and restarting your vehicle is hard on the engine and uses more gas than if you leave it running. Reality: Frequent restarting has little impact on engine components like the battery and the starter motor. Component wear caused by restarting the engine is estimated to add $10 per year to the cost of driving, money that will likely be recovered several times over in fuel savings from reduced idling. The bottom line is that more than ten seconds of idling uses more fuel than restarting the engine.

There you go. No more excuses to take a chance and expose your car, and perhaps yourself or others to reckless car thieves just waiting for an easy chance to drive away with your car. Turn off your engine. Lock your doors. It may take a few seconds longer, or you may have to endure a cold heater for a few minutes. But that’s always better than suffering the headache and hassle of a stolen car.

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  1. Mike Bryant says:
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    Those are some very interesting myth busters and I would bet that at least one or true people will believe no matter what. I would be interested in if there was testing done on very cold temperatures, with the start up issue.